A calm, complete guide through real estate woods

All America's Real Estate Book, by Carolyn Janik and Ruth Rejnis. New York: Viking Penguin Inc. 1985. $29.95. It's a de rigueur topic at Yuppie parties, conversational fodder for the kibitzers around the office water cooler. It's the vocation of thousands, the avocation of millions.

We're talking about real estate.

Almost anyone who has ever bought or sold property becomes an expert on real estate. More people arewilling to venture an opinion on the subject than the stock market.

In addition to the very large contingent of real estate agents, the woods are full of speculators, developers, contractors, home handypersons, would-be decorators, and, of course, cracker-barrel philosophers with an opinion about everything anyway.

There are, moreover, plenty of real estate books on the shelves. But most are sensational accounts of how to make a zillion by following a sure-fire formula. Now there is a book that exhaustively handles the many aspects of real estate in a calm but interesting way.

Carolyn Janik and Ruth Rejnis cover virtually every imaginable aspect of the buying and selling of property. There are many checklists, worksheets, examples, and anecdotes to sustain the 800-plus pages. The book is well indexed and has a comprehensive glossary of real estate terms and appendixes with good source references.

Janik and Rejnis don't stop with real estate transactions. They cover how to have a house built for you, home improvements, moving, mobile homes, relocating a house -- even a chapter on buying real estate abroad. To their credit, they give attention, up front, to ``how to be a winning tenant.'' In other words, there's nothing wrong with renting.

But ``in general,'' the authors say, ``homeownership is a good deal. How good a deal it really is, however, depends on how well your home satisfies your personal goals. Which is the result of how well you know those goals and how well you buy.''

If evaluating those goals is up to you, this book aims to help with what and how someone buys property.

Although it may seem a clich'e to call the latest volume on a financial topic ``valuable because of the complexity of today's finances,'' this book is valuable for that very reason. The $30 price tag is high, but if it saves a would-be homeowner from a bad decision, or helps take the fear out of what seems an enormously complex and emotional transaction, it's worth the cost.

It certainly seems a better source than the office water cooler when it comes to making what could be the biggest financial decision of your life.

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