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Your Take: Is Homeownership the American Dream?

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My parents came to the United States because it was the land of opportunity. It was a place where you could, on the basis of your abilities and hard work, make a good life for yourself and your family. It isn’t a utopia, it’s far from it, but it’s a lot better than a lot of other places in the world. We still have our issues and our problems but fundamentally the “dream,” as I always understood it, was that you could succeed through hard work.

Somewhere along the way the American Dream meant owning a home. I saw it mentioned a bunch of times as the housing markets fell and we stumbled our way into the financial crisis. When did that happen? Is that what most people think of when they see the American Dream?

I know that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were created, in part, to make homeownership easier. If you have someone willing to buy up pretty much any mortgage loan you create, you can continue to make loans and people can continue to buy homes (and then you can see where abuse comes into play). However, I don’t think that means that homeownership is the American Dream. It might be part of it, but I don’t think it embodies it.

What does the American Dream mean to you? And do you think it’s dead? Or just taking a breather?

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47 Responses to “Your Take: Is Homeownership the American Dream?”

  1. To me, the “dream” is being financially independent, and being able to travel for more than one short week a year. In reality, owning a home is a bit of a setback in that regard, but my wife would not be interested in renting, so I guess I will just focus on paying that off first.

  2. Ron says:

    The American Dream has always included ownership. The Declaration of Independence originally read “life, liberty, and property” until Jefferson re-worded it.

    Check out the Virginia Declaration’s first paragraph:

    “That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

    Today, the American Dream still means all of these, even though the general populace doesn’t understand anything about Natural Law or why these ideas were worth fighting for. We’ve traded our liberty for a false sense of security.

  3. Anthony says:

    The American Dream is different for everyone. My personal American Dream is to own a home and to retire early.

    Someone else’s Dream may be to travel the States. Another Dream may be to do volunteer work to improve other people’s lives. Yet another Dream may be to eat out in fancy restaurants all of the time.

    Homeownership is not every American’s Dream.

  4. cubiclegeoff says:

    Home ownership has always been an integral part of the American Dream. You can see it as many people still use their home as a symbol of their success, generally through hard work and the ability to succeed from this work. However, in the 1950′s the American Dream was somewhat altered to be home ownership in the suburbs. This notion has started to change.

  5. Shirley says:

    My thoughts:
    Many people came to the United States looking for freedom and security.

    They wanted the freedom to learn, to work in a desired occupation, to worship as they chose, and to live without fear of invasion. Owning their own home meant security. They were free to keep it as their own and to defend it and keep others out as they saw fit.

    Freedom and security were the American Dream.
    Home ownership is a choice, and not necessarily a building block of security or the American Dream any longer.

  6. I don’t think there is any real definition that identifies the American Dream. It means something different to everyone. I think freedom to choose what you want to do in life and being able to pursue and attain your dreams in life is the American Dream. I think a home is such a large part of it because it is your Castle, your shelter and where you raise your family and provides security. Renting is fine and probably a smart thing, but there is nothing like paying on that mortgage knowing someday you will own that home free and clear. I think that is the association. I think America is still the land of opportunity, you just have to be determined, set goals and make your dreams happen. This is the greatest county on the earth in my opinion and the American Dream is alive and well.

  7. billsnider says:

    A lot of people think of their home as an investment. They worry about what it is worth and things like that. You also see many articles that judge the value of an upgrade in terms of what you can get back on a sale.

    To me my home is just that. I live there and have raised my family there as well. I worry about its looks, my comfort and well being. Everything else is an investment. I don’t include my home in my net worth calculation.

    Bill snider

    • cdiver says:

      Exactly, How can your home be your investment if you can’t sell it.

      • cdiver says:

        Do to the fact that you are living in it.

        • Scott says:

          I look at it as the last ditch part of my retirement funds. If I have to sell, I know it’s there. It is also protected in many states from bankruptcy…

          In most cases, it is “supposed to” appreciate tax free (for now, maybe not the future).

