I love real estate. I really do. But I'm getting nervous. While I sincerely believe that buying a house is one of the smartest long-term financial decisions you'll ever make, notice that I said "long-term." There seems to be a growing sense that investing in real estate is also a short-term bonanza.

It doesn't take a PhD to see what's going on. The stock market looks iffy, the overall economy uncertain, but property values are climbing faster than a cat chased up a tree. In the past year, an average home rose about 11 percent in value; in hot markets along the coasts, appreciation rates have gone even higher. And that's been true since 2001.

Forget IRAs and 401(k)s. The topic everyone breathlessly asks me about is whether to get into the "flipping" game: buying a house or condo, renting it out for a few years, and selling at a big profit. Every time I hear that question, I'm amazed by the asker's can't-lose confidence. And I'm here to tell you that you can indeed lose, especially now with the housing market bound to cool down and interest rates finally starting to move up from their historic lows. It's all too easy to become a flipping fool.

Before You Buy | Take an Interest in Rates | Protect the Money You've Made


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