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How Homeownership Has Changed in America And Why You Shouldn't Give Up on Buying

In one short decade, home ownership has gone from being the Holy Grail of middle-class financial achievement to a very risky financial ball-and-chain.

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"Real estate is no longer bulletproof," he continues. "You need to look at it as a long-term deal. The folks I'm seeing are looking to be in their starter home for a longer period of time -- from two or three years then to five years now. For their second home, where the Boomers looked at it as a seven-to-10 year investment, the Millennials I talk to see it as the 20-year home where they'll raise their kids. And then they'll buy a third home to retire in -- and that's it. They're not planning to turn their homes every three to five years any more."

Furthermore, says Graham, people are looking for the kind of creature comforts that will make that longer-term commitment more satisfying, including easy proximity to markets, transit, parks, schools, work, and churches. And they want homes that are less demanding to live in. "For decades, the trend was to larger homes. Now, people don't want to clean that much house or mow that much lawn. They want more sustainable, greener, smaller homes instead. I'm having more conversations about how much time and money it will take to maintain a house than I am about its resale value. It's an emotional change: people are putting a lot more thought into what they're purchasing, because they see it as a longer-term investment rather than a financial asset."

The crazy days are over. But better times may be here. Settling into homes that we can love for their own housey goodness changes our relationships to a great many other things as well. If our houses aren't piggy banks, then we have to re-think our expectations about investing and money, and be more careful about building and preserving real wealth over a longer period of time. If we're sticking around longer in the neighborhood, then we'll have more time to get to know our neighbors -- and build the kind of social capital that over the longer term adds both economic and intrinsic value to our homes. This kind of rootedness also makes investment in things like on-site solar and wind generation (which can take a few years to pay for themselves) -- or the years it takes to plant trees and build up a great garden patch -- much more worthwhile.

And there will be rewards to our families -- in long friendships that unfold over years, in a connection to the coming and going of the seasons seen from the same windows year after year, in more soul-deep commitments to a place that will always be remembered as home. If we want more humane and welcoming places to live, we need to start by being willing to commit ourselves to spending the years it takes to create them.


Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to AlterNet's Vision newsletter for weekly updates.

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