In the course of a year of writing real estate advice columns, I read at least one real estate book per week.
Selecting the top real estate books of 2005 was especially difficult because an unusually large number of new books were published about the subject this year. Here, in no special order and in time for holiday giving, are the 10 best of 2005, plus several honorable mentions:
* "Reverse Mortgages for Dummies," by Sarah Glendon Lyons and John E. Lucas (Wiley Publishing Inc., $16.99, 249 pages). This is the best of several excellent new books about the pros and cons of tax-free reverse mortgage income for homeowners 62 or older. Especially valuable are the details about the three major reverse mortgage types, the advantages of each, their costs and when obtaining a reverse mortgage is not a smart decision.
* "Building Wealth One House at a Time," by John W. Schaub (McGraw-Hill, $18.95, 225 pages). Written by a successful 32-year investor in single-family rental houses, this book reveals why local houses are the safest long-term realty investment. The author explains how to buy without obtaining bank mortgages and how to select profitable houses that will attract quality tenants.
* "Start Small, Profit Big in Real Estate," by Jay P. DeCima (McGraw-Hill, $19.95, 216 pages). The theme of this book is investing in run-down groups of residential rentals, such as five units, which are a management headache for the seller. The author recommends buying properties with fix-up potential that most lenders won't finance, thereby forcing the sellers to carry back mortgages on attractive terms.
* "Trump Strategies for Real Estate: Billionaire Lessons for the Small Investor," by George H. Ross (John Wiley and Sons, $24.95, 221 pages). The author has been a successful New York real estate lawyer, representing famous investors such as Harry Helmsley, Sam LeFrak, Bill Zeckendorf and, for the last 25 years, Donald Trump. The book is mostly about how Trump became wealthy thanks to his real estate strategies, but the author also shares first-hand insider stories and how he came to realize that every problem has a price tag for its solution. This superb book should be required reading for every serious real estate investor.
* "Real Estate Dealmaking," by George F. Donohue (Dearborn-Kaplan Publishing Co., $19.95, 177 pages). Written by the president of the nation's oldest real estate company (established 1866), this book explains winning real estate negotiation strategies for dealing with buyers, sellers, contractors, property managers, lawyers and brokers. In this book, which cannot be recommended too highly, the author includes personal examples from his many years of worldwide real estate negotiations. He even shares a few of his negotiation mistakes.
* "What No One Ever Tells You About Investing in Real Estate," by Robert J. Hill II (Dearborn-Kaplan Publishing Co., $18.95, 200 pages). This is the most unusual real estate book of 2005 because it is a collection of 112 mini-chapters about real estate investor personal experiences and the valuable lessons to be learned from them. Many of these true stores will make you laugh. Others will make you cry. Compiled by a Nashville real estate attorney and investor, these real-life stories show investor mistakes to avoid and how to take advantage of profit opportunities.
* "The Pre-Foreclosure Property Investor's Kit," by Thomas J. Lucier (John Wiley and Sons, $19.95, 249 pages). This ultra-complete book reveals almost everything necessary to profitably acquire foreclosure distress properties without making costly mistakes. The author includes the forms he uses when acquiring foreclosures, along with details of how he uses the Internet to locate distressed owners, find property records, search state foreclosure statutes and timetables, plus many other valuable websites, mostly free. Especially valuable, the author shares many personal experiences.
* "Profit by Investing in Real Estate Tax Liens," by Larry B. Loftis (Dearborn-Kaplan Publishing Co., $19.95, 235 pages). For those who are interested in real estate profits but don't want to actually own property, which requires management, this detailed book reveals how to profit by investing in tax liens, just as major banks do, with safety and risk avoidance. The author not only explains the procedures in every state offering tax lien sales, but he shares many personal experiences of his bidding for these investments.
* "What No One Ever Tells You About Renovating Your Home," by Alan J. Heavens (Dearborn-Kaplan Publishing Co., $18.95, 208 pages). In a likable, self-deprecating way, the author shares his many personal home renovation experiences, as well as those of homeowners he has interviewed. Emphasis is placed on when it's best to hire professional contractors and when to do the work yourself. "Never spend money if it won't boost your property value," is the book's theme.
* "Every Landlord's Tax Deduction Guide," by Stephen Fishman (Nolo Press, $34.99, 250 pages). This unusual book makes tax tactics actually interesting, whether you are a novice or a serious full-time investor. The author uses many lively examples and charts to make potentially boring topics understandable and interesting. The book heavily emphasizes maximizing depreciation deductions.
* "Profit from Your Vacation Home Dream," Christine Hrib Karpinski (Dearborn-Kaplan Publishing Co., $19.95, 212 pages). If you own or are thinking about buying a second or vacation home, this book shows how to make such property a profitable investment and how to wisely rent it during the times you aren't personally using it. The author, who specializes in vacation home sales and rentals, shows with many examples what to look for when buying and how to successfully manage rentals from long distances.
* "Real Estate Investing for Dummies," by Robert S. Griswold and Eric Tyson (Wiley Publishing Inc., $21.99, 332 pages). Both beginner and experienced real estate investors will profit from studying all the aspects to consider when maximizing property profits. Almost every property investment ownership topic is explained, such as how to hold title, improving cash flow, avoiding problems, and even exit strategies when it's time to sell.
* "The Complete Guide to Investing in Undervalued Properties," by Steve Berges (McGraw-Hill, $19.95, 201 pages). The author, an experienced real estate investor, reveals how to find underpriced properties and how to profitably acquire them either for long-term investment or resale profits. Emphasis is placed on "how you can help distressed lenders" by acquiring their foreclosed properties. The author recommends special techniques, such as paying rewards to "scouts" and using high-leverage techniques to minimize cash investments.
* "Tips and Traps for Remodeling Your Kitchen," by R. Dodge Woodson (McGraw-Hill, $16.95, 202 pages). The author, a professional contractor for more than 30 years, explains how to remodel your kitchen and survive by anticipating and avoiding potential problems that he has encountered many times. The book places heavy emphasis on "insider information" for saving money and avoiding rip-offs by bad contractors.
* "21 Things Every Home Inspector Should Know," by Frank Cook and Pat Remick (Dearborn-Kaplan Publishing Co., $24.95, 200 pages). This is really a detailed "how to become a successful professional home inspector" book with a realistic view of the work involved. The authors emphasize that the magazine "earn $1,000 per day inspecting homes" ads really aren't true. Then they share what is necessary to create a profitable home inspection business.
Robert J. Bruss writes the Real Estate Mailbag column that appears each week in this section.