THERE is something comforting about investing in bricks and mortar. To many people it is a solid, "real" asset, unlike those complex pieces of paper that flighty financial markets spend all their time trading.

But that very tangibility can lead to reckless speculation. Banks are almost always willing to lend against the security of property. The more they lend, the higher prices are driven. History is littered with stories of property crazes that ended in tears, from the Florida land boom of the 1920s to the recent subprime bubble.

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