A Fannie Mae survey of American attitudes toward homeownership, together with another recent study, suggests housing expectations among many Americans may be outstripping reality.

The Fannie Mae study revealed an intense desire for homeowner-ship among all Americans, particularly among "those who traditionally have had a more difficult time achieving this element of the American dream: African Americans and Hispanics, as well as those of lower incomes."

Homeownership dreams have been buoyed since Fannie Mae's survey of a year ago, due to the lowest interest rates in nearly 20 years.

Just 38% of respondents characterized 1992 as a "very good time" to buy a home, compared with 50% this year. Moreover, 74% of the 2,198 Americans surveyed this April believe homeownership is within the reach of most people in their early thirties, compared with just 47% last year. The number of adults who say they are on the market for a home is up to 12%, from 90% a year ago.

But these optimistic opinions are tempered, coming as they do on the heels of a gloomier report by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

The Harvard report predicts that the mortgage loan market will constrict after the current refinancing boom because potential first-time buyers lack money for down payments and because an increasing number of would be buyers are minorities who face discriminatory lending practices.

Interestingly, the Fannie Mae study found that Hispanic renters are most optimistic about qualifying for a mortgage, with 62% of them saying they think they would qualify. compared with 59% of white renters and just 49% of blacks who rent.

Just 20% of Hispanics said discrimination and social barriers would be the leading obstacle they'd face in trying to buy a residence, compared with 27% of blacks.

Another finding of the Fannie Mae study is that "confidence in one's ability to become a homeowner tracks closely with one's level of information about the act of purchasing a home."

The study implies that better informing consumers about housing markets and credit is one way to narrow the expectation gap between those who want and expect to buy a house and those who actually will.

In a similar vein, Roger Jepsen, chairman of the National Credit Union Administration, told a House Banking hearing on June 29 that the antidote to the credit crunch is aggressive marketing.

Jepsen said he has seen towns with two credit unions in which one is whining about the credit crunch and the other has exhausted its loans. He attributes the difference to sales skills and commitment.

Fannie Mae has launched an advertising campaign targeting young, low-income and minority families with how-to information about home buying.

The Fannie survey said it has embarked on an aggressive campaign "to put a powerful tool--an understanding of how to become a home buyer--into the hands of those whom the survey revealed need it most: young families, minorites and those of lower incomes." But the Harvard study suggests that these needy groups will need at least one more tool: money.

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