It's a buyer's market in real estate, and mortgage rates are at an all-time low. Maybe you're thinking of diving into the real estate market, or maybe you already own a home or land. Wondering how you can get the most of it? Here are some unexpected ways you can use real estate to boost your finances.

In Pictures: 5 Simple Ways To Invest In Real Estate

  1. Multi-Family Dwelling
    When you think of a roommate, you're probably having flashbacks to your college days - but think again. Renting a portion of your home can bring in big bucks, and may even allow you to live in your home for free once you factor in your rental income. Retirees and single professionals could benefit in a big way by splitting housing costs, but even families with unused rooms or basements could profit from having a tenant.

    I

    f you're buying a home, look for properties with finished basements, mother-in-law suites or two master baths, a common feature in many newer homes. Consider adding a kitchenette and a private entrance, which can be done with a small investment, to give your tenant their own space. (Learn more in Tips For The Prospective Landlord.)

  2. Home Business
    Real estate can open doors if you're interested in owning your own business. Auto mechanics, hair dressers and even those with a green thumb growing produce in the backyard can use their home as a place of business. Just be sure to check any zoning laws or homeowners' association rules before hanging out your shingles.If you're working in an office, owning real estate can give you a chance to work from home, and even take a tax deduction. Talk to your boss; you may find telecommuting some or all of the time is your way to get the most out of your real estate dollar.
  3. Storage
    Your garage or unused basement can make a great storage area, for your stuff or someone else's. If you find you have the room, consider placing an ad to rent out your storage space for extra income. Check your local storage providers for the going rate, so you can offer your space at a discount. Make sure you draw up a contractual agreement before renting the space, so you're not liable for damages or claims.
  4. Parking
    That parking space that comes with your apartment is premium real estate. If you're not using your space, rent it out for a monthly fee. Likewise, if you own acreage, consider renting parking spots to RV owners or even campers. Just be sure you're in compliance with any local or homeowners association regulations, and you'll be adding to your bottom line with very little effort.
  5. Vacation Rental
    How about renting out your property as a vacation home? If you travel for long periods of time, or if you're just looking to get income from a second home or other empty property, vacation renting can bring in big money. If you're looking for a cheap vacation, look at swapping homes with someone as a way to get free lodging at a different location; there are many websites where you can connect to others looking to trade places for a few weeks. Just make sure you know what obligations and risks you're committing to before you sign up. (Learn more in Vacation Home Or Income-Producing Investment?)
  6. Collateral
    Real estate can be used as collateral in loans of all kinds, which will give you a better interest rate than an unsecured loan. If you have equity in your property, look at home equity lines of credit (HELOC) at your bank - just be sure you understand the rates and terms. Disclose any liens held on your property when you discuss loan options with your banker.
  7. Long-Term Investing
    Recent price drops have made many investors think twice about real estate holdings. Real estate isn't very liquid, meaning it's hard to convert it to cash in a hurry, and the risks of price fluctuations are real. But there are many opportunities when investing in real estate today; prices and interest rates are at historic lows, and there are even tax incentives to aid homebuyers, making real estate a great investment - as long as you're able to hang on for the long term. Live in your home or rent it out and you'll find real estate to be a smart long-term investment with various uses. (Learn what to avoid in 5 Mistakes Real Estate Investors Should Avoid.)
  8. Tax Shelter
    Nobody likes to pay more taxes than required, which is why investing in real estate is a great way to lower your tax liability. Mortgage interest, closing costs and property taxes could be deducted from your income - check with your tax advisor on ways you can benefit from real estate holdings.

The Bottom Line
Investing in real estate can come with big financial benefits, if you're willing to think outside the box. With mortgage rates still at all-time lows, and housing prices still depressed, now may be a great time to invest in real estate.

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