This morning's Today show featured internationally acclaimed financial expert Suze Orman, interviewed by Matt Lauer. Most of us are familiar with Suze's take on the housing market.This morning she was promoting her new book, "The Money Class," How to Create Your New American Dream.
There were three major points to the inverview:
1. Homeownership; many people are upside down in their homes, and losing them. They may have to rethink ownership and rent for the rest of their lives.
2. College Education; because there is no or little equity in homes, college students might consider a two year community college, and postpone the remaining two years.
3. Retirement; work until you are at least 65, and plan for the future.
60 second sound bites make good TV, but rarely good sense. A couple years ago Ms. Orman was advising buyers to offer $100,000 less than the asking price on a home because sellers had to sell. It wasn't a thoughtful strategy, it was a sound bite.
For the thousands of families who have lost their homes to foreclosure or short sale, is renting forever their best option? Is converting a nation of homeowners to a nation of renters a good solution for the US economy? I agree with Ms. Orman that the old American Dream died of tortuous strangulation in 2008. What we need is a new American Dream that is affordable, sustainable, and permanent. The day of the gated 7,000 square foot Garage Majal that served as an ATM is a dusty memory.
Home ownership is a cornerstone of the economy, rentals are not. Renting is a temporary solution. Do we want to tell a young family with small children that their kids will never have a back yard or a family room where they can invite their friends? Countless studies show us that home ownership fosters both financial and emotional stability, not to mention better grades in school. What the economy, and every family who has lost their home desperately needs is guidance to rebuild their finances and credit. Renting forever implies an expectation that families will never repair credit, have stabile income, or a place to put down roots and call their own. That isn't a New American Dream, it is an economic nightmare.
While I'm writing this I can hear Ms. Orman arguing sound bites with me.
"Yes, but they need to get their fiances under control!" she exclaims.
"I agree, but affordable home ownership is still a path to financial stability," I respond. "Renting, contract for deed, sharing housing are all options for the short run. Let's give them options, and a plan."
"Look, I'm the expert and I sell a gazillion books. Let them rent. Maybe I'll change my mind in another year," she retorts.
Will someone please talk with Ms. Orman so we can rebuild communities together?