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Real estate investment opportunities abound

Real estate has its market cycles like any type of investment, and lately it's been getting bad press. Investors may have second thoughts about putting money in this asset class right now, what with all the talk about a bursting housing bubble, the glut of unsold condominiums and homes, declining property values and the growing number of foreclosures.

But there's still a buck to be made in real estate, even in good and bad economic times. Everybody has to live somewhere, work somewhere, shop somewhere -- and someone has to provide them with space in which to do those things.

In fact, the depressing news may mean that this is an opportune time to get into real estate.

"Owning some paid-for, income-producing real estate, in addition to having a solid portfolio of other investments, can be a very good thing," says radio talk-show host Dave Ramsey, best-selling author of "The Total Money Makeover."

For investors willing to invest for the long term, owning properties "can be a path to financial freedom for many," says Ramsey, adding that it has to be done right. "It's a horrible investment when done wrong."

Single-family homes vs. multi-family units
Single-family homes make good first properties because they don't entail the same hassles and headaches associated with multi-unit apartment buildings.

"Single-family homes, which can be easily turned into rentals, are also much more affordable than, say, multi-family units such as duplexes, triplexes, and so on," says Robert Sheehan, consulting economist for the National Apartment Association.

Home sellers are now also more realistic with pricing, so the current housing market offers a lot more choices for buyers, who can get better values for their money, says Thomas M. Stevens, president of the National Association of Realtors.

"Sellers are also offering lucrative incentives, thanks to the greater competition for buyers," Stevens says. "Buyers today can often have the seller pay for things like closing costs, remodeling expenses, condo fees, etc., so buyers can look forward to not only lower prices but also lower expenses and costs associated with the purchase of a property."

Of course this doesn't mean you shouldn't consider buying a rental property that can be both your home and an investment property.

"A properly purchased duplex or triplex can also be a really good way to get started," says Ramsey. "You can almost live there for free in many cases. The biggest downside, however, is that ... there's not going to be as much of a retail market for that type of a property as there is for the single-family house with the cute little 'Leave It To Beaver' picket fence around it."

And then, of course, there's the issue of having your tenants living just on the other side of the wall.

Next: " ... savvy investors can make tons of money ... "
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