NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Here’s a disturbing study to wrap your brain around this afternoon: Rasmussen Reports is out with new research that shows 49% of all U.S. homeowners believe there is still financial value in their homes, marking the first time less than 50% of Americans are convinced their homes are not underwater.

There is some reason to believe that the Rasmussen study is an outlier. A similar study by Santa Ana, Calif.-based CoreLogic done last June says there are 10.9 million U.S. homes—or about 22.7% of houses with mortgages—underwater through the first quarter of 2011. Of course that is based on data, rather than homeowners' perceptions of it. CoreLogic does offer three caveats to its study, in any case:

    The decline occurred despite falling prices that can plunge borrowers underwater when they still owe money on their property.

    The data could indicate a skewed analysis because the pricing of homes is affected by foreclosure sales, which usually takes underwater homes off the market.

    Home equity loans affect the overall analysis on being “underwater.” In the study, it was found that 38% of borrowers with second mortgages were underwater, compared with 18% of borrowers without home equity loans.

    “Many borrowers in negative equity are still able and willing to make their mortgage payments,” says Mark Fleming, chief economist with CoreLogic. “Those in negative equity and impacted by an income shock of some kind such as a job loss, divorce or death, are much more likely to be at risk of foreclosure or a short sale. The current economic indicators point to slow yet positive economic growth, which will slowly reduce the risk of borrowers experiencing income shocks.”

    The Rasmussen study doesn’t quite see it that way.

    The firm says it’s the second month in a row that “less than half of America’s homeowners believe the value of their home is worth more than the amount they still owe on their mortgage.”

    Rasmussen says that the 49% figure is higher than the 45% figure it recorded in June (almost a 10% jump); it also notes that only 50% of homeowners who work in the private sector believe their home is above water, and only 42% of retirees believe the same thing.

    But if you work for the government, you’re probably sleeping better at night. Rasmussen says that 71% of government workers say they are confident in their home’s value.

    In addition the 49% number pales in comparison to the 61% of Americans who said in 2008 that their homes were safe from going underwater.
    Some other highlights from the study:

    • 33% now say their home is not worth more than the amount left on the mortgage. Another 18% aren’t sure.
    • 7% of homeowners say they’ve missed or been late on a mortgage payment in the last six months. Ninety percent say that has not happened during that time.
    • 8% of homeowners say it’s at least somewhat likely they will miss or be late on a payment in the next six months. Eighty-nine percent don’t see this as likely.

    So there you have it. Some signs of stability, and disturbing signs of instability when it comes to American homeowners and the value of their houses.

    —For all of our latest coverage of the housing market, visit MainStreet’s “Real Estate” topic page!