With money tight and first-time home buyers worried about recession and the Persian Gulf, aggressive real estate marketers are introducing 1990 versions of creative financing: nothing down, no closing costs, no transfer taxes.

There are also new variations on the "lease with option to buy" concept, including "reverse lease-options." These allow you to buy now but pack a parachute in case you want to bail out later.

Discussions with home builders, real estate agents and home sellers in major markets suggest that tough times are producing a bumper crop of innovative deals.

Here is a sample, with some practical advice for consumers before they sign on the dotted line.

Outside Baltimore, condominiums are selling rapidly at a 330-unit project called the Gardens at Owings Mills. The financing terms are hard to refuse: No down payment -- 100 percent financing provided by a bank insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. No closing costs -- they're all paid by the developer. No mortgage "points," fees or transfer taxes. And your 30-year loan carries a 7 percent payment rate in the first year, 8 percent in the next and 9 percent in the third. Only in the fourth year does it turn into an adjustable-rate mortgage, with regular annual and lifetime rate caps to protect you from payment shock.

Tina Bonney, president of Boston-based Universal Brokerage Services, the marketer for the Owings Mills project, said she has taken in signed sales contracts on 30 units in the past two weeks. "We are trying to deal with the fears that we see in {first-time} buyers' eyes," she said.

Many middle-income renters, Bonney said, are ready and eager to buy a home. But they're grappling with two hard facts this fall. First, the $3,000 or more they've managed to save over the past couple of years barely scratches the surface of most starter-home down payment and closing-cost packages.

Second, with the economy in a slowdown, these would-be buyers ask: Isn't this a risky time to take all our savings and put them into a home purchase? We end up with no savings and higher monthly expenses at the worst time imaginable -- the start of a national economic downturn.

To "move inventory" in the face of such legitimate concerns, Bonney said the developer and a commercial bank came up with the nothing-down, no-costs concept. The only out-of-pocket payment required from purchasers is a two-month "prepaid reserve fund" for the condo association. The maximum charge for that, according to Bonney, is $223.

While nothing-down plans like Bonney's can indeed "move inventory," potential buyers confronting such deals elsewhere should keep these pointers in mind:

Kick the tires especially hard. Developers don't give away condos. Banks don't give away money. The financing incentives almost certainly take the place of price reductions on the units. Like retailers anywhere, smart condo marketers try to determine what will yield more sales: a cut in the price of the merchandise or a cut in the financing costs necessary to buy the merchandise? Either way, it's probably a calculated reduction at the developer's bottom line.

Check the developer, the property, its history and physical condition with extra care. When condos need to be moved fast, they may have deferred maintenance and other problems that excited buyers discover too late.

A second, increasingly popular way to turn tenants into homeowners across the country this fall: variations on the "rent with option to buy" plan.

Typical of the programs in the market is one being used at Prospect Towers, a 192-unit condominium in East Orange, N.J. Originally built as a luxury project in the 1960s by Donald Trump's father, Fred Trump, the project now allows you to buy a three-bedroom unit for $99,000 to $115,000, or to move in on a lease-option.

Under the option deal, you pay regular rent of $1,000 to $1,100 a month on the unit for up to a year. Any time during the 12 months, you can buy at the original price, get an attractive mortgage and have three months' rent credited to your down payment.

On Long Island, Century 21-AA Realty has introduced a different concept: Buy a subdivision home now and you can back out of the deal later. You can simply turn your down payment into rent for some agreed-upon period of time.

Sounds fair? Sure. But again, kick the tires harder on creative-financing deals like this than you would on conventional offers. Is the property overpriced? Is the developer distressed? Will the seller be around to fulfill his promises later? Get advice and answers from a qualified professional who can cut through the complicated lease-option terms and legal boilerplate.

But if it all checks out, go for it.