The biggest factor deterring renters from making the plunge into home ownership is not the fear of falling property values, but that they simply can’t afford to buy, according to a Bankrate Inc. poll released Monday.

In a nationwide poll of 1,004 adults taken this month, less than 2 percent of renters said fear of falling prices was keeping them out of the market.

The National Association of Realtors has maintained that consumer psychology contributed to the housing slowdown that began in 2006. NAR launched a nationwide advertising campaign in November aimed at boosting buyer confidence, proclaiming, “It’s a great time to buy or sell a home.”

According to the Bankrate poll, affordability is the single biggest issue cited by renters who were asked what, if anything, was holding them back from buying a home today. Nearly 40 percent of renters polled nationwide said they could not afford a home, with price being an even bigger issue in the Northeast (49 percent) and western states (48 percent).

From 2001 to 2005, home prices appreciated at about 9 percent per year nationwide, and even faster in most areas outside of the Midwest. Although price appreciation has slowed or reversed in some markets, only 13 percent of renters surveyed by Bankrate said they plan to buy a home soon.

The Bankrate survey, conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media, found that the second-most cited obstacle to home ownership for renters was a lack of financing. Just under 12 percent of those polled nationwide said their credit wasn’t good enough to buy a home. Almost 21 percent of renters in the South said they couldn’t finance a home purchase.

A March 20 Banc of America Securities LLC report predicted that tightened lending standards in the wake of the subprime lending crisis will cut demand for homes by 15 percent this year, and depress prices by 5 percent.

Some 57 percent of homeowners with mortgages surveyed by Bankrate said they had fixed-rate loans, and another 9 percent reported having adjustable-rate mortgages. The remaining 34 percent said they didn’t know what kind of mortgage they had — a statistic Bankrate characterized as “staggering” in a press release.

“Clearly, many homeowners are uninformed about their mortgages,” Greg McBride, senior financial analyst, said in a statement. “With interest rates stabilizing, it’s a very good time to assess whether they should refinance or not.”

Other poll results:

  • Homeowners with ARMs were asked what they planned to do when their loan payments readjust. Although 36 percent said they planned to refinance to a fixed-rate loan, nearly as many — 34 percent — said they didn’t know what they would do. About one in four said they didn’t plan to have the loan when it reset.

  • Asked how often they worry about their ability to afford their mortgage payments next year, 70 percent of homeowners said rarely or never. About 15 percent said they “regularly” worry, and 13 percent said “sometimes.”

  • Among renters, 29 percent said they would avoid interest-only loans. While 20 percent expressed an aversion for payment-option ARMs, even more — 24 percent — said they would avoid a fixed-rate loan.

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