It's no secret that the housing crisis and still-struggling economy have made life that much more difficult for Americans. But with an improving real estate market, low interest rates and largely affordable home prices, to name a few things, we can still find reasons to be thankful.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, AOL Real Estate asked homeowners and the real estate community to tell us what they're thankful for this Thanksgiving, despite the country still trying to emerge from a housing crisis. Click through the gallery below to see what they have to say.
Mark and Shirley Ritter, Homeowners (Utica, N.Y.)
"After a year of jumping through hoops with our mortgage servicing companies, we were pleasantly surprised when we received a call in April of this year from an excited NeighborWorks America coordinator. 'You got it!' she told us.
"To us, that meant we would be able to stay in our home. This was especially good news because Shirley was declared legally blind due to a neurological condition that developed over the previous two years. She had learned to move about the house with relative ease. Switching residences was not going to be good for her.
"We still face difficult economic times but bless our new, much more affordable mortgage that will keep us in our home."
Anthony Newby, Occupy Our Homes Organizer (Minneapolis)
"I'm grateful that the country is finally waking up to the fact that capitalism in its current form is devouring the heart of the nation. I'm thankful that OWS [Occupy Wall Street] and Occupy Our Homes Minneapolis have helped spark a national movement.
"A fire has been lit and a seed has been planted. I'll spend the holiday grateful for the opportunity to move the world towards a collective vision of the world that we all hope and deserve to live in."
(Newby is pictured above at the back of the group, dressed in black.)
Greg Staffa, Renter (St. Cloud, Minn.)
"The holidays are a tough time for me. It was Dec. 18, 2009, when I lost my house due to the housing crisis. I was homeless for two years, living out of my car. Recently, I found an apartment in St. Cloud, Minn., where I am able to rent for $699 as opposed to $900 in the Twin Cities. I am very thankful for my apartment. I am thankful that my only real debt is a $200-a-month car payment. But other than that, I have had no credit card debt since 2001 and don't owe anything to anyone. I am thankful that I have put myself in a position where bill collectors are not hounding me. I'm thankful and excited to have a kitchen.
"My Thanksgiving currently involves a frozen pizza. Yes, many might find that depressing. But given the last three years, I think I do have a lot to be thankful for: my health, my apartment, the opportunities I have to help others and the ability to have something to rebuild. Thanksgiving is a time to realize -- and reflect on -- the things you do have in your life."
Alyson Dutch, Homeowner (Malibu, Calif.)
"After hunting down Chase CEO Jamie Dimon's personal secretary and kids, then sending a Monopoly game wrapped in chains to the attorney general and sending FedEx packages to the holiday homes of the entire Chase board of directors, I finally got their attention to pull me out of their insane round file that almost resulted in my losing my home!
"The insane bureaucracy of this housing debacle landed me, by mistake, in a process that I shouldn't have been in. When I got their attention, they not only walked me through it by the hand but gave me a 2-percent-interest new loan. The sad thing is that I already paid off -- almost -- the entire original price of the house, and now I'm grateful to have a new loan to pay for it again. Huge gratitude for winning this battle. I was amazed that I won against such a huge bank. It was truly a miracle.
"Also -- a heartfelt shoutout to Joanne Contraras, at the Camarillo Chase Home Ownership Center. She is a star! A huge irony with her is that when I first bought my house 12 years ago through Washington Mutual, she worked on my loan. I happened to remember her name when Chase referred me to her to get through this horrible tangle. Stars aligned for me!"
Lisa and Christian Habersack, Homeowners (Fallston, Md.)
"I am a very grateful new homeowner. I married my high school sweetheart this past May, and we had a cozy little work-in-progress home to come back to. We are young, in our early 20s, and weren't sure we'd qualify for a home loan.
"Last October, we applied and turned the keys into our 1950s Cape Cod on the last day of 2011. We didn't buy a house that was perfect as-is, we bought one that we could afford.
"Due to the housing crisis, we felt that as buyers, we had more leverage in negotiations. We first saw the house in July, then waited, hoping the price would drop in a few months. It did, and we visited it again and became more serious about making an offer. When finally making an offer, we were able to have the seller cover the maximum amount of our closing costs. At that point, the house had been on the market about six months and winter was setting in, so I think the sellers knew the market would be slowing down even more.
"We'll slowly renovate our home as we save more money. So far, we have put up a fence for our two hound dogs and just finished re-modeling our bathrooms as DIY-ers. So far, so good!
