A home ... "a ball and chain"

The American Dream of Home Ownership Has Become a Nightmare


Culturally a decent house has been a symbol of middle-class family life. Practically, it has been a secure shelter for the children, along with access to a good free education. Financially it has been regarded as a safe store of value, a shield against the vagaries of the economy, and a long-term retirement asset. Indeed, for decades, a house has been the largest asset on the balance sheet of the average American family. In recent years, it provided boatloads of money to homeowners through recourse to cash-out refinancing, in effect an equity withdrawal from their once rapidly appreciating home values.

These days the American dream of home ownership has turned into a nightmare for millions of families. They wake every day to the reality of a horrible decline in the value of the home that has meant so much to them. The pressure to meet mortgage payments on homes that have lost value has been especially shocking—and unjust—for the millions of unemployed through no fault of their own. For the baby boomer generation, a home is now seen not as the cornerstone of advancement but a ball and chain, restricting their ability and their mobility to move and seek out a job at another location. They just cannot afford to abandon the equity they have in their homes—and they can't sell in this miserable market.

American homeowners have experienced an unprecedented decline in their equity net of mortgage debt. The seemingly never-ending fall in prices has brought an average decline of at least 30 percent.

Comment: For many it is blessing not a ball and chain. Of course if one buys a home (say in 2005 in Florida) for $ 350,000 and now 5 years later they are forced to sell and the house is worth $ 100K less; that's a ball and chain! Our own home per Zillow is worth 18% less than it's "value" at the end of 2005. But fortunate for us we did not buy it in 2005 AND we are not selling it in 2010.

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