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Americans exit the housing crisis with new appreciation for renting

By REAL ESTATE ECONOMY WATCH   |   April 8, 2013 at 5:13 PM   |   Comments

“Transformational” changes have taken place in the way people think about housing as a result of their often traumatic experiences during the housing crisis. No longer is owning a home considered more stable than renting, and the stigma associated with renting has dissipated following years of headlines about homes lost to foreclosure and financial security that disappeared with millions of homeowners’ equity.

Though nearly three out of four (72 percent) of the renters among the 1433 adults who took part in the survey still aspire to own a home at some point in their lives, homeownership was the big loser in the study that included a survey and ten focus groups.

Some key findings:

--There’s been a seismic shift in renting versus owning. Some 57 percent of adults believe that “buying has become less appealing,” and by nearly the same percentage (54 percent), a majority believes that “renting has become more appealing” than it was before, producing a net shift of 60 percent.

--Nearly half of current owners (45 percent) can see themselves renting at some point in the future.

--Homeownership is no longer synonymous with the American Dream. Three in 5 adults (61 percent) believe that “renters can be just as successful as owners at achieving the American Dream.” This sentiment is broadly felt, among owners (59 percent) as well as renters (67 percent), and across all regions of the country.

--Ownership is no guarantee of housing stability. Nearly half of all respondents (45 percent), owners and renters, have experienced a time in their life when their “housing situation was not stable and secure.”

These changing attitudes extend to the way Americans perceive governmental housing policies. After having been provided with information about U.S. housing policy and demographic and lifestyle changes, more than 3 in 5 self-identified Democrats (69%), Republicans (62%), and Independents (65%) believe the “focus of our housing policy should be fairly equally split on rental housing and housing for people to own.” This balanced approach toward government policies supporting both rental housing and homeownership shows similar support among all races, ages, regions, and income levels.

“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. A prime example of this can be seen through changing perspectives on housing. 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 to the hangover from the housing crisis, but importantly, also because of 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,” said Peter D. Hart of Hart Research Associates.

“Many of the positive attributes that have long been associated with homeownership are fading, and on the flip side of the coin, it is remarkable that nearly half of all homeowners can picture themselves one day becoming a renter.”

“It is stunning,” Hart said, “to see how Americans are beginning to favor a new balance that serves both the homeownership and rental markets. The emergence of this more balanced view that government support for rental housing and homeownership should be equalized is both surprising and significant. The How Housing Matters survey underscores that it’s no longer renters versus owners, the haves versus the have-nots, or the young versus the old. There is a new and real acceptance of a more balanced approach to housing policy that puts renting and owning on a more equal footing.”

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