  8. Jin6655321 says:

    In a lot of countries, the concept of a mortgage doesn’t really exist. If you want to buy a home you have to be rich or make a loooooot of sacrifices to save enough money to pay in full. Even here in the US, I’m told that back in the day you needed a pretty hefty down payment to buy a house.

    It might be hard for us to understand the emotional importance of home ownership because we grew up in a time where pretty much anyone could buy a house. But, for our parents, it was harder and home ownership represented hard work and financial discipline.

  9. M. Stewart says:

    I’m on the side that it is not the American Dream.I think Anthony is correct that the Dream is different for everyone.

    I’ve owned two homes and for me, it saddled me down with a maintenance project. My take, I’d rather rent because being a modern-day gypsy and moving wherever and whenever I want is important to me. I’m not into the painting, yard work, and other maintenance that a home creates. If something breaks, I want to call the owner and let him/her know it needs to be fixed.

    Yeah, there’s an opportunity cost involved–I may or may not miss out on capital gains of long-term ownership, that is true. But, experiencing living in many different parts of the country is much more important to me.

    So, that is my Dream–guess I’m living it.

  10. Ash says:

    I think owning one’s home has always been a part of the American Dream. Some of my reasons have been given here but another is independence at an old age. It’s my own dream to own a home outright before I stop working. Then I’ll know that I won’t have to work until the day I die–a novel idea for much of the world.

  11. patricia says:

    I think it’s still part of the American dream, but it needs to be rethought. I’ve owned 2 houses in my lifetime, and the second time I felt like I wasn’t buying a house, but a mortgage. As the attorney said when we bought it, we would never in our lifetime pay it off. Altho I did, only thanks to a death in the family. I never want to own another home again,I think it’s become another big racket, for realtors, banks etc. It’s time to revise the system.

  12. Yes, I think homeownership is still part of the American dream. But we have confused homeownership with houseownership. Owning a home is different from owning a house or other real estate. A home is primarily a home and not a means to make a ton of money.

  13. Patrick says:

    I have owned several homes over my lifetime (now age 53) and they have all served different purposes. That is as newly married, while raising kids, and finally downsizing, but now I am renting and love the simplicity. If you truly calculate your costs including interest, taxes, maintainence, etc. you’ll find home ownership to be unprofitable. That said, home ownership is just not about profits as we all need a place to live.

    • Scott says:

      When it becomes just a place to live, then it is just a financial decision weighed against your lifestyle.

      We rent, not because we have to, we just are not “too good” to rent. We’d rather save a bundle for when a good opportunity presents itself and we’re ready to jump back in.

      I feel sorry for those who have lost hundreds of thousands on the irresposibility of all parties, not just the banks, the policies and the people who took the risk without knowing the consequences.

      It’s nice to call the landlord to fix things I can’t too…

  14. Jon says:

    Sad for me to say, but I think America (the USA) is currently retelling the tale of the Fall of the Roman Empire.

  15. Tim says:

    about as american dream as two month’s salary for a diamond engagement ring.

    i hate the notion of “dream”, because they are inherently unattainable. There are, however, goals.

  16. justin says:

    As a 27 year old guy who’s traveled quite a bit, I see home ownership as a huge burden — a sort of imprisonment. For whatever reason I see the way my parents love it, and am filled with fear. Their servitude to their home: spending endless hours toiling away to do tasks required by the HOA – mulch, landscaping, etc. and for what? To enjoy the pleasure of being a prisoner. If they move they lose huge on selling, to the real estate agent, and the $10,000 moving truck fee (cost when they moved to the current location in 2003). Is this not all suffering? How can one stand to stay in the same town for more than 3-4 years? The new American dream, in my mind, is detailed in Tim Ferris’s 4-hour Work Week book… Not having some stupid fantasies about what one can do when retired — with his crippled fat body… but enjoying life NOW. Because, as Eckart Tolley says, the now is all that ever was, is, and will be. No other time exists.

    • Wilma says:

      Your parents love being imprisoned by the house/yard work. I live on a block where there are several individuals that live to do it. So much so that they go around to see who else yard they can help in. I never have to rake my yard. They have lawn tractors with trash cans and trailers attached. To they happiness is a well groomed yard and home. Not every one wants to travel. I love home ownership and would love the opportunity to stay home more often to DO more around the yard. No land lord to tell me I can’t have a garden. It’s all in what your looking for in life. Mom and DAD found theirs and you’ll find yours.

