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Humbled by housing crisis, more homeowners lean toward renting

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Real Estate

Seventy-seven percent of adults believe the nation is either still in the middle of a housing crisis or the worst is yet to come, according to a recent national housing market survey.

The public remains unsure about the housing market even as a soaring stock market, rising home prices and falling foreclosure rates signal recovery, said Rebecca Naser, one of study's researchers, during a conference call reviewing its findings.

But researchers were surprised by how the housing market's activity over the past seven years has influenced the public's view of renting versus buying a home. While 72 percent of respondents still aspire to homeownership, 45 percent of current homeowners would consider renting in the future.

"The perception is that the rewards of homeownership are not what they were," said Peter Hart, chairman of Hart Research Associates, which conducted the study called "How Housing Matters."

Hart Research based its findings on a telephone survey of 1,433 adults in February and March. The MacArthur Foundation commissioned the study.

"Renting is becoming a more viable option in the hearts and minds of the public," said Naser. "Fifty-seven percent feel that buying a home has become less appealing given the nation's economic situation."

This ambivalence toward homeownership held true for survey respondents from all regions of the nation, and was voiced by majorities of respondents when broken down by age group, political affiliation, and current status as homeowner or renter.

Naser said the positive view of renting was probably more of a pragmatic response to economic realities. When whether they would consider relocating to a new city or state for a job, 75 percent of respondents said they believed this is more likely now than before.

Annandale residents Rachel and Eric Trest are all too familiar with the renting versus buying argument. She is an active-duty Navy officer so moving is part of their life. They currently own a home but are preparing to rent it because of an impending move to Norfolk.

The Trests listed their home to rent on Easter Sunday, and she called the response "overwhelming." The bulk of inquiries come from military personnel, most of whom are either having trouble finding rental properties in the area or do not want to buy because of market uncertainties.

Likewise, when asked if she and her husband are buying in Norfolk, Trest quickly said they are only considering rentals. They hadn't planned to buy in Annandale, but finding a rental on short notice in 2010 proved too difficult.

Still, even with an improving economy and positive rental market responses, Trest remains skeptical about the value of their Annandale purchase. She still speaks with regret about 2004 and their first foray into owning, then renting a condo in Chicago.

"We rented it for a loss, then finally sold it for a loss," Trest said. "We don't want to take that chance now."

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