Q: Your column and radio show are fast becoming mandatory for me, especially as they relate to real estate.

I have a question. Is this a good market for landlords? I am specifically thinking about trying to generate rental income. I own rental property in Smyrna, Georgia area, about a half mile from the Village green. This is a good neighborhood filled with older houses.

Do you know if that area has held its own as far as value of residential real estate? It’s hard to get to the truth with all the ads for agents on the Internet.

A: While there are areas of the country I know better than others, it’s hard to stay on top of everything as a syndicated columnist — even if I do spend quite a lot of time in the Atlanta area. But it’s even hard to stay on top of all the neighborhoods in the metro area in which I live, which happens to be Chicago.

So I don’t know specifically what is going on in your neighborhood, but I can tell you exactly what to do to find out how things are going.

Start by taking a look at all of the properties that are on the market now and that are competitive with the types of rental properties you already own. Visit the open houses, so you know what your competition for sale or rentals looks like. Find a great real estate agent who has been working in the area for a long enough time to have seen at least one other down market cycle, or someone new enough who is so starving for business that he or she will work harder than anyone else to get you the information you need to make a smart investment decision.

If the area is filled with foreclosures, then you’ll need someone on your investment team to help you track how much these properties are selling for and how long the timetable for those foreclosure sales is taking.

Once you start to visit these properties, look at the sales data, and pull some rental information, you’ll know whether these properties will meet your investment needs.

In general, I can tell you that if you don’t mind being a landlord, and you have the cash and available credit to purchase properties, it’s starting to be an excellent time to buy. There have been twice as many foreclosures this year as last, and if this pace continues, more than 1 million properties will fall into foreclosure in 2008.

Lenders have started to unload some of these properties at advantageous prices, which usually bodes well as a long-term hold. The big-time residential property investors I know are buying up good properties for good prices.

As far as renting out these properties goes, it’s tough to command a high price at the moment. But if you can afford to carry them through the tough times, I think you’ll enjoy long-term appreciation. Also, as fewer people can afford to buy, they’ll look to rent, and landlords will once again prosper.

As a general rule, some real estate investments may be better than others. In some areas, you may be able to buy single family homes but may not find a market for buyers or renters. You need to gauge the market conditions to see whether people are interested in rentals in a particular area and what those conditions are. If you buy a single family home in an area with many foreclosures and vacancies and few rentals, you may not be able to rent the home even if you buy it at a low price.

I wouldn’t plan on making a killing in the short run and please remember there are risks involved in investing in real estate. It’s just about what you feel you can comfortably carry for the next few years.