Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Depreciation of the American Dream

home-for-sale After years of bad news for the housing industry, conditions have started improving with notable increases in sales, starts and suckers born every minute.

I worked for a Fortune 500 homebuilder during the boom years, and several bust months, of the previous decade. Luckily for those who bought the company's houses, I only performed construction on the syntax of our executives. As the communications department's primary writer, I spent many fruitless hours trying to convince the stock-option eligible crowd that you can have tools in a toolbox and weapons in an arsenal but saying you have "tools in our arsenal" is bringing a socket wrench to a gunfight.

However, the most heinous crime the industry ever perpetrated on the public, strictly from the standpoint of abusing an English idiom, had to be selling home ownership as "the American Dream."

I'm still amazed at the countless times I inserted some variation of that phrase into presentations, news releases and marketing materials without being served a subpoena in a false-advertising lawsuit. At the very least, I'm shocked our hyper-vigilant legal team never required disclaimers such as "American Dream only achievable after your dwelling placed under the care of HGTV's Mike Holmes and bankrolled with a generous grant from Home Depot and the Ford Foundation." Of course, I'm sure they would have also required a disclaimer about Holmes being Canadian.

Owning a house means maintaining a house and that means no rest for you or your bank account. If you're not mowing the lawn or cleaning gutters, you're paying someone to do it. Then there's the constant retouching of paint, re-grouting of tile and re-caulking of windows. Not to mention the regular re-financing of your mortgage in hope you may finally be out of debt before your kids need to put you into another type of home.

My company did eventually try harder to educate buyers about the heartaches, backaches and empty wallets ahead but only after their down payment checks cleared. My contribution included expanding the company's home maintenance and warranty guide along with producing a 60+ minute video that explicitly showed just how quickly the American Dream could deteriorate and depreciate.

Did you know you should drain and flush hot water heaters annually? Oil the moving parts and tighten the nuts and bolts on garage doors quarterly? Of course not! No one peruses manuals UNTIL something fails! If you did, you'd be me: waking in a sweat at 3 a.m. after realizing how far behind you are on the recommended monthly popping off and on of all the electrical outlets in your house with ground fault circuit interrupter buttons.

I never worried about that stuff in the years I rented a second-floor apartment in town. I should have worried about leaving a faucet running during frigid winter nights given the number of times the pipes froze but help was a phone call to an overworked landlord away. Boy, I miss him.

I miss him even more since the new property revaluation came out. Seems the house that we've sunk many a penny into for a grander master bathroom, a more tricked out modern kitchen and an expanded back porch now has a fair market value about 15 percent below what we paid for it in 2004.

On the bright side, this perfectly positions us to live out another American Dream: Going from rags to riches.

14 comments:

  1. This is why I'm not dying to jump back into home ownership. I never did quite understand why people had that way up there on their list of things to do..... own a home. It always seemed like hassle. But, a few years into marriage, my husband was deadset on buying a house, so we did. And then as it always does, we had to move out of state for a job and we were stuck with that darned house that was OURS. Grrr.

    Now we haven't owned a home in about three years, and I'm back to really liking renting. I don't have to maintain it. I don't have to fix it. All I do is pay rent and clean it. And the idea that you were actually working your way toward making money by buying a home is just not so anymore, not a lot of the time.

    So, I rent. Happily.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. If you can pluck down a good chunk o' change now as an investment, because surely the market will one day again rise, now is a good time. But for those of us who had to buy at the market peak ...

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  2. I actually like owning. It's that "other" American Dream that eludes me.... marrying a Kardashian.

    In all seriousness (well, that ship sailed with Carmine) there are a lot of headaches that come with owning a house, but the security of ownership without the mortgage is wonderful. Maybe it was my childhood which was less than stable, but I wouldn't want to trade in ownership.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Problem: We have MANY years left to pay on our mortgage despite My Love's best earnings and negotiating skills. Meanwhile, I wish you well on sharing a cardboard box with Kim K.

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  3. It's in a pain in the ass. But, if I were paying rent for a house the size of ours and had nothing to show for the money spent after 20 years, I'd feel ill.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. After receiving that tax bill, I'm not feeling too well myself.

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  4. Preach Brother. Of course, now I have to figure out how to flush and drain my hot water heater immediately. I wanted a condo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's actually easy unless you have no where to drain it to or your hose connection never quite lines up right. I have the scars to prove it that last point.

      Delete
  5. I love your blog. Check mine out and let me know if you'd like to exchange guest posts http://laughingatlife232.blogspot.com/ Great article too man, I loved it!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I bought a house because from the age of 17 to the age of 29, I moved 14 times. I wanted my kids to not have to feel that way... like they were afraid to unpack. I bought this house at 29, and we've been here ever since. We recently thought about moving into a bit of a bigger place, and in the end my joy of home ownership doesn't include a large mortgage.

    ReplyDelete
  7. (FYI: I can no longer reply to you from my ipad....anyone else having this issue?)

    I've often wept for the days when we had our weekends free, living in an apartment, when going to Lowe's was not a weekly outing.

    We bought in 1990, when interest rates were sky high. We got almost twice as much as we paid for it, but of course, that doesn't take into account the addition we put on, the new furnace, new a/c, new roof, new driveway, new windows, new appliances, etc., etc. You always lose when it comes to home ownership!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like having a home. I just don't like the never-ending battle to prevent it from turning into a money pit slum.

      Delete

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