American homeownership was originally not about an investment

One writer suggests Americans have bought into the lie that houses are good investments:

Would it surprise you to know that if there are two equally expensive houses—one for rent, one to buy—the person who buys will pay 40 percent to 50 percent more each month? That’s what happens when you factor in property taxes, insurance, maintenance fees and assorted fees like repairs—which almost nobody does…

The truth is, most of what we’ve been raised to believe about owning a house simply isn’t true…

Run the numbers. Yale economist Robert Shiller found that from 1890 to 1990, the return on residential real estate was just about zero after inflation.

ZERO.

This trend toward seeing homes as a good return on investment is a recent development. Perhaps it hints at the commodification – and a need to see a potential return on investment – of everything.

But, if owning a home is not a great investment, why do Americans still privilege homeownership? Here are some historic reasons:

  1. Land is valuable. In the past, people needed land to some degree to survive. Think of all those tenant farmers in the Middle Ages who always had to pay someone else. Or think of sharecroppers in the United States. Land equaled food or the ability to run a business on your property. Additionally, having your own piece of property meant that you could get away from others as well as the government. It is that the home is your castle thing.
  2. Owning a home is a sign of material prosperity. When you are a homeowner, you have made it enough to be able to own and maintain your own property. In other words, you have the resources to waste it. This is the realization of the American Dream as George W. Bush once put it.
  3. Additionally, homeownership is a sign of dedication to your local community. Renters are assumed to be lower-income, transient, and not committed to civic organizations. Homeowners have a stake in their community because they (1) will be there for an extended time and (2) want to protect their property values (though this is also a more recent development).
  4. Combining #2 and #3, homeownership was assumed to keep people invested in capitalism as opposed to socialism. Again, if you own your own property, you want to see it do well rather than hand it over to an outside manager (the state or a landlord).

One thought on “American homeownership was originally not about an investment

  1. Pingback: Closing on a house feels like… | Legally Sociable

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