Mobility means questioning our housing tradition

October 2, 2010 

Some people contend that society is shifting its residential housing needs. The American dream has become a nightmare for many. Without placing blame, let's step back and look at how our needs and lifestyles may have unknowingly created change.

Traditionally, individuals started working, then married, bought a home, had a family and remained employed by the same company the rest of their lives. The company provided medical insurance and, when it came time to retire, a gold watch. Their employees then collected retirement and Social Security. For many of us, this described our parents' path.

Times have changed.

Setting down deep roots in a community has been replaced by frequent moves, often far from home. Jetting across the country for work or play is no longer confined to a special event. If we see a better job opportunity, we are apt to quit our current job and seize the opportunity, even move across country if needed.

Not only will we have multiple jobs in our lifetime, we will likely have more than one career. Instead of relying on one company to provide benefits, we carry our own medical insurance, if we can afford it, and manage our own retirement account.

Our personal life also has become less static. We may have one or more live-in relationships before we marry, or we may chose not to marry at all. Likely both individuals will work outside the home, and may decide not to have children. If we do, we seek out the best schools wherever our jobs take us.

So if our lives have such potential for change, the traditional assumption that we must own a home instead becomes a question -- do we own or rent? Does homeownership hinder us from taking advantage of more opportunities in an increasingly mobile society?

In general, if we rent, society makes us feel like we are lesser individuals in three ways.

The first is a stigma: You rent because you are not successful and can't afford to own.

The second is the assumption that as a renter, you don't take the same level of care or have pride of ownership in what you rent.

Third is a concern that your home life is not stable and this instability may affect your job and your children.

The government also favors homeowners over renters with three tax incentives: interest mortgage deduction, real estate taxes deduction and a capital gains deduction. All of the tax benefits are heavily weighted toward homeownership.

Perhaps our need for mobility is another cycle we will pass through. However, if the change is permanent, how long will it take before the trend is recognized? Is there a solution? Perhaps a change in attitude is needed: A building is not what provides stability; people are.


Clair and Barbara Ramsey are local associate brokers specializing in residential real estate. Their column appears every month in the Anchorage Daily News. Their e-mail address is info@ramseyteam.com.

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