Going back as far as I can remember, there has been this image in my head of the “American Dream”. It involves a modest house in the post WW2 era. It shows a white picket fence, dog running in the yard, father washing the car, mother planting flowers and kids playing out back. Most assuredly this has been singed in my mind from movies, TV and other medium over the years. But what was this image trying to convey? But what does that picture look like now? Has it changed?
Absolutely! The American Dream these days is not what is depicted in that image I just described. I would argue that harkens to a time when a country was finally at peace after a couple of decades of turmoil war and economic ruin. While the exact vision of this has changed in recent decades, the sentiment of the American Dream still rings true today when it comes to homeownership. The fact is homeownership is still very much an American thing and for good reason. Here’s why:
Just ask the countless tenants that have been displaced due to landlords selling their homes recently. Without homeownership, you’re inherently at the whims of whoever owns where you live. Some have owned for so long that they may take it for granted but in the past year I have had too many conversations with tenants who’ve gotten “the call”. The landlord is “thinking about selling” which is usually just a way for the landlord to gently tell you what is about to occur. Landlords don’t like to freak out their tenants but use this phrase to plant the seed in their minds. For renters, this can be extremely disruptive not only from a financial and logistical perspective, but from an emotional one. If one has kids in the local school district this can be an especially distressing situation since they will usually want to stay within it. Owning one’s home is a tried and true way to have stability in their life. Some people are less concerned about this than others, but I sleep well knowing that I am the captain of my own ship when it comes to where my family and I live.
There are some naysayers when it comes to the financial upside to owning a home. They claim the cost just isn’t worth it. They love the idea of someone coming to fix things with the house when they go wrong. If the roof starts leaking, they don’t have to worry about it. The landlord will come out and fix it, right? Well yes… eventually I suppose. But how well? How fast? Something that tenants fail to realize is that while the landlord has to fix your roof, they’ve also been paying that landlord’s mortgage for the last 15 years which has reduced the principal on the mortgage. Every month that goes by, the landlord stands to make more and more money in the event they decide to sell. This isn’t even taking into account the idea the home continues to appreciate year over year adding even more value and equity to the pot. I personally love when other people pay my debts and will gladly allow them to do so. I always tell renters, “Nearly everyone in this country pays a mortgage, it’s just a matter of whether it’s theirs or not.”
As American As it Gets
Going back to the days of colonialism and the wild west, Americans have always been about having their own stuff. Many of the colonialist settlers romped across this continent for 200+ years in an effort to find a better life. To find a place they could call their own. Today, this effort is still ongoing. Sure, it looks much different, but the reason homeownership is part of our identify is due to the fact that it is one of the underlying principles that make us American. We want independence and freedom from being told by others how to live (and where to live). To some, having a landlord is still like being under English rule. You may say that’s hyperbole, but I don’t think it’s far off.