DEAR BOB: My wife has just been promoted and we're going to move to New York. But we would like to return to this area to retire. If we keep the house, my mother could handle its rental to tenants. Should we sell or rent? Tom C., Reston

DEAR TOM: Rent it. You'll never be able to buy a home as cheaply as you bought your present house. Since you would like to use it for retirement, keep it. It should prove to be an excellent inflation hedge.

The economic aspects of converting it to rental use make sense, too. The rent should at least cover the mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance and repairs. These are all tax-deductible expenses for income property, so you shouldn't have tax to pay on the rent unless it exceeds the deductions.

Your noncash depreciation tax will probably "shelter" part of your job salaries from income tax. You can depreciate the lower of the house's cost basis (but not the land value) plus capital improvements added during your ownership, or its market value on the date of conversion to rental use.

Depreciation is not an actual cash expense, just a bookkeeping deduction estimate for wear, tear, and obsolescence. It is allowed even though the property is going up in market value. Ask your tax advisor for details.

DEAR BOB: You are to be commended for writing of the benefits of the new Starker "delayed" exchanges and for cautioning readers to always use a real estate attorney for such tax-deferred trades.

However, I think you have been remiss for not emphasizing two other aspects. One is that the IRS has indicated it will challenge Starker-type real estate trades even though the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has approved the technique. As you know, the IRS doesn't have to and often refuses to follow court rulings in future similar situations.

Second, I think it is important to emphasize that it's better for a taxpayer to try a "Starker exchange" and probably defer his profit tax than to make an ordinary property sale and surely pay the tax. As a real estate attorney I've handled dozens of Starker exchanges but I always caution my clients that the IRS may disallow the tax-deferral. By use of a trust to hold the cash proceeds from the sale until a second property can be found to complete the trade, I believe the tests established by the Starker decision are met. Joh H., Washington.

DEAR JOHN: Thank you for your suggestions with which I fully agree. Although the IRS didn't appeal the Starker decision, future IRS challenges of such delayed trades can be expected.

For readers not familiar with a Starker tax-deferred exchange of properties held for investment or business use, it is a way to avoid paying profit tax when selling one property and buying a more expensive replacement. This method doesn't apply to sale of the taxpayer's personal residence.

By use of a trust to hold the sale proceeds until the second property is found, the Starker trade can qualify for tax-deferral allowed by Internal Revenue Code section 1031.

DEAR BOB: I am 18 and will graduate from high school next June. To get a real estate license, do I need a college degree? Clarence T., Bethesda.

DEAR CHARLENE: No. But most states require pre-license courses before you can take the real estate license exam. Even in states not requiring such courses, you'll need to take a basic real estate course to learn the realty fundamentals so you can pass the test.

Many local community colleges and universities, as well as commercial real estate schools, offer the necessary courses. For details on license requirements in the state which interests you, write to the real estate commissioner at the state capital.

DEAR BOB: Thank you for suggesting a lease-option as a "creative finance" method for buying our home. Two weeks ago, we moved in. One-half of the rent we pay on our two-year lease goes toward the purchase price if we elect to buy (we will). Now we have two years to save up the $8,000 down payment we'll need to buy the house. Thanks to you, we have a three-bedroom home to call practically our own. Robert L., Rockville.

DEAR ROBERT: Congratulations on using the lease-option technique to acquire your own home. It's probably the most underused and best way to buy a home with little or no cash.