This story originally aired May 19, 2006.
Is buying a house the ticket to financial freedom? According to financial expert and author David Bach, home ownership is the key to personal wealth.
"You can't get rich if you're a renter. The American dream of home ownership has really separated the rich from the poor in this country. The average renter in America today is worth less than $5,000. The average homeowner is worth over $172,000," Bach said.
Bach is spreading that message in his best-seller "The Automatic Millionaire: Homeowner." He took that message on a bus tour, with the zeal of a gospel preacher.
"It's more than just the gospel of home ownership. It's the gospel of freedom," he said.
Bach isn't opposed to other investment strategies, he's just convinced that homeownership is a sure bet. "I'm not against the stock market, but the simplest investment people will ever make that really performs well for them is their home. It's the ultimate retirement account," he said.
"There are nearly 10 million renters today that could actually afford to buy a home, to get a mortgage, but they don't know it," he said. "You don't need a big down payment. You don't have to have perfect credit."
"20/20" challenged Bach to help two families out of that 10 million realize the American dream of buying their first home.
Alison and Greg Kenyon, from the metro Detroit area, make nearly $60,000. Last year, they had a 2-year-old and a baby on the way and were quickly outgrowing their rental apartment but they admit they didn't know a thing about buying a home.
During a meeting with the Kenyons, Bach had surprising news for them: Their monthly payments might actually be less if they buy.
"Because you get a tax write-off for your mortgage, it will actually be less expensive for you to own than rent," he told them.
He told them that based on their strong credit history, they should have no trouble getting a $180,000 loan.
Even though they have a nest egg of $10,000, Bach advised them to take a hard look at their spending, especially at Greg's specialty beer collection.
"I teach people to look at what I call the 'latte factor,' because it helps to find money. We all spend money on little things, like lattes at Starbucks or bottled water or cigarettes, eating out," he said.
Next, Bach met Bambi and John Norris. They live in a rented home outside Fresno, Calif., with their two children. Bambi is a schoolteacher and Jason sells tires. With a combined salary of $40,000 — less than the national average — the Norrises are a bigger challenge for Bach. Although the Norrises are eager to have a place of their own, it's an uphill battle as they struggle to pay the bills every month.
When Bach visited, he took one look in the kids' rooms and immediately discovered their latte factor: their son's video games and their daughter's pricey hobby, beauty pageants.
"I'm not trying to take all the fun out of your life here, but just cutting that back would probably be a difference between a $150,000 home and a $200,000 home," Bach told them.
It was a welcome and important dose of reality for the Norrises.
"My stomach hurts to think of all the money that we've put into games and silly things that we could do without," Bambi said.