We talk about them, ogle them, reminisce about memories we have of them and worry about their welfare. In many ways, the American love affair with our homes is typical of the patterns in a troubled romantic obsession. Our rapt attention as we watch the object of our affection on numerous TV shows is indicative of how deeply we are in love with the “idyllic vision” of our homes.
Recently Newsweek Magazine profiled a new book by Daniel McGuinn called “House Lust: America’s Obsession With Our Homes.” According to McGinn ” The existence of the real-estate gossip columnist is just one more bizarre indicator of our fascination with homes, which continues even as housing values have fallen.”
We not only want to know where celebrities live, we want to see exactly what their private spaces look like and what they have in their refrigerators…witness the popularity of Cribs. Even the prospect of diminishing house values has not dimmed our ardor.
But that’s the thing with lust…it’s desire can never be adequately satisfied. There is always a grinding need for more and more. It’s an addiction which enslaves and distorts. While most Americans are well aware of the crisis that has beset the housing and mortgage industry, many still can’t believe that they will be negatively affected. The fall-out of this refusal to accept this harsh market reality is evident in price reductions for homes in the tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars at times.
In fact, McGinn indicates that a survey by Boston Consulting Group showed that 55 percent of Americans still think their homes are GAINING IN VALUE despite all evidence to the contrary. If you factor in the percentage who believe that housing prices are simply at a stalemate, I daresay the number would be closer to 75%. This is an astonishingly high Delusion Rate!
And as a testament to this belief, it is expected that Americans will spend 170 Billion dollars this year remodelling and renovating their homes. Many will do so in the expectation of increasing their home value in a rapidly declining market. And belief is a powerful thing. More than once in the past, American optimism has created lemonade out of lemons.
Remember the tech bubble? It preceded the current real estate crisis. Those were the days in which anything that ended with .com seemed to garner froth-like admiration and the sky is the limit financing options. When the boom turned to bust, thousands of programmers and entrepreneurs found themselves without jobs and the ardor for all things techie cooled substantially.
Well, there may be good that comes about as a result of this re-evaluation of our obsession with real estate too. Just like a good, stable relationship can’t be sustained solely on the basis of giddiness, the sobering reality of declining prices, foreclosures and short sales may force us to take a good long hard look at what means to live in community.
For many Americans, the home became the piggy bank. A source of funding for all sorts of projects, whims, passions and fantasies through the vehicle of the home equity loan. This spending spree banked on one precariously ridiculous notion. This was that home prices would continue their dramatic ascension forever. The correction of reality grounded by gravitational forces which bring all things that go up back down…eventually may in the end prove to be an important grounding principle which steadies our economy and allows us to reassess where we place our value.
Our homes are the solid building blocks which anchor what America stands for. They are where families are raised, dreams are born and life is lived and relished in all it’s various expressions. Although its’ been fun to flirt and make houses bigger and flashier, trade and obsess about them, nip and tuck to stage them for success, ultimately it’s not about what we do to our homes, but what our homes do for us. Perhaps we will discover that our somewhat maniacal obsessing will never match the rewards that arise out of of the commitment, nurture and creation of solid human relationships.
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