Home ownership falls to six-year low

The national home ownership rate fell to 66.6% in 2008, its lowest rate in six years. The home ownership rate peaked at 67.3% in 2006. That data comes from the American Community Survey, which was released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Here's what's so interesting about this data to me: Home ownership is 0.8% off the peak it reached in 2006 -- in spite of the fact that 52% of Americans fear that they or someone they know will face foreclosure in the next twelve months. 12% of homes with mortgages in Florida are in some state of foreclosure, and more than 1.5 million US homes received foreclosure notices in the first half of 2009 -- a record. 1 in 84 households received a filing -- and that's just for the first six months of this year, not including all the pin action in 2008 and 2007.

So why are we still so close to the home ownership peak of 2006?

Here's one possibility: A lot of those foreclosed homes are being sold at bargain basement prices to first-time buyers who never would have been able to realize the dream of home ownership without this crisis. A Campbell Communications survey found that first-time buyers accounted for 43% of sales in the second quarter.

The point being that for all the horrible headlines about people losing their homes -- and there are plenty of sad stories to be sure -- the numbers don't really bear out the notion of a massive decline in home ownership. The American Dream is alive and well, banks are still lending, and owning your own home remains the world's best way to build wealth.
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