As the housing market continues to plunge, many economists are declaring the decline more or less permanent: we are witnessing, they say, the end of home ownership as a form of long-term, nest-egg-producing investment.

The New York Times' Ron Lieber, though, says this may be an exaggeration. No matter what happens to the housing market--and "it is dangerous to assume with any certainty," he notes--"a mortgage is still a form of long-term forced savings." Saving is "more important than ever" in this economy, with both pensions and 401(k)s in tatters.

In other words, "before you swear off real estate, reconsider a few of the basics." First, he says, you'd probably be looking at lower monthly payments if you buy post-bubble. Second, buying a home may still be, in most cases, better than "renting and investing the difference between the rent and the total costs of ownership." Why? Because in the renting option, "you need to actually save the money," which few do, plus "you need an after-tax return that’s better than whatever a home would deliver," and you need not to "raid the savings along the way." Third, buying means you won't have to deal with "difficult landlords." Fourth, sometimes buying is the best way to get into the neighborhood you want.