2010 Real Estate Guide
A cream house with black shutters and the sky
real estate
Lessons from housing bubble bust

"As a country we've all gotten way too comfortable with credit and having debt in our lives," says Olefson. "But the problem really came when that morphed into our homes."

As the market rebounds, "We need to promote the value of owning your home free and clear again because residential real estate really is the backbone of our country. It's the biggest asset for most people," Olefson says. Likewise, instead of depending on your home for all of your wealth, continue to build up your cash reserves, suggests Burrell.

Lesson No. 4: Do your own research. Some people ran into trouble before the real estate market crash when they took the advice of mortgage professionals without doing their due diligence and making sure the advice was in their best interest. The wisdom of speaking to a financial adviser, calling a nonprofit housing agency or even reading books on real estate transactions before signing on the dotted line became apparent as homeowners struggled with changing terms on mortgages that they didn't understand. It also makes sense to check the credentials of anyone advising you. "Be careful who you trust, take time to educate yourself, and first and foremost, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," says Olefson.

Lesson No. 5: Think long-term financing. Adjustable-rate mortgages appealed to those who wanted the lowest possible interest rates and expected to be able to either sell their homes or refinance them before the mortgages reset. However, after the real estate market crash, many didn't have enough equity to refinance and houses began to sit on the market as prices went into a freefall. When it comes to financing, "You can't just look at the next six weeks or two months or next year," says DeSimone. "You have to say, 'What happens to me in five years.'"

Ultimately, the real estate market collapse was a lesson in learning to adapt, experts say. "When you see over exuberance, expect that it's going to change," says Burrell. "The only thing constant is change."

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