My nominee for word of the year is "cautious."
It comes up in every discussion of current consumer behavior, particularly in regard to housing. The most recent usage to cross my desk popped up in a new report from Fannie Mae.
The mortgage financing company's chief economist, Doug Duncan, used the word to headline his analysis of Fannie Mae's new national survey of public attitudes about housing. What it found shouldn't surprise anybody who has paid any attention to home sales: Consumers feel cautious about home buying.
But within the report, it seems hearts are warming toward renting, which ought to get some notice at Fannie Mae, being, as it is, devoted to increasing the rate of U.S. homeownership. It's not that Americans are giving up on the American dream: About 84% of the respondents, surveyed in June and July, said owning makes more sense than renting, consistent with earlier surveys.
Nonetheless, the percentage of Americans who said their next home would probably be a rental has grown to 33% from 30% since a similar survey came out in April. And 60% of those who rent said they'd continue to do that rather than buy a house if they were to move, up 6 points from April.
"Cautious" also applies to real estate agents. Although it hardly amounts to a scientific survey, it's interesting (and maybe a bit unnerving) that about one-fourth of the respondents in an online poll of real estate agents said they carried handguns on the job.
A blog within the National Assn. of Realtors website in September discussed the trade group's annual monthlong promotion to urge agents to be mindful of their personal safety while showing houses and in other situations in which they're with strangers.
The blog also polled the readers on which, if any, "personal safety products" they carried while working. The response wasn't huge — 240 votes, at last check; the poll is still accepting votes, in case you want to put down your revolver and weigh in. Although about 40% said they carried nothing, about 25% said they carried handguns; 20%, pepper spray; 10%, knives; 2.5%, scissors; about 1%, stun guns.
Umberger writes for the Chicago Tribune.