The old normal: People bought affordable houses to live in, and they built equity over time.
The new normal: Inflated housing prices have plunged, putting millions of mortgages underwater.
Solution: See "The old normal," above.
Between 2006 and 2009, after a dizzying climb, U.S. home prices fell more than 32 percent, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. It turns out a house is just a home, not a cash machine. But that doesn't make them bad investments. Just realize their primary purpose is shelter.
So while the housing market still is burdened by unstable prices and high foreclosures, it also means homes are much more affordable for middle-class buyers. Record-low mortgage rates help to keep your housing costs down.
"If you can pay $300,000 for a $600,000 house in a good location, do it," says Bruce Pellman, a licensed real estate salesman with Brown Harris Stevens in East Hampton, N.Y.
If home values do rebound, don't confuse your door key with a debit card. "Your house is not an ATM and should not be treated as such," Pellman says.