President Obama’s Plan to Help “Homeowners”

Right now, there are more than 10 million homeowners in this country who, because of a decline in home prices that is no fault of their own, owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Now, it is wrong for anyone to suggest that the only option for struggling, responsible homeowners is to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom. I don’t accept that. None of us should. 

President Obama is not being very honest in the above-quoted statement. Unfortunately, the housing market is still light-years away from hitting bottom. Real estate is still ridiculously overpriced in this country and our President is dedicated to keeping it overpriced.

Even buying a house free and clear without getting involved in the whole mortgage fiasco is still completely untenable, in my opinion, because these houses are not worth even a third of what is being asked for them. This means that I will never be able to buy because I’m not a gambler by nature. Pouring a huge amount of my own money into something in hopes that people will keep not noticing how overpriced it is while I’m still alive is not for me.

I understand that the President’s gesture is populist in nature because when people hear the word “homeowners”, they almost break out into the national anthem. Who cares that the “homeowners” don’t own any percentage of their “homes”? They are still more responsible, valuable and attention-worthy than all those renters who are rootless, unreliable lazy layabouts. Thus, the myth that everybody needs to  shoulder a humongous mortgage because that’s the truly American thing to do gets perpetuated.

We need to realize, though, that – far from being Socialist or anything of the kind – Obama’s plan to “help homeowners” shows his ruthless dedication to preserving the status quo in the economy. This program will artificially prop up (just for as long as one needs to win a presidential race) a market that collapsed because of its own flaws. The banks will continue making humongous profits selling mortgages on overpriced cardboard boxes. The concept of renting will continue to be eroded. Borrowing gigantic amounts of money will continue to be in vogue. People will continue handing over the bulk of their income to banks as payment for the hope to own their cardboard box in 30 years while servicing and servicing and servicing their debt.

I have a strong feeling that there is a set of very happy lobbyists behind this plan by President Obama. Do I need to remind anybody that Obama has received a much bigger financial backing from the banking industry than Romney? If this “help the homeowners plan” doesn’t make it clear to you why Obama is supported by the bankers, nothing ever will.

Isn’t this a pretty neat strategy to preserve the status quo? And it comes to all of us at a small low price of an injection of taxpayers’ money from time to time. That sounds like a very reasonable price to keep things exactly as they are. If you think that this is a progressive measure, then you haven’t even begun to understand what the word “progressive” means.

49 thoughts on “President Obama’s Plan to Help “Homeowners”

  1. Another significant problem was when people stopped viewing a house as a home and started viewing them as investment opportunities to get rich quick.Some people did okay, but other’s did not fare so well. Fix and flip played a huge role in the housing problem today. People in real estate and mortgage industries were also a part of that greed machine. Prior to the bubble bursting, I recall attending a press event and over-hearing the bragging of “square-footage talkers”. It seemed these people never tired of talking about their sq. footage–competing with one another over whose sq. footage was bigger, etc.

    I live in a small, older home (a fixer-upper) that I’ve put a lot of sweat equity into. I could not afford it today. Moving from California I didn’t want to purchase a huge home and feel constantly stressed about a mortgage and whether I’d be able to make the payment or not. Living in a smaller home I also had concerns too, but I saw a lot of people lose their homes in California–those people who purchased new homes with mortgages that required two-incomes to pay for it, so I was resistant to real estate agents trying to push me into a larger home, instead of remaining in my smaller “starter” home.

    What bothers me is that those people who have acted responsibly and did not take out mortgages that they couldn’t afford–when those homes foreclose it hurts the value of the homes around you–it destroys the neighborhood. 60 minutes ran a segment about this a few weeks ago and how this has devastated communities across the US. It really angers me!

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    1. “Another significant problem was when people stopped viewing a house as a home and started viewing them as investment opportunities to get rich quick.Some people did okay, but other’s did not fare so well. Fix and flip played a huge role in the housing problem today.”

      – Exactly. And how is this particular gamble any better than any other kind of a gamble? We don;t invest taxpayers’ money into covering the debts of casino gamblers, do we?

      “What bothers me is that those people who have acted responsibly and did not take out mortgages that they couldn’t afford–when those homes foreclose it hurts the value of the homes around you–it destroys the neighborhood. 60 minutes ran a segment about this a few weeks ago and how this has devastated communities across the US. It really angers me!”

