DEAR BOB: For two years, since we got married, we've been waiting to buy a home. But the more I read your articles, and talk to local realty agents, the more I become convinced that waiting to buy is a losing game. My wife and I have looked at a couple of houses and condos. But we are confused about how we can avoid making a mistake. We both have good jobs, have about $14,000 in our money market fund for the down payment, and are anxious to buy. How can we avoid making a bad mistake? -- Morton A.

DEAR MORTON: Your question has great interest for thousands of other potential home buyers who have postponed buying. Many are waiting in vain for mortgage interest rates to drop. When and if they do, increased buyer demand is expected to cause a sharp surge in home prices.

To protect yourself when buying a home, there are four key questions to ask of the seller or realty agent. If you get the right answers to all four questions, that's probably the right home for you and your wife.

(1) If you were buying this home how much would you offer and why? Sharp agents can show you recent neighborhood sales prices and terms for similar homes. Then add or subtract value for amenities and drawbacks to arrive at your offer price.

(2) What financing is the seller offering? If the seller won't help finance the sale, and you have to get a new mortgage at today's high interest rates, buy another house. Plenty of good homes are available with seller financing at affordable interest rates. A word of caution: be sure the term of the seller financing is adequate, at least three to five years, so you won't be under pressure to refinance soon.

(3) Are there any material defects in the house? If the answer is "no," write in your purchase offer "Seller and agent are aware of no material defects in this house." Then if a defect appears shortly after purchase, such as a leaky roof or unsafe wiring, you have legal recourse against the seller (and the agent if the agent knew of the defect).

(4) Why is the seller selling? This question is the key to structuring your purchase offer. If the sale is because the seller just inherited $1,000,000, you can probably buy for nothing down. If the seller is behind on his mortgage payments, he may accept a low offer. If he just got a job transfer, he's motivated and will be reasonable about price and terms. Ask the right questions, and you'll soon own your own home.

DEAR BOB: I'm a frustrated housewife whose family is now almost grown. My 18-year-old "baby" graduates from high school this year and will go off to college in September. A good friend of mine went into real estate sales about four years ago and is doing quite well. She earns at least $30,000 per year, but she did tell me her earnings are down this year. Do you think now is a good time for a person in my situation to go into real estate sales? -- Dancie O.

DEAR DANCIE: Although real estate sales work offers the best job in the world (unlimited income, freedom to work when and where you want, and constant challenges), realty sales volume is down now due to high cost mortgage financing. New realty agents are having a hard time getting started. Even the old timers must learn innovative finance methods to survive.

Before you can become a top realty salesperson you'll need to take real estate courses. Now is an excellent time to take realty classes to prepare for your sales license exam and to learn about current real estate sales procedures. After you take these college-level classes, you'll (1) know for sure if you want to enter realty sales and (2) be prepared to become an outstanding real estate agent.