My favorite real estate truth-teller is John T. Reed of Alamo, Calif. He writes a newsletter, the Real Estate Investor's Monthly, and he watches the self-styled real estate gurus with a hard, appraising eye.

The gurus hold themselves out as teachers. Would-be real estate tycoons pay some of them up to $6,000 for investment seminars, books and tapes. Yet you can get better information for $200 or less. "Real estate investment advice is the only field I know where the worst material available is also the most expensive," Reed says.

If you're looking for investment help, your very first stop should be Reed's Real Estate Guru Ratings ( He lists 48 people or real estate courses, and what he thinks of their advice. Of the 48, 25 are specifically "not recommended." If Reed knows of any legal troubles the gurus have run into, he posts that, too.

It's not all that hard to spot a phony, Reed says. Even if you don't know anything about a guru's work, certain telltale signs give him away. According to Reed's "Real Estate B.S. Artist Detection Checklist," you've got a probable charlatan if:

? The guru drenches you with dreams of a luxurious lifestyle.

He accessorizes himself with flash, such as ostentatious jewelry and rented limousines. His TV infomercial promises you vast riches, usually for very little work.

? His testimonials are too good to be true.

Ordinary people sitting in mansions or country clubs talk about how much easy money they made after taking the guru's course. They supposedly made it fast, and with little or no money down. "Guys with a lifetime of experience will tell you they can't do that," Reed says.

? He pictures himself as a god descending from Mount Olympus.

His ad copy will say "America's leading real estate expert," "Number One and most sought after," "Innovative, famous, spectacularly successful!" By contrast, the respectable gurus usually describe themselves in low-key ways say, "Landlord to 360 tenants and lecturer at the University of California."

? He claims to do hundreds of deals, and to hold a huge real estate portfolio.

"Baloney," Reed says. Genuine gurus who do a deal a month or more are extremely rare. Someone who does dozens of deals is almost certainly buying garbage properties, just to tell awed wannabes that he's done them. Gurus have the same 24-hour day as everyone else. If they're managing a major guru business making TV infomercials, doing seminars, arranging for books and tapes they don't have time to hunt for real estate investments, too.

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