More Evidence of U.S. Home Market Crater

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It is one thing for researchers to estimate what portion of Americans own their homes. It is another for Americans to say for themselves whether they own a home. A new poll from Gallup shows that home ownership is at a decade low. And the figure probably will not get better soon. One reason is that about half of owners claim their homes are underwater, which makes the sale of those homes much less likely.

Gallup’s new poll reports:

The 62% of Americans who tell Gallup they own their own home is the lowest in more than a decade. Just over half of homeowners (53%) say their house is worth more than when they bought it, down from 80% in 2008.

The data coincide nicely with new S&P/Case-Shiller numbers. The research firm reported that the value of homes reached down to 2002 levels in many of the top-20 U.S. markets it measures. Once again, that means many of these houses are worth less than the mortgages on them. That is almost certainly true for homes bought up to and during the housing bubble. Some metro markets have home prices which are down over 40% from 2006.

The single bright spot in the Gallup data is that:

Americans are much more positive about the direction of housing prices this year than they were last year. They are significantly more likely to expect the average price of houses in their area to increase over the next 12 months than to decrease, 33% vs. 23%. Last year, Americans were about evenly split, 28% to 30%.

This matches with new information from real estate research firm Zillow:

Nineteen of the 30 metro areas covered by the Zillow Home Value Forecast will reach a bottom in 2012, or have already reached a bottom.

The critical difference between the self-reported data about home ownership and the predicted state of the housing market in the future is that many Americans have been wrong about the prices of homes for several years. A substantial portion of people have believed, throughout the housing slide, that next year and the next will be better. That optimism has been badly placed, and it may be again. Hope has not matched evidence since 2006. As Case-Shiller and other data show, there is little in the real world of home prices to change that soon.

Douglas A. McIntyre