The other area of concentrated distress is subprime mortgages, which increased their share of the American mortgage market from 7% in 2001 to over 20% in 2006. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the delinquency rate was 22% in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared with only 5% for prime loans.
“Perhaps the most compelling argument for housing as a means of wealth accumulation”, argues Richard Green of the University of Southern California, “is that it gives households a default mechanism for savings.” Because people have to pay off a mortgage, they increase their home equity and save more than they otherwise would. This is indeed a strong argument: social-science research finds that people save more if they do so automatically rather than having to choose to set something aside every month.
Yet there are other ways to create “default savings”, such as companies offering automatic deductions to retirement plans. In any case, some of the financial snake oil peddled at the height of the housing bubble was bad for saving.
The debate over whether home ownership is a wise investment or not, is contentious (more so in the last year than it was several years ago). I believe in most cases it probably is wise, but there are certainly cases where it is not. If you put yourself in too much debt that is often a big problem. I also think you should save a down payment first. If you are going to move (or have good odds you may want to) then renting is often the better option.
The “default saving” feature is one of the large benefits of home ownership. That benefit is destroyed when you take out loans against the rising value of the house. And in fact this can not just remove the benefit but turn into a negative. If you spend money you should have (increasing your debt) that can not only remove you default saving benefit but actual make your debt situation worse than if you never bought.