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Making money in real estate; How You Can Become Financially Independent by Investing in Real Estate, by Albert J. Lowry. New York: Simon & Schuster. 351 pp. $16.95.

This book starts out with a theme common to several others on financial topics: I made my millions - here's how you can do the same. The first chapter, titled ''A Foolproof Formula for Financial Independence,'' contains testimonials on the benefits of the author's seminar and on the book. It ends with a short promotion of his seminars.

One is always tempted to ask, ''If you are so rich, why are you writing this book?'' Mr. Lowry explains that after attaining financial independence in real estate, he found he got deep satisfaction from teaching others through lecturing and writing on how to profit from real estate investment.

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This book, a best seller for three years, has been revised and updated to take account of the 1981 tax laws and other changes in the real estate field.

Unlike some other financial books that have made the best-seller list, this one deserves that honor. It is well written, clear, and full of both common sense and the special sense for real estate attained by Mr. Lowry during his 19 years in the business.

Whether many of the 500,000 buyers of this book have attained financial independence is another matter. However, it perhaps could give some individuals the tips they need to get launched in real estate investment.

Here is Mr. Lowry's formula:

''1. You buy income-producing property, if it's sound structurally and financially. (By 'sound financially,' I mean that within three months it should be bringing in more money than it costs you.)

''2. You arrange monthly payments that you know you can meet, with as small a down payment as possible. . . .

''3. In your spare time, you improve the property in ways that will increase its resale value.

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''4. You pass on the detailed management of the property to others, making sure they manage it economically and profitably. Every dollar you save increases the net income, and could be worth $10 or more in resale value.

''5. You sell or exchange the property, and reinvest some or all of the gains to repeat the process with other properties.''

The author currently recommends buying small apartment houses. But he also writes about investing in single-family homes as rental properties.

Various chapters spell out how to hunt for profitable properties, how to choose your best buy, how to protect yourself against fraud, how to negotiate a good deal, ways to avoid legal booby traps, ways to borrow on real estate, how to save on taxes, and so on. (The 1981 tax law boosted the tax breaks, making real estate investment even more attractive.)

What makes this book impressive is the detail, showing that real estate investing is time consuming and must be tackled seriously. It is not a get-rich-quick business.

Moreover, though Mr. Lowry's formula involves improving properties for eventual resale, his approach is far from soft hearted: You make an improvement, say attractive landscaping for an apartment house, because it increases occupancy rates or permits higher rents, he says. You also need to take account of the fact that children and pets do more damage on average to an apartment than adults.

One caution: The sharp reduction in inflation means that investors can no longer be so sure that higher prices will erase any mistakes in judgment, such as buying over-priced properties.

When one takes into account financing, it becomes clear that house prices in many areas actually fell last year. With tax breaks, an investor in such a house still might have made money. But Mr. Lowry's use of the word ''foolproof'' is hype.

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