Quick Look At A Lease

Leasing an apartment or a house, if you can find one - may be one way to sit out the high-priced housing market for a year or two. With house prices rising at an annual rate of 10% in many top-grade suburbs and conventional mortgages at 81/2% to 10%, you might be smart to become a tenant for a spell. It depends on your personal circumstances and where you live, but you could be better off leasing - even if you had to break the lease later on. The penalty is usually one to three months' rent.

If you follow the leasing route, you are banking on softer prices for houses - in a certain section of a city - and softer or "easier" mortgage loans, in the future. It's a calculation. But no matter why you lease instead of buy, you will want to check the fine print in the lease with your solicitor, and get every scrap of advantage you can. Note that even your rent can be upped before the lease term ends - if the fine print says it can.

If you have been a homeowner for years, you may be surprised by all the details a lease can cover. For instance, an apartment lease should spell out the question of redecoration - even down to the number of coats of paint. If you'll be putting in a partition or installing, say, a special lighting fixture, it should give you permission and tell who will own any new fixtures when the term is up. Look for special house rules buried in the lease; things like use of the garage, late-hour entertaining, and so on. The trouble is that such rules - if reasonable - can become grounds for eviction if breached. If it's a new building or an old one being renovated, get a safeguard that won't let you be without utilities (heat, light, water) for longer than is absolutely necessary for emergency repairs. It can be an important protection. Generally, you can sublet unless a clause prohibits it. Try to get a firm statement giving you the right. You would continue to be liable for the rent - but you would have an out if you found the right house to buy.

In a suburban town, go directly to the building manager before seeing a real estate agent. If you're leasing a house, try hard to swing an option to buy - sometimes this will work, and provide a break if and when mortgage terms soften.

Clearing the air and putting a damper on the noise

As the owner of a house, you want to make the most of it in terms of comfort, of course. So renovation, rebuilding parts, and redecorating become a way of life during the first year or two. Curbing pollution is a type of renovation that is becoming more popular. If you can't breathe clean air on the city streets, or escape the incessant, driving noise, you can at least do so at home, or try to - if you are willing to pay the going prices.

In a house, central air purifiers are attached to the air-duct system in the basement. An electrostatic precipitator takes 75% to 90% of the dirt, pollen, and smoke out of the air. It will filter the air in your home four to six times an hour (Carrier Corp., General Electric, Chrysler Airtemp; £400 to £500 for 10 rooms). Portable room air purifiers can be plugged into a socket, are under one sq. ft. in size, and make very little noise (Puritron Corp., £50 range). Double-duty units humidify the air and collect dirt. One type is installed in the duct system (Carrier, £100). The other is a room humidifier to which effective air-filtering gear can be attached (Presto Industries, £60 to £100). Standard air conditioners do a fair job in hot weather. They can filter out about 80% of the dirt - but only from the air coming in, not the air already in.

As for noise pollution, the most highly recommended home remedy - soundproofing - can be costly but often well worthwhile. If you want to soundproof a room, the best way is to install inner walls about 6 in. from the existing walls, with acoustical materials in between (about £2 per sq. ft.). Then weatherstrip the doors, or even better, install sound-resistant doors made by such outfits as Munchhausen Soundproofing Co., London (£200 to £600). Windows need the same treatment, of course; the best material is Thermopane - which is 1/4-in. panes with 2-in. to 4-in, between (£125 and up per window). Acoustical ceiling tiles will run you 500 per sq. ft.

It costs £1,500 to £2,500 to soundproof a bedroom or study effectively. But if the job is done properly it will eliminate 75% to 80% of all noise. Machines that "mask" noise by means of a steady, pleasant sound may be effective. But acoustical and medical experts note that the long-range psychological effects of these gadgets aren't known.

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Property Can Be A Tricky Investment

In the 2000s, real estate investment made millionaires - and it created some financial quagmires, too. In the 2000s, the same basics apply, but more finesse is needed to turn a smart pound. In any case, there's more to real estate investment than an inflation hedge. Some of the activity today ties into retirement planning (like buying a six-unit apartment for income and living in one unit). But most investors are just out for cash profit.

Raw land holds the most opportunity - and the most risk. Pick the right spot (say a couple steps ahead of city expansion) and you can make a killing. You may pay £2,000 an acre a few miles out of town, and sell it in 10 years for £20,000.... see: Property Can Be A Tricky Investment