This is sure to be one of those posts where I will come off as overly principled, or sound extremely naive. I do not think I fit into either camp. I just feel that Americans are out of whack on a matter that needs to be addressed, and I want to take a stab at illuminating it.
Three years ago yesterday James and I became homeowners. At our kitchen table where we eat every day the papers were signed. It was the event that evokes all sorts of imagery about the American Dream. We snapped photos of the signing, and know that it was a real milestone. But unlike lots of others who sign such papers there is a bit of old-fashioned rationale that goes into our thinking.
The news today that the American dream of owning a home has lost some of its luster has me thinking again about the reasons we own homes in the first place. As we all know from years of news coverage falling home prices and foreclosures have made for an economic nightmare. Now the news alerts us that a growing number of people no longer consider housing a safe investment.
A safe investment!
As the news today pointed out some think of home ownership as an “economic trap.” While I would never suggest anyone enter into a home purchase without the ability of being able to pay the mortgage, I also would not steer anyone away from home ownership because it might not be a ‘good investment’.
In fact, I would argue that the investment view of home ownership is part of the problem we have had in this nation. To many opted to make money with the purchase of a house. Buy big and sell bigger was a theme that too many bought into. Greed and more greed was somehow good.
I grew up with parents who became home owners after World War II. The home they bought was not new, in fact, it was old and needed lots of work. Over the years many projects were completed, including one that allowed for my brother and me to have a new bedroom off on the side of the house. I have often joked that my parents were even smart enough to time our births so there was never a question my brother and I would have to share that room. He moved out on his own just as I was needing to upgrade my living space.
For all the years I grew up in the family home there was never, not once, any word spoken about what that improvement, or that addition, would do for the value of the house. The value of any improvement was the day-to-day pleasures and conveniences it made for the family. Nothing more, nothing less.
The family home where I grew up was not so different from all those in my community. Inside were the favorites places to tuck away to read, the family kitchen where everyone gathered no matter how many folks there were or how small the room might be, and the favorite window to watch the snow pile up or the rain to fall. The home was a place to live and relax. It was a place to ‘be’.
In our nation’s recent past instead of thinking of a home as a place for treasured memories to be made and stored houses have become a mere stepping stone to a larger house. The home became a mere house, nothing more than an investment. A warm place reduced to a cold financial transaction.
That, to me, is sad.
As James and I watch HGTV we often see people who are making upgrades to their homes so in order to sell them for a higher price in order to move to a bigger and better place. After the decorator has spent a relatively small amount of cash the owners will sometimes lament that ‘it looks so nice now I wish we could stay’.
What limited their ability to see the obvious before they thought of selling is never answered. That after all is not the purpose of the show. Tune it up, make more money, and move on is not only the theme of the shows, but the pattern of too many in the nation.
That is why I think the current economic woes have a definite upside. Perhaps people will again look at housing in their price range, but also evaluate why they really want a house. Having a place to come home, have a family, and ‘be’ are the reasons to own a house.
When James and I were making a series of improvements before we moved into our Victorian home, which included painting every wall in warm and bright colors, we were asked by lots of folks, “what about the resale value?” After all there is no beige or sea-foam green so how on earth can we ever think about making money on the house?
We both had a stock response. “The next move we make is going to be in a box.” (As in being planted in one.) “Others will have to think about what colors they like.”
After all a home is to be lived in.