Much like the gold that investors considered a safe haven during the financially turbulent 1970s, 21st-century investors look to residential real estate. By Christina B. Farnsworth

As the stock market and the U.S. economy continue to shudder, consumers are buying houses. "A New Kind of Gold? Investment in Housing in Times of Uncertainty," a report released last month from The Milken Institute, finds that residential real estate has become the "psychological equivalent of gold," something tangible, and thus perceived to be safe. It's no surprise that the report also notes reduced interest rates have encouraged real estate investment by making it more affordable, too.

"During times of economic uncertainty, investors seek assets that feel secure," say report authors Susanne Trimbath and Juan Montoya. "Real estate has replaced gold as the feel good investment, because it is literally as solid as the ground upon which we stand."

Real estate has proven to be a positive investment, too, the report finds. On average, house prices have increased by a compound annual rate of 5.6 percent over the past 25 years, it says. The value of residential real estate has increased at a rate of more than $1 trillion a year since 1999 and is today worth more than $23 trillion--almost half of which is owned by households.

The report authors caution, however, that investors should not expect high real estate growth rates to continue indefinitely. "Although it is expected that homes will continue to appreciate in the near future," the authors say, "very high growth rates are unsustainable in the long run." But, they add, "don't expect a bust in housing prices either."