Attitude Check

Americans worried about home value

Frank Newport Feb 9, 2012

David Brancaccio: The problem was foreclosing on houses without proper documentation and improperly automating the process, key word: “robosigning.”

The response is expected to come today: an estimated $26 billion settlement between banks and states, including key states that were skeptical of earlier versions of the deal — California and New York.

Eligible homeowners will have their mortgage debt reduced. And there will be cash payments of about $2,000 to hundreds of thousands who already lost their homes in an improper foreclosure.

The core group of banks involved: Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Ally Financial.

And what about the mood of Americans regarding our housing predicament, going into this apparent settlement. It’s the subject of our weekly Attitude Check.

Frank Newport is editor-in-chief at the polling firm Gallup. He joins us every Thursday. Good morning Frank.

Frank Newport: Good morning.

Brancaccio: So, big story today involves settlement between banks and states, real estate. What do we know going into a settlement like that about how Americans are feeling about the housing market right now?

Newport: We do know that homeowners are very worried about the value of their house. We gave Americans a whole matrix of things they could worry about, and at the top of the list is the general economy and not having enough money for retirement.

But right below that, homeowners are more worried about the value of their house than anything else — and that would include getting laid off, not having enough money to pay for health care, and so forth. So we think homeowners — which by the way, 66 percent of Americans in our latest survey say they own, don’t rent — those people are very worried about the value of their house.

Brancaccio: Which makes a lot of sense. I saw data from some other source that talked about 1 in 5 homeowners in these United States owed more on their mortgage than their house was worth — they were underwater. I mean, that’s extraordinary. You walk through a room of ten people, two people would be in that position.

Newport: Indeed, and that’s one of the reasons that we find that two-thirds of Americans who own a house very, very worried about the value of their house going forward.

Brancaccio: Now, this settlement in the news today between banks and state attorneys general — but going into this story today, did Americans think for instance, the government, needs to do more to fix this housing mess?

Newport: They did and that’s a very fascinating issue, because we know in general, Americans are fairly negative about the government getting involved — conceptually — in a lot of things; there’s too much big government, and so forth.

However, we did ask Americans… we actually reminded them that there will be more, a rising tide, of foreclosures this coming year. And then we said: should the government get involved or let the free market work its will? Fifty-eight to thirty-four: 58 percent of Americans said: yes, the government should get involved. And just about a third, that 34 percent, said: oh no, let the free market work its will.

So I think the average American out there — particularly Democrats and independents — are going to be positive about the idea that the government is helping shepherd this agreement with the banks to do something about foreclosures.

Brancaccio: Frank Newport, editor-in-chief at Gallup. Thank you very much.

Newport: My pleasure.

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