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For many U.S. residents burned by the housing bust, the notion that real estate can not only tread water but actually increase in value might seem a fairy tale. It's not. A analysis of home sales data from the National Association of Realtors shows that in 18 of the nation's 25 biggest metro areas, home prices grew in value between 1990 and 2010. In one area the change in real dollar price was as much as 85 percent, a return applying only to those who bought homes as a long-term investment, not for easy money flipping real estate. Seven of these metros lost value—generally the result of overbuilding during the real estate boom. Despite recent housing woes, real estate remains one of the best investments the average American can make. And unlike a stock certificate, it provides a place to live.

Click here to see, from lowest to highest, which metros have been good long-term investments—and which have experienced price drops to below 1990 levels in inflation-adjusted dollars.
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