Opportunities to make big, quick profits in residential real estate tend to come and go in cycles.When a local market is hot, families may find it possible to buy a house at an attractive price, fix it up, and watch its value rise in just a few years. When the same local market is at the low end of the appreciation cycle, reaping a profit on the family home can take a good deal more time but the reward can be just as satisfying if price and location and carefully considered.Even in uncertain economic times like these, history shows that real estate is one of the soundest investments a family can make.During the Great Depression of the 1930s when the stock market plummeted as much as 89 percent, housing prices dropped only 39 percent.According to most of the research on housing trends, prices continually stay at the same level as, and most often appreciate faster than, the rate of inflation. Housing prices actually rose an average of 10 percent during the recessions of the mid-1970’s and early 80's. CENTURY 21 statisticians report that the rate of home appreciation since 1990 has been around five percent nationally, with inflation hovering around four percent.Homeowners, obviously, are still staying ahead in the real estate game on average.And, with mortgage interest rates the lowest they’ve been in two decades, real estate today is a more attractive investment than it’s been in years.First-time buyers are the big winners in this environment.Drawing up a budget can help you and your family decide on what you can afford.Once you’ve determined a price and picked your desired community, shop around to find the best house you can buy for your money.This strategy can help you realize greater appreciation two or three years down the road.This is also a good time to purchase a second or vacation home.A cottage near the beach today might bring an excellent return when housing prices move upward.Affordable second-home prices also allow you to purchase a vacation home that can serve as a stepping-stone to a larger retreat in the future.But appreciation isn’t the only advantage to buying a home.The federal government thinks home ownership is so important to the future of our country that it allows mortgage interest to remain the last substantial tax shelter for families.Owners can also take deductions on their property taxes.And, the profit on the sale of your home remains tax free as long s you buy a house for a greater or equal price. So before you decide that this is not a good time to invest in residential property, re-examine the financial benefits of owning your own home and put them to work for you.