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The Mortgage Trap

Nicki Randolph, a San Francisco real estate agent, hasn't been scared off by talk of a housing bubble. Although she already owns both a home and a condo in Palm Springs, Calif., Randolph just closed on a third property -- dropping more than $1 million on a 1,400-square-foot loft in the heart of San Francisco. How does she juggle so many properties in the overheated California market? Lots of leverage, thanks to banks all too willing to provide ever more.

To finance her loft purchase, Randolph took out a mortgage that lets her pay only interest for the first five years -- a tactic that helps her ease into the hefty monthly payments. "Fears that the market is going to crash are way overstated," she says confidently. "It's a seven-mile-by-seven-mile city and a premier place people want to live. You have to be more aggressive here because the pric

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