As you might expect, those involved in real estate in its many forms are searching for answers, wondering what happened and looking for flickers of hope.

There is grim reality, for example, as expressed by Douglas Tibbetts, president of Equitable Real Estate Investment Management Inc. in Atlanta, Ga."The days of self-delusion are gone," says Tibbetts. "Any thought of a soft landing in real estate is gone as well.

"We are in a cleansing stage, like in a washing machine. This is the hot water wash now. Then we'll rinse out a lot of the people in the industry and take a tossing and tumbling for a while in the spin dry cycle.

"We'll all be a little more worn when we come out."

There is despair about the immediate future. Let Michael Sumichrast, publisher and editor of the "Sumichrast Report," a newsletter for housing executives, tell you about it:

"I cannot find many compelling reasons to believe the recession will be a short one. The current quarter will be the first to see minus growth. It is hard to imagine the first or second quarter of 1991 will perform any better.

"Lowering interest rates is clearly a good move, but 50 basis points are not going to make much difference. There is very little the administration, burdened with so much debt, can do to stimulate the economy. . . .

"The S&L crisis will take several years to settle. Add to this the problems with the banks and other financial intermediaries, and we will be in a financial squeeze for some time. . . . "

But there is hope, too. An article in "Realtor News," a weekly publication of the National Association of Realtors, tells why. It begins this way:

"Lower mortgage interest rates could be a key factor that sets the national single-family home sales rate back on an upward path this coming spring, presaging a decade of healthy growth. . . . "

It cites forecasts by three economists who monitor the housing industry.

Roger Brinner, chief economist for the McGraw-Hill Financial Services Co., sees strong housing markets for the remainder of the 1990s. "Housing is going to be a growth industry," he said.

Mortgage rates will fall, said John Tuccillo, the NAR's own economist. And Barbara Allen, a housing analyst for Kidder, Peabody & Co., said the baby boomers will remain a strong force in the market.

Why, there may even be more than hope. There might be opportunity in the midst of the gloom, not sometime in the future but now, ready to be pounced upon by aggressive investors.

And not just good opportunities, but perhaps better than have been seen in a decade.

Richard Grillo, an international real estate investment adviser and partner in the New York firm of Weatherall Green & Smith, presents this view:

"For those American real estate companies willing to accept the challenge, Europe offers a window of opportunity that won't be open long. Most appealing are yields on prime, investment-grade real estate in the United Kingdom . . .