Fannie Mae's latest National Housing Survey shows that Americans have markedly changed their perception of homeownership.

The most recent survey, conducted between October and December 2010, revealed that 64 percent of respondents felt buying a home was a safe investment.  This is 6 points below the responses given in a January 2010 survey and 19 points below the answers to an initial survey conducted in 2003.  Persons who are currently renting or who are delinquent on their mortgages ranked home owning lower with 53 percent of both subgroups feeling a home was a safe investment.

But at the same time, 84 percent of consumers believe that owning a home makes more sense than renting, a number that has remained relatively stable since the January 2010 survey. Respondents gave, as positive reasons for homeownership the quality of local schools (79 percent) and safety (also 79 percent.)  These ranked far ahead of any financial considerations such as tax benefits or a belief that paying rent makes less sense.   Among renters 28 percent thought renting made more sense.  

The National Housing Survey was conducted by phone with 3,407 Americans age 18 and up.  The sample included a random group of 3,004 members of the general population made up of 751 homeowners, 1,232 mortgage borrowers, and 871 renters.  An oversample of 403 random delinquent borrowers was also contacted.  Fannie Mae conducted similar surveys in January and June 2010 and from July to September 2010 and in 2003.  The survey reported out some of its findings among subsets which included renters, delinquent borrowers, Afro-Americans, Hispanics, and "Generation Y" (adults aged 18 to 34.)

Americans have grown more confident about the stability of home prices than they were one year ago although this is not matched by their attitudes regarding strength in the economy.  A majority (78 percent) feel that home prices will either stay the same or go up (73 percent held this position in January) versus 19 percent who expect further declines.  Expectations among the 26 percent expecting an increase were modest; the average projected increase was 0.4 percent. 

A larger share of respondents - 39 percent - expect rents to increase over the next year with the average estimate of increase at 2.8 percent.

"Over the course of the last year, we gained deeper insights into Americans' confidence in the strength of the housing market and the economic recovery," said Doug Duncan, Vice President and Chief Economist of Fannie Mae. "More Americans believe that housing prices will remain stable over the next year. We also are seeing encouraging signs in the positive attitudes toward homeownership among younger Americans, despite the severe impact of the housing crisis on Generation Y. But most respondents to our survey continue to lack confidence in the strength of the economic recovery, and they are less optimistic about their ability to buy a home in the years ahead. This sense of uncertainty is weighing on the housing recovery today and reshaping expectations for housing for the future."

Consumers' own financial situations have not improved over the last year.  Six in 10 respondents said their monthly household income has remained about the same compared to January 2010 while nearly half of the delinquent borrowers reported a significant decline.  Significantly higher expenses were reported by 34 percent of respondents and 22 percent reported significant declines.     

Financial reasons were most frequently named as significant obstacles to owning a home; poor credit topped the list.  42 percent of renters and seventy-three percent of delinquent borrowers  cited income which is insufficient for their existing expenses.   Seventy-nine percent of renters believe they would have to make a financial sacrifice to own a home and 54 percent say it would require a "great deal" of sacrifice.

The number of delinquent borrowers who say they have considered defaulting on their mortgage has declined from 39 percent in January 2010 to 31 percent and most Americans (86 percent) continue to disapprove of strategic defaults even when the home is underwater.

Despite being hit hard by the housing crisis which saw the homeownership rates in its age group drop almost four percentage points since 2009 to 39.8 percent, Generation Y remains positive about owning a home.  Sixty-one percent of that subgroup in the survey felt that buying a home is a safe investment.  They gave a higher value to the impact of homeownership on societal status and as a place to raise children than did other subgroups in the survey.

Minority groups have a more positive outlook toward homeownership and the economy than the general population.  Fifty-none percent of Hispanics expect their personal financial situation to improve over the next year compared to 78 percent of the general population and 40 percent of African Americans.  About a third of each of the two minority groups say that it is likely they will buy a home in the next three years compared to about 25 percent of all survey respondents.  Both Hispanics and African-Americans are more likely, in most cases by double digits, to place a high value on homeownership as a good place to raise children, a better way to provide an education for those children, a motivation to be a better citizen, a place to keep your family safe, and as a wealth builder than is the general population..  Only 38 percent of African Americans think the economy is on the wrong track compared to 62 percent of the general population and 59 percent of Hispanics

HERE is the fact sheet

HERE are charts and infographics

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