The economy is still at a scary place for many, and repercussions from the Great Recession are still affecting the local and national real-estate markets.

The economy is still at a scary place for many, and repercussions from the Great Recession are still affecting the local and national real-estate markets.

"People are still using the mind-set 'This is my biggest investment,' so what's happening is they are indecisive," says James Ward, a broker with Western Country Realty in Jacksonville. "They are afraid now the price will keep going down, that their investment will be less.

"But if you can afford to make the payments, now is the time to buy what you want," says Ward. "Wherever you invest your money, the value could go down. The difference is you get to live in a house."

Ward is one of many realtors who think this is a time to go back to post-World War II concepts of buying a house as a home, for the amenities it provides and not looking at it as a way to make money.

The real-estate boom convinced many people that buying a house was a way to make big profits. That was part of what led to people increasingly "buying up" until they were buying more than they could really afford. Too many people didn't anticipate layoffs or losing income from the stock market falling, so they didn't have the emergency reserves to keep paying mortgages on houses that weren't worth as much as they were originally.

The American Dream has long been interpreted by many as the ability to own one's own home, not necessarily as a way to build wealth, but as a way to control one's living environment: choosing paint colors and pets without a landlord's approval, having the means to move to a nice neighborhood with good schools, enjoying some privacy.

"With the bubble, people began to think they were going to make a hunk of money," says Charla Simpson of Windermere Real Estate in Jacksonville.

"Real estate always tends to go up and down over time. This time it went way up, so it went way down," says Simpson. "There's validity in looking at it as an investment, but they are forgetting they are buying a place to live. They aren't buying a price, they are buying a home."

The housing bubble peaked in 2006. Most homes today are priced around 2003 levels. That means, for buyers, houses are cheaper than they have been in a long time with very low interest rates. If you need to sell a house before you can buy another, that isn't so good. But it is definitely a buyer's market.

If prospective buyers have good incomes, are confident they're not facing imminent layoff and can afford the payments, taxes and maintenance, today's market offers great opportunities to purchase homes with amenities that might have been unaffordable a few years ago.

You might need to hold on to it for a decade to see any profit when you sell, but a decade on your own little piece of earth has a value way beyond dollars.

"In the past, consumers had a sense that even if they paid a little more than the property was actually worth, they would soon make up any deficiency by rapid appreciation," says Jeff Vinyard, owner of

"The rapid rate of appreciation experienced just after the beginning of the new millennium created a feeling of euphoria throughout the real-estate industry," says Vinyard. "Many buyers are now looking for a place where they can live comfortably, rather than simply a way to make easy money with the intent to sell in a couple of years at a tidy profit."