      – I feel the same and, believe me, I’m as angered by this as you are. And I’m convinced that this current plan of Obama’s will only make more of the same possible.

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      1. I don’t think it is a good gamble. I looked around and wondered who were these people who could afford paying such inflated prices and questioned it–the property values were ridiculous. Apparently, I was in the minority–people I met made snide comments towards me and my smaller home. I knew that I certainly couldn’t afford to pay for that and it would cause me way too much anxiety to place myself in that kind of situation. People go into older housing communities and scrape off the homes and build these huge, pretentious homes and change the neighborhood–and not always for the better, so the price of smaller homes is inflated given the newer, larger homes that were allowed to be built next door. The city allows it because they want all the money for taxes and permits, etc.–very short term thinking and greed…just endless examples of greed everywhere.

        I could not get into the “property ladder” where I grew-up and so had to relocate in order to afford a home. It was very difficult. Not everyone thinks of selling their home every 5 years, just because that is what people do or so the real estate agents say.

        The whole thing just infuriates me. I feel that I’ve been placed in jeopardy because of the irresponsible behaviors of others. I feel a lot of anger about this.

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        1. “The whole thing just infuriates me. I feel that I’ve been placed in jeopardy because of the irresponsible behaviors of others. I feel a lot of anger about this.”

          – I feel exactly the same. You do the responsible thing, yet you are perceived as the idiot in the situation. (By “you” I mean both you and me here.)

          Somebody I know, one year out of college, is planning to take on a $350K+ mortgage on a $40K salary. And this is after the housing market collapse. And this person’s college degree? It’s in finance.

          Maybe somebody sees this as reasonable. I don’t.

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      2. “Somebody I know, one year out of college, is planning to take on a $350K+ mortgage on a $40K salary. And this is after the housing market collapse. And this person’s college degree? It’s in finance.”

        I’m with you and I also fail to see this as reasonable. I’ve known plenty of people like this though. I knew a woman who blamed the bank for her situation. (She was my cat-sitter). She already had a second mortgage and so she rolled her mortgages into one and when she did this her home was valued at the top of the market. She then took cash out and stupidly used it to purchase “stuff”. This woman made herself out to be a victim and blamed everyone–including her boyfriend and mother for her situation. When he moved out she was left with a high mortgage payment that she couldn’t make and filed bankruptcy. She was in a stable government position for over 15 years and worked other jobs, because she made very poor financial decisions. She revealed that her mother had given her a down-payment on the home over 20 years ago. She made terrible financial decisions but blamed everyone else. When I inquired and said didn’t you realize that you were getting yourself into debt and would owe on that debt? She got mad and blamed the bank. While I find fault with a lot of banks, how stupid can people be? Do they not realize that a mortgage is DEBT and that they are responsible for paying the DEBT? Do they think money is FREE?

        Her home has been rezoned so now she thinks she will get a ton of money from a developer and that will get her out of her financial debt. I don’t talk with her anymore because she was extremely manipulative.

        I could go on and on with similar stories, but I’m certain you’ve heard the same. People who mismanage money tend to stay the same and they always have an excuse or blame others.

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  2. It is an issue over here as well. Whenever house prices drop it is reported as a disaster.

    It is not a disaster, house prices have been too high for too long and first time buyers, sometimes married couples with young children, literally cannot get onto the ‘property ladder’.

    To be perfectly honest, if some older people have to lose out when it comes to them selling their houses, I really don’t care as long as young people who want a house can actually afford one.

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    1. “It is not a disaster, house prices have been too high for too long and first time buyers, sometimes married couples with young children, literally cannot get onto the ‘property ladder’.”

      – I’m very surprised to be getting such reasonable comments on this post. Thank you!

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    2. I do care about older people because they are a part of the community and I would not like to see them homeless. In many of the older communities these people worked very hard and many live on fixed incomes. Many older people live around me and why should they suffer because of the greed of others. I feel compassion for their situations. Maybe if these issues plagued your own family you might feel the same way.

