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Obituaries

Robert J. Bruss, 67; real estate expert wrote advice column

September 28, 2007|From a Times Staff Writer

Robert J. Bruss, an author, investment expert and syndicated real estate columnist whose advice appeared in newspapers across the country for more than two decades, died Wednesday at his Burlingame, Calif., home, according to Inman News, the Emeryville, Calif., news service that distributes his column. He was 67.

The cause of death was cancer, said Bradley J. Inman, his friend and publisher.

Bruss, who began writing his column 23 years ago, was sometimes called the "Dear Abby of Real Estate" for his straightforward, knowledgeable writing on questions that often perplex consumers. He wrote about such matters as how to prepare a house for sale, whether vacation homes were good investments and how to choose a Realtor or home inspector.

Sometimes he was asked for advice on unusual problems, such as how to deal with a neighbor who refused to remove an active beehive near the property line. Bruss recommended that the reader "hire a real estate attorney to sue them for an injunction to abate the private nuisance beehive" and try to convince other neighbors to join the action and share the legal costs.

Bruss was well versed in such maneuvers, having practiced real estate law for years before journalism beckoned. A Minneapolis native and graduate of Northwestern University School of Business Administration, he earned a law degree from UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco in 1967 and practiced real estate law in Northern California.

His dismay at the quality of real estate journalism launched his writing career at the San Francisco Examiner more than two decades ago. "They had a terrible real estate section," he told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2004, "and I thought I could do better."

He was also a real estate broker with a profitable hobby of renovating rundown houses. His strategy focused on leasing to tenants with an option to buy, then carrying back a second mortgage for income.

"It's easier to collect mortgage payments than rent, and there's no more managing tenants and toilets," said Bruss, who was not married and had no children. "Those mortgage payments are my retirement."

In addition to his column, which appeared weekly in The Times, he published two monthly newsletters and wrote several books, including "The Smart Investor's Guide to Real Estate" (1983) and "The California Foreclosure Book" (1991).

He also co-authored, with William Pivar, a college textbook, "California Real Estate Law," which was released in its sixth edition in 2005.

His final column will run Sunday in The Times' Real Estate section.

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