Rents are rising sharply on homes in Bend Oregon.  Americans overwhelmingly believe owning a home is a good financial decision and a majority of renters say home ownership is one of their highest priorities for the future, according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors. The 2013 National Housing Pulse Survey also found that renters are thinking more about purchasing a home now than in past years, while the number of people who say they prefer to rent has declined.

“Home ownership matters to Americans who consistently realize the many benefits it provides to communities, families and the nation’s economy,” said NAR President Gary Thomas, broker-owner of Evergreen Realty, in Villa Park, Calif. “Due to high housing affordability and today’s interest rates it makes sense for people to consider home ownership over renting. In fact, in many parts of the country it’s cheaper to own a home than to rent one. Therefore, it’s no surprise that renters recognize that owning a home offers tremendous long-term benefits and is an investment in their future.”

The survey, which measures consumers’ attitudes and concerns about housing opportunities, found eight in 10 Americans believe buying a home is a good financial decision and more than two-thirds (68 percent) said now is a good time to buy a home. Since the last survey in 2011, more renters are now thinking about purchasing a home, up from 25 percent to 36 percent, while those who say they prefer to rent dropped from 31 percent to 25 percent. Half of renters say that eventually owning a home is one of their highest personal priorities, up from 42 percent to 51 percent.                                                                         

Attitudes toward the housing market have also improved over the years. Nearly four in 10 Americans (38 percent) identified an increase in activity within their local housing market in the past year, compared to just 22 percent who reported a slowdown in activity. By contrast, in 2011 some 51 percent reported a slowdown in activity. There was also less concern than in the past about the drop in home values; a majority said housing prices in their area are more expensive than a year ago.

In addition to these improved attitudes about the housing market, respondents also showed an improved outlook about the national economy. Just under half (48 percent) said job layoffs and unemployment are a big problem, down from 61 percent in 2011. The concern over foreclosures showed a steep decline from 2011 when 47 percent characterized distressed properties as “very” or a “fairly big problem”; today only 29 percent say it’s a problem.

For many Americans, the perceived obstacles to home ownership have remained unchanged over the years; low wages, student loan debt, and little savings for a down payment and closing costs continue to make it difficult for many to become homeowners. Respondents across the board – young and old, college graduates and non-graduates – consider student loan debt to be a large obstacle.

“Student loan debt is a concern for many consumers in today’s market, especially first-time buyers,” said Thomas. “Buyers with student loan debt may find it difficult to access mortgage credit, as well as save for a down payment. Pending mortgage finance regulations requiring higher down payments could also contribute to the already tight lending environment. Realtors are working with regulators to address this issue and are committed to making sure those who are willing and able to own a home have the opportunity to pursue that dream.”

When asked for reasons why home ownership is important, respondents’ top reasons underscored basic American values and freedoms; they were building equity, wanting a stable and safe environment, and the freedom to choose where to live. While these reasons have remained virtually unchanged since 2011, they do vary slightly according to demographics. The top scoring reason for African-Americans and Hispanics was that home ownership provides stability and a safe environment; women also placed more emphasis on environmental factors than men. Non-college graduates placed stronger emphasis on public schools, owning a home before retirement, and living in a safe and stable environment.