      When someone is allowed to come into a community and scrape-off a home to build a larger one–that may increase the value of other homes around you, but it also increases property tax–which impacts people who live on fixed incomes. Why should these people have to pay more taxes and feel forced to sell or leave an area, if they are not ready and don’t want too. They should not be cast away like people dropping off animals at homeless shelters, because of the irrsponsible choices and decisions of others.

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      1. You misunderstand. I care greatly about the older people in my community. What I don’t care for is them selling a 4 bedroom house they brought in the 70s and making hundreds of thousands of pounds/dollars profit out of it and keeping the younger generation out of the property market.

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        1. “What I don’t care for is them selling a 4 bedroom house they brought in the 70s and making hundreds of thousands of pounds/dollars profit out of it ”

          – And this happens not because anybody is a bad person but because the real estate prices have been overinflated. And they will continue growing as long as there are people willing to “buy” at these unreasonable prices.

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      2. “You misunderstand.”

        Your comment was unclear and didn’t convey that.

        “I care greatly about the older people in my community.”

        I’m glad to hear that.

        “What I don’t care for is them selling a 4 bedroom house they brought in the 70s and making hundreds of thousands of pounds/dollars profit out of it and keeping the younger generation out of the property market.”

        I agree with Clarissa and I don’t think that they personally are keeping younger people out of the market. I tend to look at this in a different way though, maybe because of what I’ve been exposed too. Many of these people will probably need that kind of money for medical expenses as they age, or even if they wind up being in an assisted-living facility too–so many older people do not stay with their families. It is a huge problem.

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  3. Homeowners? If you owe more than the property is worth and have no equity then what exactly do you own? The problem is worse than has been presented since all of the numbers – 10 million, 28% of folks with mortgages – being tossed around are based solely on the first morgage. If you include all of the financial instruments pledged against equity including second mortgages, liens, lines of credit etc., then the number of folks underwater is much higher. How much higher? Nobody knows because its not measured or at least not reported especially in government documents so in my view the status quo is not tenable even in the next few years.

    Also the 66 million mortgages which have been run through MERS, the bankers’ electronic morgage system, have clouded titles since nobody really knows who owns the notes because the notes only exist in electronic form and the banks have done crafty things like sell the same note to two different investors at the same time or sell tranches (slices) of composite collections of notes with no paper trail or faked paper trails prepared by robosigners who fake signatures and documents

    Mortgage is an apt word for the situation since Mort = an Old French word “dead” and gage = an Old German word “pledge”.

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    1. “Homeowners? If you owe more than the property is worth and have no equity then what exactly do you own?”

      – That’s precisely why I put “homeowners” in quotation marks.

      “Nobody knows because its not measured or at least not reported especially in government documents so in my view the status quo is not tenable even in the next few years.”

      – Obama is only interested in keeping the housing market afloat until November.

      “Mortgage is an apt word for the situation since Mort = an Old French word “dead” and gage = an Old German word “pledge”.”

      – Yes, pledged until your death to feed the bankers in exchange for the illusion that you own something.

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  4. In a rational market, there would not be much difference between renting money to buy a house (interest on a mortgage) and renting real estate to live in. The difference arises when the real estate is overpriced, as you suggest. The advantages of renting are that someone else is responsible for any needed repairs. The disadvantage here is clear, though: A landlord can do a shoddy job of a plumbing, roofing, etc repair and you have no real recourse. The house I live in I bought for less than $15k in 1972. It is now apparently worth about $120k, which means that it has kept up with inflation. But maintenance costs are significant. The mortgage was paid off in 2000.

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  5. Ah, wonderful. The more things change, the more they stay the same, so they say.
    I have to admit, there is ONE factor which is making Jaime and I consider buying a house, and that’s the fact that there aren’t any real protectors in the law for “gender identity and expression” in Canadian law when it comes to discrimination, which means that if our (current) landlords discovered Jaime’s true gender and had a problem with it, there would be nothing stopping them from kicking us out, and even in uber-progressive BC, a queer couple with one partner who’s trans aren’t going to have the easiest time finding someone willing to rent to them. Sometimes we fancy a house because it would liberate us from worrying about getting denied a place or kicked out or being closeted all the time at home. But really, that just puts a tiny band-aid on a much, much bigger boo-boo. The big picture would improve if that kind of discrimination was illegal.

