Monday, September 20, 2010

Homeownership: Let's move on shall we?

Interspersed among Tea Party cover stories and Jewish holidays, an article on homeownership caught my attention in Time Magazine this month. Click on the link below to read The Case Against Homeownership by Barbara Kiviat.

For centuries, Americans were led to believe owning a home was one more item to be checked off life's list of must-dos. The 3800-word article summarized Geoge H.W. Bush's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp's theory on homeownership as such: "A house with a front lawn and a picket fence wasn't just a nice place to live or a risk-free investment; it was a way to transform a nation." Sure, this philosophy seems a little outdated; it was the 90s -- a decade filled with spandex shorts, Saved By The Bell, the Macarena, American Gladiators, Tamagotchi, Trapper Keepers and What Would Jesus Do wristbands.

That was then, and 2010 is now. Yet surprisingly, after roughly two years of battling through an economic downturn, US citizens continue to aim (and struggle) to check off the not-so-small box on life's little list. Star Korajkic, a recent homeowner mentioned in the Time article, moved from an apartment in Burlington, Vermont, to a home in "a modest Cape Cod." Korajkic's husband works 11-hour shifts as a truck driver and Star works two jobs in order to pay their mortgage. According to Star, the sacrifice is worth it.

So, I ask it really worth it? Would you rather rent a more affordable, smaller, yet comfortable apartment with one career in hand than own a home and work two jobs to break even?? Do homeowners work so much they barely have time to enjoy what they've built for themselves??

This year, Fannie Mae conducted a survey on homeownership. The following are the two top reasons why people chose to own a home.
1.) "It means having a good place to raise children."
2.) "You have a physical structure where you and your family feel safe."

Really?? How can I put this delicately? What a crock! Who took this survey? Religious traditionalists living in the suburbs? Are New Yorkers lacking physical structure and living in an unsafe environment? Let's keep the cute comments down to a minimum, please. I think writer Barbara Kiviat wrote it best, homeownership is "deeply imbedded in the national pyche." Almost as if anything less than it is classified as unsatisfactory.

Now, I know what you're thinking. She is young. She has no family (no husband or kids). There's no need for her to have (or want) more space. All this is very true; and clearly, I should provide a deeper look into Samantha McCullough before continuing on: (1) I love to travel; (2) I love to travel, so I move often; (3) I am committed to exploring the world's many cultures, yet I am not committed to one place; and (4) my parents built -- with their bare hands -- their dream house and divorced shortly after leaving their home to Mr. Joe Sixpack. To be frank, all that time, energy and dedication...completely out of the fucking window. Admittedly, I might still be slightly bitter about it considering my very own sweat and blood went into constructing this beautiful home that now belongs to Mr. Joe Sixpack. Nonetheless, based off of these four facts about me, surely enough, the formation of my opinion on homeownership should be clearer. Phew, now since that's out of the way...let's get back on track.

Explain to me the difference between these two photos.

Photo A.
Photo B.

Owning a home. "It means having a good place to raise children" and "you have a physical structure where you and your family feel safe."

Which photo makes you feel more safe? Any difference? Since both images are of homes, are both good places to raise children? Or does one supersede the other? Like dropping a pin in Google maps, drop the house in Photo A near Park Slope, Brooklyn around the time of its latest memorable storm. Do you still feel safe?

Imagine if you lived in a beautiful 1600-square-foot apartment in a safe neighborhood in San Francisco, Boston or New York. Would you want to raise your children there? Or would you still prefer the house in Photo A?

I think you get my point.

Homeownership is over. Quality of life is key.

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  1. I agree with all of this Sam. But one difference between owning and renting is financial security and investment. Many people, after years of renting, realize they are throwing money away, instead of investing it. The difference between the Cape Cod couple and say someone who is renting is - when do they work harder, now or later? The Cape Cod couple can probably retire when they are 65 because they will have this large asset...but what large asset do the renters have? I don't know, if half my check is going to pay for housing, i would rather have that money invested than down the drain. But in terms of quality, if I could only afford a type A house, I would much prefer to rent a type B house -- quality of life is much more important.

  2. I like the thrust of your argument, and I like that you got ahead of the rebuttle with the pop psychology in the middle there...

    But I think I'm going to have to disagree with you there. While renting is a great way to live in a city, and generally with friends rather than family, ultimately it's a waste of money in that you're throwing it at something that will never be yours.

    I agree with the previous poster that a home of your own is an investment. Young, single and in a city as I am, I see the attraction of renting an apartment. But in ten years, if I'm married and planning to have kids? I think I'd want the stability of my own home, a long-term project that maybe isn't in the centre of a city (depending on how rich a History PhD makes me...) but will at least be in a good area for family and kids.

    Home ownership isn't necessarily divorced from the opportunity to experience a good quality of life. It can simply be a base camp for exotic holidays around the world, can't it?

  3. I always enjoy your intellectual, in-depth comments Craig.

    Although I agree with you (and Rachel) on making an investment, there are brownstones (large apartments, or two story condos) in New York City and several families and couples do buy their apartments.

    Mostly, my argument stems from SPACE. I believe the US national psyche is to not only own a home, but also, one that may be perceived to have TOO MUCH SPACE. If a couple could buy an apartment (e.g. brownstone or condo) that could comfortably fit two additional family members (e.g. kids), why spend even more money on something with an additional den or bathroom?

    PS-Love your last paragraph, Craig? Fantastic. Ha

  4. Haha, I enjoy your intellectualisms as well Sam, that's why I keep taking the bait.

    You're 100% right about the space thing though. In Europe, we don't get the luxury of choosing to live in wide open spaces (unless your first name is Marquis or Duke) so living with someone else, whether it's romantically or just flat-sharing, becomes about how you interact in shared space and divide up your own space. There is pretty much no arrangement where you can expect to have a lot of personal space all to yourself.

    Americans do have that luxury. And I sense underneath your argument you think more of them should become city people. Perhaps you understand a little better why living in Mt Pleasant, after three years of Glasgow, drove me quietly crazy :D

  5. Understand? Indeed I do!! Also, I think I pitied you somewhat because I knew I was moving to the Big Apple roughly four months after having met you and unfortunately for still had another semester of flat lands. :P


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