Out of Touch with Realty Reality

Out of touch with realty reality
Thursday June 21, 2:31 pm ET

By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com staff writer

Despite turmoil in the housing markets that includes record foreclosure numbers, mortgage rate increases and home price depreciation, homeowners don’t believe there’s a real estate slump, according to a new poll.

Most - 55 percent - are confident that their homes continued to increase in value compared with a year ago, according to a nationwide telephone survey conducted this month by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a business and management strategy firm.

The overconfidence of homeowners doesn’t jibe with the findings of most home-price indices, which point to lower median single-family house prices of about 2 percent nationwide.

“Americans [are] positive about their homes’ value and believe in a bounce-back in residential real estate overall,” said BCG Senior Partner and consumer spending expert Michael Silverstein.

74 percent of the survey respondents said they were confident that they could sell their home within six months at the price they think it’s worth.

Inventories are increasing in many markets, however - listings now spend an average of more than seven months on the market, up from five or six months last year.

Looking long-term makes homeowners even more optimistic: 85 percent believe their home will rise in value during the next five years, and 63 percent believe a house is a good investment.

The perception gap between what Americans believe and the current housing market reality can influence their behavior. According to Silverstein, most homeowners (76 percent) have not, for example, pared back their consumer spending in response to current market conditions.

Real estate price gains bankrolled much of the consumer spending of the past few years. Homeowners tapped into rising home values through home equity loans and lines of credit and cash-back refinancings.

According to economist Dean Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in doing so they added mortgage debt in the first quarter of 2007 at an annual rate of $510 billion. The ratio of equity-to-home-value stood at 52.7 percent, a record low. Home price declines, of course, also contributed to the drop in home equity.

Not every homeowner is so optimistic - the survey found that 16 percent have cut back spending as a result of lower real estate values.

But the majority seem blithely positive.

“Consumers don’t view blips in overall housing prices as a catastrophe,” said Silverstein.

Indeed, 69 percent reported that they’re confident enough that they are likely to renovate or make some improvement in their home during the next 12 months, and 27 percent said they are likely to be moving on up, if not to the East Side, at least to a better house sometime in the next five years.

Many of the survey respondents appeared to feel that bad things happen to other people; 49 percent were concerned that there was a moderately severe impact on the overall U.S. economy from the weakening housing market, and 12 percent said it was not hurting the economy at all.

A majority - 52 percent - said the current housing slump would end within two years. There, they seem to agree with housing industry insiders such as Lawrence Yun, economist with the National Association of Realtors and Doug Duncan of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Their organizations also tend to be optimistic about most housing-market matters.