      • Shirley says:

        “Not every one wants to travel. I love home ownership and would love the opportunity to stay home more often to DO more around the yard.”

        Wilma, you hit home with that one! We are now retired after each working for 50 years and that is exactly what we choose to do. We stay home because we finally can, and really want to.

    • adam carolla fan says:

      totally agree with justin above.

      my ex-gf’s mom lives in southern california, but has multiple properties. one condo she owns is in san antonio, texas. she once mentioned that when a dirty tenant moved out, she had to fly to san antonio, spend countless hours cleaning out the place, put up ads, wait for the prospective tenants, and then at the week’s end she still didn’t have the place rented out.

      she said she was dismayed, but on the plus side she was happy to get a tax write-off.

      she doesn’t like hiring a property manager – she and her husband like to spend their weekends and free time fixing up their rentals.

      she says it makes her happy. so this must be her “american dream.”

      grinding it out like that sounds so unsavory.

  17. I agree with the first comment in the series. The American Dream, for me, means that I am financially free. I can work if I want, I can travel if I want, I can go to school if I want.

  18. saladdin says:

    Owning a home is not even on the list of my American Dreams.

    saladdin

  19. I can appreciate the idea that in this country everyone should own a home but the stark reality is that everyone should not own a home. That idea is what got us in this mess. With home ownership comes fiscal responsibiliy to live up the agreement you made when you purchased the house.

    If your financial house is not in order, you should be a renter, not a home owner.

  20. NORMAN SPECTOR says:

    NOT EVERYONE SHOULD OWN A HOME. NOT EVERYONE SHOULD GO TO COLLEGE. SOCIETY HAS TRANSFORMED TOO MUCH AND WE CANNOT GO BACK TO THE PAST. WE SHOULD. THE TRADESMAN IS A LOST ART AND IS OUTSOURCED. AFFORDABLE LIVING IS GONE BECAUSE OF GREED AND SPECULATION. I WELCOME BACK THE GOOD OLD TIMES OF 60 YEARS AGO.

  21. Michael says:

    Homeownership is not the American dream. Freedom is! Freedom to dream your own version of the American dream and pursue it with all you have. We have no guarantee we can all achieve the American dream, but we have hope and the promise at a opportunity, of our own making, to fulfill our dreams.

  22. luckystar says:

    No one dream should be the American Dream, because every American has different wants, needs and finances. I think dreaming should be the American Dream — whatever you wish, with a little hard work, you can achieve it. Or get pretty close to it; and perhaps have a better chance of attaining that dream than in other countries. Homeownership is not ‘the’ dream of this country.

  23. If you put no money down and get a 5/1 ARM, that’s hardly “buying” a home in any meaningful sense. The lender is de facto buying a home: you’re just the person whose name appears on the deed. The idea that possession of a home is some sort of national birthright that you deserve whether you choose to work for it or not cheapens the idea of any American Dream, to state it mildly.

    Owning a home isn’t supposed to be easy: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac didn’t spread risk like real insurers do so much as they co-opted it. Even during the 2008 presidential election, you had to get to the 5th guy on the ballot (Chuck Baldwin) before you could find a candidate honest enough to say that maybe you shouldn’t be entitled to a house if you can’t afford to pay for it.

  24. To me the “American Dream” is that you can improve your station in life through hard work.

    Is it true? Yes and no. It could happen but it’s definitely not as easy as some people claim.

    • EXACTLY! I can’t believe I had to read through that many comments to see this one…

      That’s why we don’t have titles of nobility in the United States – because the American Dream is to work and be rewarded based on what you *do* and not who your parents *are*.

      The American Dream is based on the premise that anyone can work hard and make a better life for themselves and their families. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But it’s better than anywhere else on the planet.

  25. Tim says:

    affordable living does not equal home ownership. the American Dream use to be about “freedom” in its many forms.


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