Your Best Investment Can real estate really make you rich?
By Robert Safian/Managing Editor

(MONEY Magazine) – All over America, homeowners are gloating over their wealth-building prowess: Thanks to steadily rising residential real estate prices, the net worth of the American family has reclaimed its Internet-bubble heights. Who needs a stockbroker when a simple three-bedroom colonial can double in value in a few years? Who needs to put away cash for retirement when investing that money in a new bathroom or porch delivers near-instant asset appreciation? Real estate is the surest, safest path to wealth and has been since before most of us heard of dotcoms and IPOs and even 401(k)s.

Okay, that's one way of looking at it. Then there's the other side: How long can this feeding frenzy in real estate possibly last? Appreciating this much, this fast, just doesn't make sense. Besides, I'll get the value out of my house only if I sell--and then, where am I going to move? Every place else is wildly expensive too.

Does this debate sound familiar? If so, you have lots of company. From coast to coast, topic A is the amazing boom in home prices and just what it means for our finances today, tomorrow and years down the line. This issue of MONEY, conceived by assistant managing editor Ellen Stark, tackles those issues with breadth and depth, from "What Is Your House Worth?" (page 60) and "What's Next for Home Prices" (page 68) to "Renovations That Pay" (page 109) and "The Essential Homeowners Checklist" (page 94).

No single magazine issue can answer all of your real estate questions, so we're delighted by our website's ramped-up coverage. At estate, you can keep tabs on the hottest markets and the latest mortgage rates, and calculate the return you'll get from that new addition.

A home is a special thing--a major investment that the government subsidizes (through mortgage-deduction tax breaks), and the only one on which you can take tax-free capital gains. Plus, you get to live there--a benefit no stock or fund can provide. This makes your home your most complicated, most personal, most emotionally significant investment. We hope this issue gives you the tools to make the right decisions about your biggest asset.