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    1. In Canada, buying real estate is a lot less fraught with danger because there are banking regulations in place, the market is a lot more reasonable and you are a not likely to get duped and dumped by a bank. So if you are planning to buy in Canada, I’m not worried about you.

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      1. Yeah, the Canadian banks easily offer you mortgages 5-6 times your family income. (I still remember the times when it was supposed to be limited to 3 yearly family incomes. And there is an explanation for why this is happening – banks are considering mortgages, not volatile stocks, to be the safest thing to invest in at the moment. Safest for the banks, I mean. 😦 )
        I also mean this is what they offer you if you do not ask for anything. You just come to your bank to do some routine transaction, an they ask if you want a mortgage by any chance. Maybe if you actually ask for a mortgage you can get even more…

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  6. bloggerclarissa :
    Somebody I know, one year out of college, is planning to take on a $350K+ mortgage on a $40K salary. And this is after the housing market collapse. And this person’s college degree? It’s in finance.

    I think nobody would let her borrow more than 3x the annual income, so with $40K/yr this person can only hope for a $120K loan.

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  7. Jamie :
    What I don’t care for is them selling a 4 bedroom house they brought in the 70s and making hundreds of thousands of pounds/dollars profit out of it and keeping the younger generation out of the property market.

    I don’t think the homeowners who’ve actually paid off their home on a 30 yr mortgage end up making profit — when you calculate how much they have paid in interest over the years and account the inflation, it comes out a wash (at best).

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  8. Look, I just want the government to do two simple things for the American people:
    1) Make sure that housing is affordable for working families.
    2) Make sure that housing prices remain high to protect the investments of homeowners.

    Is that so hard?

    🙂

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  9. This “help the homeowners” by Obama is yet another round of the bailouts for the banks paid for by the taxpayers. Obama wants to take the taxpayer money, place it in the pockets of the bankers and stave off the inevitable bankruptcy of all these “homeowners” until he is elected.

    This is what matters. This is a scheme to hand over the taxpayer money to the bankers. The bailouts continue. The progressive news sources, in the meanwhile, celebrate Obama’s desire to help the people, while the conservative news sources cite this as an example of his Socialist leanings.

    In the meanwhile, Obama and his banker friends are laughing all the way to the 2012 elections. He’s smart, so I guess he deserves to win.

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  10. Weird. I pay less on my mortgage than I would if i were to rent a comparable cardboard box with a similar amount of space. Keeping in mind that my money is also building equity (rather than immediately going down the tubes), I’m wondering why it would be a “better deal” to hand over more of my money every month just to rent out space to live.

    Bottom line: Housing is expensive (renting or buying), and sometimes buying just makes more sense.

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    1. ” Keeping in mind that my money is also building equity (rather than immediately going down the tubes)I’m wondering why it would be a “better deal” to hand over more of my money every month just to rent out space to live.”

      – Because in this thread we are discussing millions of people who ended up in houses that are worth less than what they owe on them. They thought they were “building equity” but they were, instead, digging their own financial grave. Because the houses in the US are ridiculously over priced. Now, they don’t even have the option of selling them and renting something cheaper. Their only option is to declare bankruptcy.

      It kind of bothers me that this thread has degenerated into a discussion how mortgages are the best thing under the sun. I wanted to discuss bailouts but I can see that this is not going to happen.

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      1. I’m with you Clarissa. I’m angry about the bailouts. In fact, I just read some of this to my husband and your previous article about how to stop the borrowing craze. I feel the same as you do, but I know that I’m definitely in the minority. One cannot get into any rationale or intelligent discussions about these issues.

        I’ve noticed a good many people with the excuse that they thought that the real estate would just keep continuing to climb, etc., and that is the reason they give for why the are willing to pay the prices that they do for over-inflated homes. They like to cite cylces and say that real estate will always go up. How stupid can people be, but they like to view themselves as optimists.

        I used to look around at the homes and wonder who could afford these over-inflated prices. I knew the bubble would burst. It just didn’t add up to me. I knew that most people who were purchasing these homes were speculators. Right before the bubble burst I went to the bank to pay my mortgage and the teller suggested that my mortgage was almost “paid off”. Well that is an outright LIE. He then attempted to sell me on another loan, which I declined. I told him that I wasn’t interested and would wait and see what happened with the economy. Well it was all starting to go south then and I’m realloy glad that I wouldn’t allow someone to try to talk me into taking on more debt that I couldn’t afford in this type of economy.

