In all of this talk of foreclosures, bailouts, short sales and refinancing, what is sometimes lost is that money spent buying real estate is an investment, and, like any investment,its value can go up or down. Why is the prospect of losing our homes so damaging to our economy but even more devastating to our national psyche?
Stock prices plummet and you lose money. You knew the risk ... or should have. It may break the bank but it doesn't break your heart.
Homes are different. A home is the only investment most Americans make which keeps them warm at night. It is the only investment they can raise their children in or watch their daughter walk down its stairs in her first prom dress. It is the only investment we invite guests into it kitchen so that we may gather 'round and toast to good fortune. It is one of a handful investments whose value we can influence by our decorating taste or green thumb. It is the only investment most of us will put our hearts and souls into in the hopes it will keep us safe and protected throughout our lives.
I grew up a in a generation urged to buy a home as soon as possible; a generation baptized with the American Dream of home ownership. How many of us heard throughout our lives that a home is most people's single largest investment and real estate has a long history of appreciating in value. In all those years, how many times did you hear, "You know, if you buy a home, it might go down in value 30 or 40%?"
Now, real estate as an investment, has let us down, and it's not just our loss of equity which causes deep emotional pain. It is the loss of our investment foundation. It is the loss of one of life's certainties; historically, homes were the one investment we could count on.
Most importantly, though, it is the loss of a dream. Will future generations be quite so enthusiastic about home ownership? Will young couples scrimp and save to buy their first house? Will homes ever again be seen as the centerpiece of building wealth?
In all this talk of foreclosures and bailouts, as nation, we will never again doubt that any investment, including real estate, can go up or down in value. And as a society, we may never trust our hopes for the future to the American Dream of home ownership.