The betting, reportedly, is against Elin Nordegren showing up to watch Tiger Woods at the Masters golf tourney in August, Ga., April 8-11. Elin is Woods' estranged wife, who has been seen in public lately without her wedding ring. (For background on Tiger's financial fallout, see The Tiger Woods Effect.)

It's too soon to be sure whether Nordegren and Woods are bound to lead separate lives long-term. But if they are, Woods may soon be facing a decision that millions of well-off singles wrestle with at least once in their lives: Do I buy a bachelor pad or rent one?

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Tiger, of course, has the wealth to do whatever he wants. For those facing the question with lesser means, the answer depends on how long you plan to stay single. Data from Zillow.com shows that one-bedroom apartments outperformed all homes in the decade through January. The value of such apartments rose at an annual average rate of 6.3%, vs. 3.9% for all homes. The average one-bedroom home in the U.S. was valued at around $140,000 in January, up from $76,000 in February 2000.
The problem with single-bedroom residences is that owners tend to hold onto them for too short a time to reap the financial rewards of their relatively rapid appreciation. In particular, short-term owners' returns get whittled away by the high transaction costs related to buying and selling the properties.

Suppose that in July 2002 you'd plunked down the local median price of $209,000 for a one-bedroom home in Boston, Mass. Suppose also that you sold it in November 2006, at the peak of the last boom, for it $241,800, or 15.7% more than you'd paid. That's a respectable gain - until you factor in the $8,000 you'd likely have paid upfront to close the deal and the $14,500 you'd have shelled out to get a real estate agent to sell the place.

Strip out those costs and you're left with a 4.7% cash-on-cash return. After inflation you'd have actually lost money - and that's in a buoyant market. During rental slumps, one-bedroom homes are especially prone to poor performance, notes Stan Humphries, Zillow's chief economist.

"Economically speaking, they're [one-bedroom residences] highly substitutable for rental stock," says Humphries. "The customer base is fluid. It can opt to rent when the costs of owning get too high. That's not so true with multiple-bedroom homes for families."

Rents in many cities are weak now; a lot of people who invested in big-city condominiums are leasing out units they hope to sell at a later date. Zillow's data indicates that one-bedroom homes have slightly underperformed the market over the past year. The average one-bedroom home has shed 6.8% of its value during that time, vs. a 5.6% loss for three-bedroom homes and a 4% loss for five-bedroom homes. One factor hurting one-bedroom homes is their relatively high exposure to competition from rentals, Humphries says.

If you're in the market for a one-bedroom residence, calculate the cost of owning vs. renting in your city. Then ask yourself how committed you are to bachelorhood. If you're highly likely to stick with the single life, owning offers good potential for sound returns. Otherwise, you may be better off renting. (For more insight, see To Rent Or Buy? The Financial Issues.)

If, like Tiger, you have considerable means, an alternative is to buy a bigger place. An extra bedroom can make for a fine billiards den, home office or guest room. Then, if love strikes, your new partner or spouse will have the option of moving in without crowding you out.

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