America's House Party

Record home prices are inflaming passions--and pocketbooks--as never before. Inside our raucous obsession with real estate

John Williams, a disc jockey from Long Beach, Calif., is available for weddings and birthday parties. He also does real estate closings. Williams, 40, recently decided to hitch his fortunes to the Southern California home market, buying houses, fixing them up and--in the parlance of our times--flipping them for a quick profit. "I saw so many friends and colleagues getting rich," he says. "I wanted to get rich too."

Williams has made some money--he flipped his first two properties for a combined gain of $27,000--and quickly discovered that he's not alone. "I went to look at some homes in Palmdale- Lancaster...

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