A report recently released by the Federal Reserve offers new figures that capture the full scope of the housing bust's devastating impact on household wealth.
Median family net worth plunged by close to 40 percent during the economic crisis, the report found. The study shows that the real estate market's collapse was largely responsible for the decrease: Family median income before taxes fell 7.7 percent and non-housing assets also depreciated in value. But the Fed said plummeting home prices issued the largest blow to families' net worth.
"Although declines in the values of financial assets or business were important factors for some families, the decreases in median net worth appear to have been driven most strongly by a broad collapse in house prices," the report said.
The report also said that the recession hit the U.S. middle class hardest, since much of their wealth was concentrated in their homes.
National Association of Home Builders CEO Jerry Howard says its findings suggest that the housing slump remains one of the largest roadblocks to an economic recovery. In fact, the report is a call to action for the U.S. government, he says, which should do more to revive the real estate market.
"In [government] conservatorship [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac] are as close to being dead in the water as you can possibly be," he said. "In these current climates, the access to mortgage credit is so restricted that it is an impediment to the recovery, not just because people can't get it, but people are afraid to apply for it because it is such a burdensome and intimidating process right now.
Howard believes that lenders, many of whom service mortgages that conform to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac-dictated requirements, should perform more "holistic" evaluations of mortgage applicants. But other experts see current mortgage requirements as appropriate, given the lax standards of the housing boom, which Howard admits made it "much, much too easy for people."
The government's failure to do more to jumpstart the housing market betrays its 50-year history of championing homeownership, Howard says.
"For most baby boomers, from the time that they entered the job market, they were encouraged to build your ... nest egg around housing."
Fed Report: Housing Meltdown Hit Middle Class Hardest
Average sale price: $355,604
Average foreclosure discount: 28.17%
The quintessential California beach town, Santa Cruz is located about 75 miles south of San Francisco. It is comfortably situated between thickly wooded mountains and clean sandy beaches. The Santa Cruz boardwalk entertains children and adults alike: It has an amusement park complete with roller coaster, arcades, mini-golf, bowling, shopping and outdoor concerts.
Average sale price: $237,405
Average foreclosure discount: 30.34%
The Town of Barnstable is comprised of several famous Cape Cod villages, including Hyannis. It's also close to the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Hyannis has a large natural harbor and is the largest recreational boating port on Cape Cod. The Kennedy Compound is also located in Barnstable, in the village of Hyannis Port.
Average sale price: $345,799
Average foreclosure discount: 30.56%
Honolulu, Hawaii's capital located on the island of Oahu, offers top quality surfing, famous Waikiki Beach and pristine hiking trails. It also has an exemplary public transportation system, which connects its world class shops and restaurants to its relaxing beaches.
Average sale price: $161,819
Average foreclosure discount: 30.38%
Since Las Vegas isn't on the beach, your best bet for being able to gamble and ride waves is Atlantic City, N.J. Besides its familiar street names (see: Monopoly), the city has a world famous boardwalk lined with casinos, shops, restaurants and an amusement park.
Average sale price: $274,077
Average foreclosure discount: 38.80%
After a long day enjoying the sunny beaches or hiking in majestic mountains, spend the night tasting some of the finest California wines in Santa Barbara's wine country. The city also has a temperate climate year-round, so it is a great place to live if you want to avoid snowy winters and scorching summers.
Average sale price: $156,148
Average foreclosure discount: 40.43%
Marco Island has miles of white-sand beaches and beautiful year-round weather. Naples, just north of Marco Island, also offers white sand beaches and has world class golf courses and exciting outdoor activities. Naples is also close to Everglades National Park.
Average sale price: $78,851
Average foreclosure discount: 44.38%
Texas has beaches, too! Miles of the Gulf of Mexico shoreline extend across Corpus Christi, where there are plenty of sites and attractions. Visit the U.S.S. Lexington Museum or the Texas State Aquarium. For more outdoor adventures, check out Mustang Island State Park, where you can enjoy fishing, bonfires, kayaking and camping.
Average sale price: $93,188
Average foreclosure discount: 45.11%
Another outdoorsy paradise, Vero Beach offers -- not surprisingly -- miles of beaches and is home to the Pelican Island National Wildlife Reserve. Enjoy airboat tours, scuba diving, snorkeling and many other water and beach sports.