‘You are fettered,’ said Scrooge, trembling. ‘Tell me why?’
‘I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied the Ghost. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?’
– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
It’s ironic and sad that, in this Christmas season, many Americans are bound by the legal chains of a mortgage. They girded it on of their own free will, before their house’s equity fell to a level less than the loan’s value or before they lost the income that paid for said loan.
A common thread of many cases is that people believed the advertising which touted that you can buy your own home, implying that a residence can’t be a home unless it’s purchased. Even though the average American lives for six years in a residence that they bought, purchase implies permanence, adulthood and financial success. Commercials created for the National Association of Realtors in this housing downturn state that it’s never been a better time to buy your own home. Go to any residential builders’ website – Ryan, Keystone, Lennar, Gemcraft, Ryland – and you’ll find multiple references to the word home, but almost never the word house.
While there are good reasons to own a house, thinking that purchase automatically makes it a home isn’t one of them. In a society that prizes time management and quick gratification, we’ve forgotten that a home isn’t a physical thing or place. A home is a sense, a belief and a feeling. It arises from our cumulative actions and attitudes instead of the workmanship of the carpenters and plumbers that completed the structure. They simply provide the physical structure from the elements but we take that structure and create a home in which to raise our children. Homes are made, not built.
Our country prizes property ownership, and rightfully so. But we’ve now staked our economy on how many own houses and the collective value of those houses. The government and FIRE industries – Finance, Insurance, Real Estate – are promoting sales in order to keep the collective value of housing from falling further. Further drops mean larger holes in the balance sheets of financial institutions that need to be plugged. This recession and credit crisis are directly linked to the value of housing and programs such as the First Time Home Buyer Tax Credit are a clear effort to support the value of housing and save the financial system. Their concern is the system and not the family; the family is your concern.
So here is my point. If you’re a father and you and your mate are looking to buy a house, make sure that you think and aren’t manipulated by the media. Consider neighborhoods and schools. Evaluate commuting distance and whatever other factors matter to you. But all else being equal, don’t think that a purchase agreement is automatically superior to a lease. There are landlords who love a good tenant – we’ve had them – and will work with them as situations change and you only have to ask. And if it doesn’t work out, the costs are far less than having to contend with trying to sell a house and being stuck with the mortgage.
Because being chained to a house can destroy the home that you’re trying to create.