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Survey: Doubts About Housing Persist Despite Growing Economic Confidence

Fannie Mae housing survey [1]Americans are growing more and more cheery when it comes to the state of the economy, but their feelings regarding the housing sector remain tepid, according to survey results released Tuesday.

Out of a group of 1,000 Americans polled in Fannie Mae's [2] December National Housing Survey [3], 41 percent said they now believe the economy is "on the right track," up from 36 percent in November, the company reported. While the share of consumers saying the economy is headed in the wrong direction is still high at 51 percent, it continued to trend downward in December, marking five consecutive months of declines.

While optimism—likely spurred by continuing job growth—is on the rise, the number of Americans whose household income has fallen off significantly over the last year picked up (hitting 14 percent), and a declining share expect their personal financial situation will improve in 2015.

In contrast to December's slightly more positive economic attitudes, consumer sentiment toward the housing market remained subdued for another month, with the share of Americans saying now is a good time to purchase a home falling to 64 percent. By the same token, only 61 percent of consumers said they would buy a house if they were going to move anytime soon—a survey low.

"Our survey results show that consumer housing sentiment has, on average, been moving sideways amid some improvement in the general view of the economy," said Doug Duncan, SVP and chief economist at Fannie Mae.

Given the kind of long-term commitment homeownership represents, Duncan said he isn't surprised that the housing sector is lagging behind the rest of the economy in terms of consumer confidence.

"Many prospective homebuyers want to be certain that their personal finances can withstand potential downside risks to the economy," he said.

On one bright note, the share of consumers who think it would be easy to get a mortgage today increased to match the all-time survey high of 52 percent, while the share saying it would be difficult to get a loan dropped to a low of 44 percent. The spread between the two groups is the widest in the survey's history, Duncan said.

"While this is a welcome signal, softness in consumer attitudes that drive housing demand will make for a subdued recovery and should persist absent more meaningful and sustained gains in household income," he added.

Looking to 2015, 46 percent of respondents said they expect home prices will continue to rise in the next 12 months, a slight increase from November. At the same time, the average home price change expectation fell from 2.6 percent to 2.3 percent.