To be honest, maybe we were just a little too smug.
After all, we were the nation’s homeowners, and we believed we deserved the riches and comforts that came with the title.
We didn’t sit on our hands in our rented apartments while our friends and family turned no down payment into undreamt-of riches. No, we ran the numbers, figured out the leverage and realized that homeownership was a can’t-lose deal. So we applied for mortgages, and lenders let us borrow huge sums of money. We bought homes, made investments in real estate and celebrated as prices skyrocketed.
We believed we’d earned our spacious backyards, three-car garages, fourth bathrooms and fifth bedrooms. We’d grabbed the brass ring, won the grand prize. We were better than all those other fools who hadn’t had the guts or the green or whatever else it took to buy a home. We risked little or nothing, and we gained everything and then some. Sure, we were smug. We thought we had every reason to be so.
We believed there was an American Dream and we were living it. We believed we had equity, so we refinanced and borrowed against it. We remodeled and enlarged our homes, and we spent the difference on college educations for our children, romantic second honeymoons, big-screen TVs and humongous SUVs. Sure, those big cars guzzled gas, but they allowed us to feel like we owned the road as well as the neighborhood.
Some of us really hit the jackpot and got it all: the bigger house; the better education; the more exotic vacation; the better car; and all the other toys we could grab. And even after we’d gorged ourselves on consumer goods, we still believed we had a comfortable cushion put aside for a rainy day.
Sure, we were smug. We felt like we’d found the pot of gold at the end of our very own personal lucky rainbow. We were homeowners with a capital H. …CONTINUED
We were sure we’d never have to rent another apartment; no landlord would ever evict us; and as long as we paid the mortgage, neither would any lender claim our home. We’d never be homeless, never have to live in that SUV or move into a shelter. Some of were so smug we even believed the bank would give us a break if we missed a payment or the government would bail us out if we had a run of back luck.
And yet, we were so very wrong. The American Dream we thought we deserved was only a myth. The wealth we thought we’d earned was no more substantial than a soap bubble. The equity we thought we could count on for our retirement years is gone. We’ve sunk too much money into our homes. We’ve regretted our self-indulgent spendthrift lifestyles. And perhaps worst of all, so many of us have lost their homes that the rest of us no longer feel secure. Our glory days have come and gone, and now we wonder: Is the game over? Might we be next to lose it all?
At the end of the day, perhaps those among us who still own a home have learned a few valuable lessons. We’ve learned there is no American Dream; equity exists only on paper; and a house is a home, not necessarily a good investment. We’ve learned that home prices really can fall even faster than they can rise. And we’ve learned that we’re vulnerable, even if through no fault of our own.
Perhaps the edge has been taken off our admittedly obnoxious sense of superiority. Perhaps we’ve realized that a little humility can be healthy even for homeowners. But none of that means we like our new status as the not-so-wealthy, not-so-secure, not-so-smart — and certainly not-so-smug — people we’ve been forced to become.
Marcie Geffner is a veteran real estate reporter and former managing editor of Inman News. Her news stories, feature articles and columns about home buying, home selling, homeownership and mortgage financing have been published by a long list of real estate Web sites and newspapers. "House Keys," a weekly column about homeownership, is syndicated in print and on the Web by Inman News. Readers are cordially invited to "friend" the author on Facebook.
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