        The only time purchasing a home would make sense is if the price for the home and what you will be paying for the mortgage is the same or less for what you would pay for rent. If you are stable and have a stable job and if you plan on staying in a home to build equity, otherwise it is gambling. Some people may bragg about how well they do and others will not fare so well.

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  11. You’d only be digging your own financial grave if you don’t plan on staying in the house for much time at all. (I.e., playing musical chairs with the real-estate market). If you like the house and neighborhood, and the house itself was bought at a relative mid or low-point on the market, then it doesn’t matter nearly as much what the market does in the short-term.

    Besides, it helps that you can buy a 3 BR/2 bath, 1500 square foot house in Texas for 125k.

    Mortgages aren’t the best things under the sun. They’re pretty good if you don’t play the real estate market like a fucking day-trader.

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  12. OK, I give up. 🙂 The topic has transformed into a paean to real estate buying and I can’t turn the conversation into any other direction. 🙂

    Take it away, folks, talk about real estate if it makes you happy. I exist to please. 🙂

    Sorry, I’m in a very good mood tonight so I start teasing people.

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  13. Happiness? Teasing? We can’t have that on a serious thread like this.

    Oh, and while we’re on the topic of real-estate, I bet you’d make a good land-developer Clarissa. :).

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  14. Sort of tangentially related to real estate: My father was a real estate broker when I was growing up, and sold a lot of homes in Hawaii. When he first started, he had a reputation for being a good honest fellow who helped a lot of immigrant families settle into affordable housing, and then became notable enough to have a lot of stars seek him out for Maui houses, including George Harrison. While they were driving to Nahiku, where Harrison eventually bought the house, they stopped in Paia, which is a town that has been, until rather recently, (in)famous for its popularity among hippies and ‘free spirits’. George was glancing around at the town, then said to dad quizzically, “Roger, what the fuck’s up with all these hippies?” Dad looked right back at him and said casually, “You started this, George.” “I did?” “Yeah.”
    He bought the house from dad. He was a nice fellow. 🙂

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  15. No, I was for renting until it got so expensive. Now I’m for rent control. I’d also be for apartments over houses if it were not that the apartments are made of particle board and the houses of real wood – even old wood.

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    1. The houses that are getting built right now are not made of real wood (whether they are built for renting or buying). Even in Canada, where the climate is very harsh, it’s all this kind of cardboard that offers no protection from the cold. Then, of course, the heating bills are bizarrely huge. I don’t even want to say how much I paid for heating in Canada.

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  16. In regards to real estate have you read much about credit default swaps or derivatives and the subprime mortgage crisis? 60 minutes ran a segment about derivatives, but there is probably more information online about it now. Important legislation was passed during the last days of the Clinton administration.

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    1. My brain is incapable of understanding how the tangled and confusing derivative markets work. All I know is that the entire process sounds extremely shady and I wouldn’t want to participate in it for anything.

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  17. I favor just saying no to all cardboard buildings. But, I don’t believe it’s really possible to take out a $350,000 mortgage when your salary is $40,000.

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  18. “It kind of bothers me that this thread has degenerated into a discussion how mortgages are the best thing under the sun. I wanted to discuss bailouts but I can see that this is not going to happen.”

    I find this a fascinating thread since its obvious that folks feel the current economic environment is a temporary blip and things will return in due course to the former “normal” home owner situation which over a longer historical perspective is actual quite abnormal.

    A proxy is the cost of a wedding. In 2002, the average cost of a wedding in America was $18K and after reaching a maximum of $28K in 2009 was $26K in 2011 so people still feel the risk of spending a year’s pay (median individual income in 2011 was $26K) or the same amount as an average college debt for one day’s festivities will pan out over time. By the way, the average cost of an engagement ring in 2011 was $5K.( I have three unmarried daughters so I keep an eye on this stuff.)

    Back to bailouts. At what point do folks come to an awareness that there is a sea change in realistic expectations for their lives and homeownership is not an intrinsic part of their future? In 2013, when government austerity really hits will they be ready?

