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WHAT HAPPENED TO DREAMING OF OWNING A HOME?
By Paul R. La Monica, editor at large, CNNMoney.com
Apr 15th, 2010

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The American dream of home ownership has turned out to be the American nightmare for those who could never really afford a home in the first place.
Many borrowers are now in deep trouble as home prices have plummeted and the payments on bubble-era adjustable rate mortgages have shot up. Foreclosures are still continuing at an alarming pace.

If the so-called Great Recession has taught us anything, it's that buying a house is not a divine right. It's a privilege to be earned only after you've saved up a nice chunk of cash for a down payment and are in a healthy enough financial position to keep making those monthly mortgage payments.

Just when you thought it was safe: Foreclosures bite back

Where are America's most overvalued cities?
6 housing trends in a still-shaky market
So for many consumers, renting is not necessarily the worst thing in the world. That's worth keeping in mind now that some experts think home prices are close to bottoming and fixed mortgage rates are still fairly low.

Sure, we've all been taught that buying real estate is the smartest thing you can do in order to build wealth. That's probably still true for the long haul.

But like with any investment, you should only make a purchase if you can afford the near-term hit that comes from doling out all that money now. Plus, you have to be able to stomach the possibility that the value of the house may actually fall over a short period.

And guess what? It seems many people are in fact coming to the realization that, for now at least, it makes more sense to rent instead of buy.

Thomas Toomey, CEO of UDR, said that favorable demographics will also probably drive more people to rent than buy. He pointed to the increasing number of retiring Baby Boomers who may look to downgrade from bigger houses to apartments.

He also said that record-high college enrollment levels are a boon for UDR and other apartment owners. Most recent college graduates, particularly those finding work in cities, are not in a position to buy a home.

Toomey added that cities are also interested in building more apartments closer to where people work for environmental reasons.

"So if you look toward the future, it's not just demographics and people making a conscious decision of whether they can afford a home that will lead to more renters. Cities want more apartments for younger and older generations," he said.

Of course, that's exactly what you'd expect the head of a company that owns apartments to say. But I also agree with him. And I'm curious to hear what you think.

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