Homeownership Dream in Decline, Says Survey

Despite still-low interest rates and home prices as a result of a market glut, there are many Americans who believe they will never be homeowners.

A survey of visitors to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling's website reveals just how difficult people believe owning a home has become. Of the more than 2,000 respondents to the survey, 49 percent said they believe they will never be able to save enough for a down payment to purchase a home.

"We find that discouraging, not only for people hoping to buy a home, but for the housing market in general," Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC, based in Silver Spring, Md., told HousingWatch.
The online survey, conducted during the month of May, asked visitors to the NFCC's web site to complete the sentence, "If I were to buy a home today, I would..." Respondents who said they would "have no trouble coming up with a 20 percent down payment," were just 12 percent of the 2,053 who answered the question. Twenty percent said they would "need a loan that allowed a much lower down payment [than 20 percent]," while 18 percent said they would "have to borrow the down payment money regardless of how much is required."

While the numbers are startling, it's worth noting that visitors to the NFCC web site are in financial straits; the idea of purchasing a home may very well feel out of reach.

The conundrum is that those whose finances are in the worst shape will need to come up with the most money for a down payment.

"People don't always have to put down 20 percent," Stephen Slotnick, a senior loan consultant for Prospect Mortgage, based in northern New Jersey told HousingWatch. FHA mortgages, guaranteed by the government, which allow buyers to put down as little as 3.5 percent, are available. "FHA mortgages are 65 percent of my business right now; nationally, it's about 35 to 40 percent of all the mortgages written." The key to qualifying for such a mortgage, said Slotnick, is a good credit rating.

"To do this deal, you need a minimum rating of 620, and my average buyer has about a 700 rating."

While these aren't necessarily the people who are coming to the NFCC's website, admits Cunningham, she says she believes people have had a wake-up call regarding their finances.

"Certainly, some people felt they were doing OK; 12 percent said they would have no problem coming up with a down payment," she says. "But people to come to our site as a resource; and if there has been a silver lining to the recession, it's that they are improving their grasp of personal finance."

And they are being more realistic about what they can, and cannot afford.

Cunningham said while it's difficult for those who feel they are missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime because they cannot take advantage of historically low mortgage rates, it's more important to know what you can afford. "It's not a good opportunity if you get into a situation where you could not sustain a mortgage payment."

The fix isn't quick or easy, but getting your personal finances into the best shape possible will get you into the best possible mortgage, says Slotnick. "Statistically speaking, most first-time buyers put less than 20 percent down. The better your credit rating, the better chance you will have."

And, start saving, says Cunningham: "I spoke to one person who saved for 17 years to be able to make a down payment on a home."

For many, the American dream of owning a home may be more difficult to imagine, but it's not entirely out of reach.
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