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    1. “A proxy is the cost of a wedding. In 2002, the average cost of a wedding in America was $18K and after reaching a maximum of $28K in 2009 was $26K in 2011 so people still feel the risk of spending a year’s pay (median individual income in 2011 was $26K) or the same amount as an average college debt for one day’s festivities will pan out over time. ”

      – This tradition of laying out a huge amount of money to have a horrible day running from a boring ceremony to an endless and scripted photo session to a scripted reception where you try to keep looking good in an ugly boring dress has always been a mystery to me.

      “Back to bailouts. At what point do folks come to an awareness that there is a sea change in realistic expectations for their lives and homeownership is not an intrinsic part of their future? In 2013, when government austerity really hits will they be ready?”

      – I want to know that, too. People seem to think that the current very slight improvement in the economy somehow means we are going back to the pre-2007 times, which makes no sense to me. But after your comment, I don’t feel like I’m clamoring in the desert, so that’s good. 🙂

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      1. “This tradition of laying out a huge amount of money to have a horrible day running from a boring ceremony to an endless and scripted photo session to a scripted reception where you try to keep looking good in an ugly boring dress has always been a mystery to me.”

        Too funny! I don’t know if that was intended or not. It’s all about keeping up with others and fitting in–everybody does it. Most people would be better off taking that money and using it as a downpayment on a home (if real estate was more stable), or an education or something else, but this isn’t what happens.

        I don’t see awareness taking place. Denial will prevent people from adjusting their expectations and then they will look for scapegoats. That seems to always be the case.

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        1. “Most people would be better off taking that money and using it as a downpayment on a home”

          – I know! A friend of mine laid out $175K for a wedding and then she and her husband lived in a tiny, cramped place with old, nasty furniture. Of course, it’s their money, they should do whatever they want with it, but it is the kind of choice that I’ll never understand.

          “I don’t see awareness taking place. Denial will prevent people from adjusting their expectations and then they will look for scapegoats. ”

          – Oh yes. Unfortunately.

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    2. It’s kind of strange to compare home-ownership (i.e. not being beholden to a landlord) to buying a completely unnecessary engagement ring or an extravagant wedding.

      People are talking as if renting or owning buildings were two different options. Let’s not forget that in a capitalist society someone always owns the buildings. The question is, can the people who actually live in them afford to own them if they want to? Or at least to gradually build equity in them, and have some control over conditions, improvements, etc, and immunity from being kicked out? To build a garden over the years, to invest time and energy into the landscape? Why is a situation that has too much in common with sharecropping seen as realistic and fair? Sure, renting should be an option for those who want that, but the only choice? Let’s not forget what that means; someone is profiting off someone else’s need for shelter. When that’s the only choice in a society it’s more than a little disturbing. Maybe we need another solution altogether.

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      1. “The question is, can the people who actually live in them afford to own them if they want to? Or at least to gradually build equity in them, and have some control over conditions, improvements, etc, and immunity from being kicked out? ”

        – NOne of this happens any more, so I don’t see the point of talking about it.

        This whole mirage of “building equity” is what got us into this economic crisis and it angers me when people still beat on that dead horse.

        “Sure, renting should be an option for those who want that, but the only choice? Let’s not forget what that means; someone is profiting off someone else’s need for shelter. When that’s the only choice in a society it’s more than a little disturbing.”

        – My dentist is profiting from my need to stop my tooth from hurting. Other than visiting her, I have zero other options to stop the toothache. Do you find this disturbing?

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      2. No, because your dentist is providing a necessary skill. She is not simply a middleman out to make a profit.

        If owning a building can’t be a reasonable, profitable thing to do, why do the landlords bother?

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  19. “None of this happens any more” … ? Everyone I know who bought a house on a mortgage, now owns more of it than they did when they started, and values didn’t go down if you didn’t buy overpriced c*** in the first place. But I’m tellin’ ya, on a $40K income your standard bank will not lend you more than $100K! For good reason – check out payments in any mortgage calculator.

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    1. “But I’m tellin’ ya, on a $40K income your standard bank will not lend you more than $100K!”

      – He’s planning to give a $20K downpayment. Will that change things?

      Of course, I hope that you are right and that the lending institution approaches this issue responsibly. This is my relative we are talking about, so I have to be worried.

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