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Real Estate Center

May 20, 2009 12:46 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Beach books: Real estate turmoil provides good reading

May 20, 2009 12:46 PM

Ever since the 1620s, when Dutch colonial leader Peter Minuit bought Manhattan island from the local Native Americans for about $24 in trinkets, it seems that people have been obsessed with making fast money in real estate.

But even the best real estate deals can blow up. Consider that no physical record exists of the deed Mr. Minuit supposedly signed with the Native Americans for the rights to settle in Manhattan, nor would it have mattered.

Of course, it’s rarely mentioned that 40 years after Mr. Minuit founded the Manhattan settlement, the English executed what today might be described as a “hostile real estate takeover,” forcibly seizing possession of the island. After that, the English held Manhattan for about 115 years—until the Revolutionary War, when the equally forceful Colonists took ownership of the coveted island.

The loss of Manhattan cost Mr. Minuit and the Dutch a lot more than their original $24 investment. And to my knowledge, no one has ever estimated what the loss cost the English.

Today, most books covering real estate are about how to buy, sell or rent property and become fabulously wealthy. If only it were that simple.

We rarely hear about all that can go wrong during a day in the life of a real estate professional or serious speculator. Unruly tenants, costly repairs and unscrupulous participants on each side of any negotiation can make a hopeful entrepreneur question why he or she ever got involved. Still, the real estate business remains an irresistible allure for many and a lucrative fantasy for others.

The truth is, very few realize how difficult it can be to make a good living in real estate, never mind a killing. Nevertheless, if one is interested in getting into the real estate business, the current recession has provided opportunity for those with strong stomachs, healthy balance sheets and a willingness to take a long-term view—as well as some risk.

So if real estate is your bag—or if you have an interest in dipping a toe in this season—pack the beach bag with one or all of these recently written reads on the state of the industry.

Proving that people from all walks of life can become real estate rock stars, “Heart and Sold,” by former model Valerie Fitzgerald tells the tale of the quintessential American success story as it relates to real estate.

Recounting how the author went from being an unemployed single mom to a successful businesswoman with a thriving real estate career, “Heart and Soul” is somewhat of a fantasy ride as Ms. Fitzgerald tries to inject sex appeal and excitement into a business that’s often associated with dry contracts and double-talking participants. Her odyssey from professional model to billion-dollar real estate agent is a case study in how to become a success in the real estate business by really trying.

Although a fairly light and frothy read, the author does occasionally take the reader to that often elusive next level by revealing that she regularly meets with so-called “master-mind” groups. Such organizations help keep her “in front” of trends and she is then able to use this information to help her maintain her leading sales position.

For those who are interested in getting involved in the agent side of the real estate business, Ms. Fitzgerald offers numerous tips throughout the book, many of them very basic but possibly overlooked. “Heart and Soul” is inspirational, helpful, comic … And boorish in parts. There are too many detours where the author discusses personal trivia that is irrelevant to the book’s stated objective.

However, for those looking for a beach read that packs inspiration and some helpful real estate selling tips, it’s worth a quick read.

On the less entertaining, but quite informative end of the real estate reading spectrum is “Buy It, Rent It, Profit!” by Bryan Chavis. This book promises to enable the reader to “make money as a landlord in any real estate market,” and argues that “fear of failure” is one of the top reasons people do not invest in real estate.

Unfortunately, such psychological charges are not proven in the book and distract from the author’s proven expertise. But Mr. Chavis does make some sound points. As an example, he discourages readers from pursuing the “fix it and flip it” route, which he correctly notes was relatively easy when the real estate market was strong, but not so today.

The author also gets up-close and personal in such intriguing areas as mastering the art of negotiation, tenant screening in tough times and why one needs a security deposit and must have operating standards. “Buy It, Rent It, Profit!” covers areas many real estate novices would probably never consider—but should.

Those considering spending several hundreds of thousands of dollars on real estate would be wise to first spend the less than $20 for this book. Real estate is not an easy business, but Mr. Chavis has condensed the industry into an organized method that, at the very least, can help others avoid mistakes that often lead to their demise as real estate entrepreneurs.

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