Larry Tschirhart was more than happy to help his 23-year-old daughter, Amber, buy her first home in Dallas.

"I just felt that our daughter needed something to get her out of the apartment environment and more into a residential neighborhood," said Tschirhart, an oil and gas engineer in Troup, Tex. "The residential areas are a lot safer. There's a more family/community-type environment."

Amber Tschirhart's parents, who helped her with the down payment, aren't alone.

"Historically, an important source of down payments has been family," said Nicolas P. Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. "Most often it's parents, but it can be extended family. Even in some of the foreign-born households, there are some of those same traditions -- not necessarily getting money from parents but from extended families."

It's a great way to get children started on building wealth, said Craig Jarrell, Dallas region president for Pulaski Mortgage Co. "Talk about a great way to transfer wealth between the generations," he said. "Just give them a 20 percent stake in their house."

Amber Tschirhart, a newly minted nurse, jumped at the chance to become a homeowner. "It was a good deal," she said. "I was just sick of wasting money on rent." Now, she said, "I feel like I've entered the real world."