Is Homeownership Still Integral to the American Dream?

by Peter Ricci

Homeownership is often pegged as the ultimately realization of the “American Dream,” but a new study from the MacArthur Foundation finds consumers may not agree with that sentiment.

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The housing crisis changed many things in the housing market – appraisals, lending standards, distressed property sales – but research suggested that the  concept of homeownership remained in high favor among American consumers, and that many continued to consider homeownership a study component of their own personal American dream.

Every trend has its rebel, however, and the “How Housing Matters Survey,” a national survey conducted by Hart Research Associates with a commission from the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation, certainly fits that bill in that it crafts a remarkably contrarian portrait of the U.S.’ housing market as it recovers.

How Housing Matters Survey – Statistical Contrarian

In its study, which sampled 1,433 adults between Feb. 27 and March 10, Hart Research Associates uncovered the following sentiments among American consumers:

  • Consumers, according to Hart, are still skittish on the housing market, despite the rising home prices and sales that have characterized the last few months. Fifty-eight percent of respondents still believed the U.S. is only “in the middle” of the housing downturn, with 19 percent thinking “the worst is yet to come.” Though renters were more pessimistic than homeowners, Hart stressed that its findings were consistent across  all regions, income groups, races and political affiliations (though we should mention that such a finding offers a start contrast to the most recent housing survey from Fannie Mae).
  • Similarly, the “How Housing Matters Survey” found differing data on renting. Though 7 out of 10 renters surveyed said they’d like to own one day, renting has become much more appealing for U.S. consumers, while buying has fallen out of favor for some: 57 percent of adult respondents, said buying was now less appealing; 54 percent said renting was now more appealing; and 45 percent of current homeowners can see themselves renting at some point.
  • Perhaps the most dramatic finding, though, was the 61 percent of adult respondents who felt that renters, in addition to homeowners, can achieve the American dream; that sentiment was shared by 67 percent of renters and 59 percent of homeowners.
  • Similarly, more than 3 out of 5 surveyed Democrats, Republicans and Independents all felt that the governments housing policy should support renting and homeownership in equal measure.

Peter D. Hart – Survey Results “Stunning”

Peter D. Hart, the chairman of Hart Research Associates, called the survey results “stunning,” and said that the changing sentiments towards renting/homeownership are both “surprising and significant.”

“America is going through a transformational period in which the old forms and systems are changing, and the unconventional is becoming more conventional and even fashionable,” Hart said. “While the desire to own a home remains a bedrock principle in American life, this survey demonstrates that the American public’s views about housing are changing, in part due … changes in our lifestyles. The dynamic is no longer simply ‘renting versus owning’ – perspectives are more complex, and people are viewing housing in a more holistic way.”

But Carmen Rodriguez, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Edgebrook, said the decline in homeownership interest is due less to shifting attitudes, but economic realities.

“There may be less urgency in home purchasing, not necessarily because of consumers’ shifted attitudes, but because of the reality of homebuying,” Rodriguez said. “Mortgage qualifications are more stringent, down payment requirements more onerous and the rigors of living in a mortgaged property don’t seem as appealing to today’s young buyers because they know it’s a long-haul investment.”

But for those interested in buying, Rodriguez said, there’s still no question of preference. “The uptick we’re seeing in activity is not rental-related. People who can, want to buy and do so without much hesitation.”

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