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Housing bust? So what? We still want to own

By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The American Dream is still alive and kicking, including within immigrant and minority communities, according to a survey from mortgage giant Fannie Mae.

The housing crisis hasn't quenched the homeownership thirst, the company found. More than 51% of people said the bust did not change their willingness to buy a home and an additional 27% said it actually made them more likely to do so.

"The crisis has not put a dent in the desire to own," said Doug Duncan, Fannie's chief economist, "although it may have changed the reasons that people want to own."

The report, the first close analysis Fannie has taken of consumer attitudes about the rent-or-own decision, found that qualitative reasons -- like having the ability to remodel or to send the kids to a better school -- have overtaken financial considerations as the primary motivators for homeownership.

Some misperceptions about financial benefits may help to keep it high.

"People's attitudes don't always line up with empirical facts," said Duncan.

For example, although trillions of dollars of equity were wiped out by the housing bust and millions of people will lose homes to foreclosure, nearly two-thirds of people surveyed still believe purchasing a house is a safe investment. That could be viewed as a major disconnect.

Also, more than half the public thought buying a home was a good idea financially even if they plan to move out in less than three years. That's actually rarely true because transactional costs like real estate commissions, title insurance costs and mortgage fees take a big cut off the top of selling and purchase prices.

Furthermore, a huge majority, 86% of those surveyed, cite income-tax benefits -- mostly the mortgage interest deduction -- as a big reason to buy. That benefit, however, is very small for most homeowners or even nonexistent.

"Lower-income homeowners, for example, don't itemize," said Duncan, "so there is no tax benefit for them at all."

Broad homeownership hopes

Fannie found that no matter what their ethnicity or immigration status, Americans generally share similar positive attitudes toward homeownership, even though there are substantial differences among these groups in homeownership rates.

It seems that economic opportunities, not attitudes, account for much of the variation.

Only 44% of African Americans own homes, for instance, compared with 71% of whites, but that disparity starts to vanish among families in stronger financial circumstances. African Americans' homeownership rises to 60% for those earning between $50,000 and $99,000, for example.

The survey findings have implications for Fannie's business model. Non-Hispanic whites are projected to account for just 46% of the population by 2050. Immigration will account for most of the population growth between now and then.

And since, as the report stated, "strong homeownership aspirations exist across races, ethnicities and immigrant groups," Fannie can count on future demand for owner-occupied homes remaining strong, as long as the economy cooperates. To top of page

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