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Is the American Dream Alive?

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Friday, July 31, 2015
Money and Markets
America Becomes a 'Renter Nation' —
Should You Buck the Trend?
by Mike Larson

Dear ,

Mike Larson

America has become a "Renter Nation." That's the shocking news the Census Bureau confirmed this week, when it reported that the U.S. homeownership rate slumped to 63.4% in the second quarter.

How low is that?

It's down from 63.7% from the first quarter of this year ...

It's far below the housing bubble peak of 69.2% in 2004 ...

And it's the absolute worst reading going all the way back to 1967!

Take a look at this chart and you'll see what I mean – we're talking 48-year lows for the "American Dream."

Click image for larger view

But it's not like tens of millions of Americans are living in the streets. Instead, they're becoming renters – either by choice or necessity.

Some of that stems from tighter mortgage standards. While they've eased ever so slightly in the past couple of years, they're nowhere near as easy as they were in the early 2000s.

Getting a mortgage or home equity loan involves multiple credit checks over a period of weeks, huge amounts of additional income and asset verification headaches, higher credit scores, and lower total debt-to-income ratios. That's true even for well-qualified buyers and borrowers, not just those with credit blemishes. Trust me: I know from first-hand experience.

Protect Your Wealth!

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Lackluster income growth is another problem, as is the fact many younger potential buyers have insufficient down payment funds and meager savings. Many of them are burdened with high student debt loads, and are underemployed based on their education levels. That means first-time buyers are fewer and farther between.

Then there's the lingering psychological damage of the housing bust, and the desire for more mobility among the typical first-time buyer demographic. Renting keeps them from being tied down – a desirable situation given the fact"jobs for life" are a distant memory these days.

The problem is, all those forces are driving rents much higher. We now have yet another housing affordability crisis, as the Wall Street Journal noted this week. Only this time, it's one focused on RENTERS rather than OWNERS.

Things have gotten so stretched, in fact, that it may be time to make a swap. Either from renting to buying yourself (if you don't own already), or to home building and related stocks from apartment Real Estate Investment Trusts and others levered to the multifamily market. Think of stocks like lower-end home builder D.R. Horton (DHI), rather than REITs like Apartment Investment & Management (AIV).

Advocating the purchase of real estate may sound kind of funny coming from a guy like me. After all, I was one of the most vocal analysts to flag the 2000s housing bubble well in advance -- and I warned you off from housing and mortgage stocks before they imploded.

But the same dynamics that got wildly stretched in favor of renting vs. owning back then are getting much more stretched in the other direction now. So it makes sense to adapt, as both an analyst and an investor.

Until next time,

Mike Larson

The investment strategy and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of any other editor at Weiss Research or the company as a whole.

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