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Homeowners stay optimistic

Recent broad declines in prices have slightly dented the outlook of U.S. homeowners, but a new poll published Wednesday shows they remain mostly optimistic about the value of their properties.

A nationwide poll conducted by the Pew Research Center between October and November showed that more than eight in 10 homeowners expect the value of their homes to go up either "a little" (55 percent) or "a lot" (26 percent) in the future.

The results of the Pew poll that involved 2,000 interviews also show that homeowners are paying attention to the latest news: Despite continued optimism, expectations have been tempered by the marked slowdown in the housing market.

Median home prices have tumbled in the last year and the latest indicator, an index of pending home sales in October released Monday, showed continued weakness in the sector, with an eighth decline in the year.

The housing sector and its potential impact on the U.S. economy remain major subjects of debate among policymakers and economists. The Federal Reserve has made references to a gradual or outright "cooling" of the housing market in every accompanying statement that follows a decision on interest rates since May.

Fed officials routinely talk about the impact of the cooling housing sector in speeches, while economists argue about how much of a drag housing could be for the U.S. economy.

"For the vast majority of American homeowners, their home is their most important financial asset. Some 34 percent of homeowners say their home accounts for 'all or most' of their personal financial worth and another 34 percent say it represents about half of their worth," said the release from the Pew Research Center, noting that the figures are largely unchanged from a similar survey taken in 1992.

Respondents have toned down the expected rate of gains from a potential sale of their homes compared with past years.

But in the face of the gloomy scenarios about the bursting of the housing bubble, the Pew poll found that for the most part homeowners aren't panicking.

"As if to underscore that point, homeowners also report that they've largely taken in stride the recent runup in the value of their home. Only about a quarter say it has had some or a great deal of effect on their personal finances, while three-quarters say it has little or no effect," according to the Pew survey.

The poll found the degree of optimism is determined by location as well as the value of homes. Residents of the country's coasts feel better about the value of their homes than respondents living in the midsection of the United States.