"When I look outside on a cold, rainy day, I can't help but feel grateful for the home that we live in and proud of my husband and I for working hard to achieve the American dream of homeownership."
Mark Warden, Realtor (Barnstead, N.H.)
"I'm thankful that -- despite real estate markets taking a beating everywhere due to the housing collapse -- 2012 was my best year in over five years as a Realtor. Because of the abundance of foreclosure and short-sale properties, sales prices are down, but activity has been brisk.
"We've made up for lower average commissions with higher quantities of homes transacted. It has been a good market for buyers, and as a buyer's agent, I'm well-positioned to take advantage of the rebound in market activity.
"With a special niche clientele moving to New Hampshire because of the Free State Project, my practice has been able to take advantage of the exodus from high-tax, high-regulation states to this tiny northeast state whose motto is 'Live Free or Die.' Tax refugees escaping states with income taxes or high sales taxes find relief here, where we have neither. Yes, property taxes are a bit higher than in some places, but the overall feeling of more liberty and less regulation is palpable in New Hampshire. For this, I am thankful."
(The home pictured is a 2012 sale represented by Warden.)
Veronica Rong, Senior VP, Citi Habitats Realty (New York)
“I’ve sold real estate in New York City for exactly 10 years, and I’ve seen it all. Although we were not as affected as other parts of our country, New York City’s real estate market has taken a hit since 2008. However, my business has been able to thrive due to three types of clients who have actively been trading real estate, even throughout the economic crisis.
"One, doctors and scientists at Mt. Sinai Hospital and other top medical facilities who have great, stable jobs. They made a lot of moves this year as they took advantage of the historically low mortgage rates to lock in a great deal on a 30-year loan. Secondly, international buyers and investors, who frequently bought properties in full cash, as Manhattan real estate is still at an historical low in terms of trading price. And then clients who sold what they had and bought something better: better location, in a better building and with more square footage. At the same time, they are able to take advantage of the historically low interest rate. Instead of refinancing, they just traded for a new home with a new mortgage.
"Because I was able to target submarkets of clients who were actively buying -- when it seemed no one was -- I was able to have a truly amazing year, and for that I am incredibly thankful.”
(The home pictured is a 2012 sale represented by Rong.)
Michael Dorff, Homeowner (Austin, Texas)
"I'm a thankful homeowner, despite the housing crisis. In fact, my wife and I bought and sold our first house last year for a profit, and we are now fortunate to be in our second house.
"We bought our first home in Midland, Texas, in 2011 -- it was a seller's market due to the current oil boom, and we paid asking price. No housing crisis in Midland, but that doesn't always mean you can get a loan. Because of an unexpected career opportunity, we needed to sell almost exactly one year later. We were able to put the Midland house under contract in less than 24 hours for asking price. We made enough on the first house to pay off the mortgage and put a nice down payment on a new place in Austin, Texas.
"We were fortunate to find more house and in a better neighborhood than we could ordinarily afford, and we received an even better rate on our current mortgage. The property values in our neighborhood are now rising, and we're confident that we could easily sell again if we needed to.
"We have been incredibly blessed and are thankful to be spending a second Thanksgiving with our baby girl in our own home -- albeit a different home and a different city than last Thanksgiving."
Tim Dwyer, CEO of Entitle Direct Insurance (New Canaan, Conn.)
"Due to the housing bust, issues such as predatory lending, robo-signing and interest rates are now common knowledge. Consumers now know the pitfalls when shopping for a home and a mortgage. Just the idea that people should shop around for and compare not only mortgage offerings, but other essential services such as title insurance, is a new notion because of the recent proliferation of real estate knowledge!
"Thanks to a combination of record-low home prices and interest rates, buying a house has never been more affordable. During 2012, numerous studies and indices demonstrated that housing is the most affordable it has been in decades. The information shows the cost of buying a home has outpaced the decline in relative income. As the European debt crisis unfolds, mortgage interest rates continue to break record lows. This not only means that buying a home is more affordable to finance, but current homeowners can save a substantial amount of money by refinancing.
"During Thanksgiving, current and prospective homebuyers can be thankful that owning a home has never been more affordable -- that means more consumers may have Thanksgiving in their new home and refinancing homeowners may have more to spend this holiday season."
(The home pictured is Dwyer's family home.)