"I want to make sure I can comfortably afford it before making that leap," says Carlson, who works in Minneapolis. "I don't want to be house poor."

"You really need to assess your overall expenditures, not just your housing expenditures, and ask yourself if you really can afford to buy," said Eric Tyson, co-author of "Home Buying for Dummies." "Home buying is not for everyone - and certainly not for everyone at every point in their lives."

For young people like Carlson, it's not a bad strategy to get one's financial life in order before taking on the kind of debt required to buy even a modest condominium or starter house.

Carlson, who works at the Colle + McVoy public relations agency, said she is focusing on paying off her college debt, then will turn her attention to accumulating money for a down payment on a house.

Diane Saatchi, senior vice president with the Corcoran brokerage in East Hampton, N.Y., said that in some communities, home prices are so high and rents are so low that many find it advantageous to rent. This is especially true in cities like New York, where rent-control laws have kept a lid on rental prices.

Financial planner Brian T. Jones, author of "Getting Started - The Financial Guide for a Younger Generation," said the key to making the move from renting to buying is cash flow.

"People need to make sure they have the money not only for the mortgage but for other expenses that come with ownership," he said, including real estate taxes, insurance and repair and maintenance costs.

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