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Consumer Optimism Retreats as Fiscal Policy Fight Unfolds

Continuing the trend observed in August, Americans' enthusiasm for the housing market abated last month as the government's fiscal policy debate came back into the spotlight.

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While consumers are still ""generally positive"" on average about housing and the economy, attitudes over the last few months suggest optimism has hit a plateau, ""Fannie Mae"":http://www.fanniemae.com/portal/index.html says in its September 2013 National Housing Survey.

""Our September National Housing Survey results show that the improvements in consumer housing attitudes witnessed in recent months softened ahead of the government shutdown,"" said Doug Duncan, SVP and chief economist at Fannie Mae. ""Americans' awareness of policy uncertainty leading up to the October 1st shutdown and the pending debt ceiling debate appears to have grown as indicated by an apparent cautionary holding pattern in overall consumer housing and personal finance sentiment.""

While September's survey results show attitudes leading up to the October shutdown, they do not necessarily reveal its full effects (or those of the pending debt ceiling debate), the company noted. Those results should be seen in the surveys for October and the following months.

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On the topic of home prices, 52 percent of those surveyed expect increases over the next year, down 3 percentage points from August. Those who say prices will go down fell to 6 percent, matching July's survey low.

The average 12-month home price change forecast was 3.1 percent, a decline of 0.3 percentage points from the previous survey.

Sixty-three percent of Americans said they believe mortgage rates will be up in the next 12 months, a survey high. Respondents were slightly more encouraged about their chances of getting a loan, with 47 percent saying they think it would be easy--a slight increase from August.

Overall, 72 percent of consumers said now is a good time to buy a house--up one point--while 38 percent said now is a good time to sell--up two points.

Feelings were mixed when it came to broader economic issues. Though more Americans seem to feel the economy is going where it needs to be, many were less optimistic about their personal finances.

""Fifty-five percent of Americans continue to believe that the economy is on the wrong track, while 39 percent think the economy is on the wrong track,"" Duncan said. ""This gap narrowed to 16 percentage points in September. The gap could widen, depending on the outcome of the debt ceiling negotiations as the Treasury expects that the extraordinary measures to extend the nation's borrowing authority will be exhausted by October 17.""

The share of respondents who said their household income is significantly higher than it was last year fell by 1 percentage point to 22 percent in September, while the share of those whose expenses are higher rose the same amount to 33 percent.

Forty-two percent of those surveyed expect their financial situation to improve over the next year, a decrease of 2 percentage points.

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