Saturday, June 4, 2011

What Happened to The American Dream?

Think back to the 1950's. Okay, well, if you're like me you weren't born yet, so at least try and imagine what is was like when our parents parents were purchasing their first home. The thought of selling it in 10, 20, or even 50 years, and then making a profit didn't even enter their minds. No, they were buying this new home to start a family, make memories, and to grow old in. Today, the idea of home-buying has changed drastically. The definition of "The American Dream" is not what it once was. But in today's housing market where prices keep falling and buyers are afraid that their home purchase will lose value the way a new car does when you drive it off the lot, has changed the way Americans view their homes.

The reason I decided to write this blog entry is because recently my wife, Anne, and I went to visit my grandmother, Tanya, in Rochester, NY. She has lived in the the same house for over 50 years. She and my grandfather Hyam Plutzik who is no longer with us, were newlyweds when they purchased the 3BR/2 bathroom, California style Ranch home for $17,300. Back then, it was a hefty amount. The California Ranch was the cutting edge of homes in the 1950's. It was new construction, and my grandmother is still, to this day, the very first owner.

                                                            My Grandmothers House

My mother and her brothers and sisters grew up in that house, and the memories are abundant. The memories almost seem to run right in front of your face like in a movie when someone is telling a story of the past and you can see the characters, almost as if they are ghosts. My grandmother tells wonderful stories of my mother playing baseball in the yard with the other children on the street (the yards all intersected with one another, which made it perfect for nine innings of our Country's past time). Or, when the family dog gave birth to 14 puppies and my uncle Jonathan (who was a boy at the time) would come home from school and walk the pups around the basement like a marching band. Or, when my grandfather would wake up at 4am on Saturday to take my mother fishing (my mom was a bit of a tomboy), but she cherished that time with her father.

My grandmother told me that if she sold her house today she would most likely get $150,000 for it if she was lucky. But the thing is, she doesn't care. She cannot put a price tag on the love she has for this home. She is 92 years old (or young, I should say), and refuses to leave until she has to. She could sell it for what she paid for it 50 years back and it would be perfectly alright with her. She has lived in it, and it served more than its purpose. That's what a house is for.

Today, it's a very different mind set. The average newlyweds starting a family will live in a home for seven years. They will fix it up in hopes of a big profit when they go to sell. In today's market, that may not be possible. My mother, Roberta Baldwin, who is now one of the most successful real estate agents in Northern New Jersey with 16 years in the biz, said something very interesting when she was featured on ABC's "Nightline" the other night. She said that...

"We have to go back to the old idea of why you owned a home, for the pleasure and the love of that experience and all of the memories you are going to create, and the friends your going to make, and the happiness your family will have ."

That was what the American dream was to people at that time, like my grandmother & grandfather. While we don't want home buyers to lose money on their homes, the sentimental aspect might have to come back into play...just until things get better. And hey, maybe it will cause us to make memories for a little longer than average seven years we'll be living in the house.


  1. This is a great article and while I do not live under circumstances that would allow me to buy one house and live in it for even 7 years, I will take the message to heart and put it to use. I love buying and fixing up homes, which I do frequently because my husband keeps taking jobs all over the country. It's an adventure. I guess those are our memories as much as the ones we make while living in any specific home. Still, I can't help but feel a little sad that we can't provide our daughter the same attachment, grounding, sense of "Home" that my husband and I both had in our own homes growing up. Like your mother had in her home.

    I am in the process of looking for a home to buy in our new "home state" as we just moved again. After reading this article, I am definitely going to remind myself that I am not looking for a "House" but for a "Home". I've been trying to stay focused on what my "intentions" are and not get caught up in the features of the house. My intentions are to find a house that my family can be happy living in, even if it's just for a few years, and one that won't require me to spend the entire length of our time here remodeling it and getting it ready to live in! Thank you for the reminder to focus on what's really important!

  2. Hi Sandra! Thank you so much for the thoughtful and wonderful comment. I'm glad it struck a chord with you, and got you thinking that there is a definite difference between a "house" and a "home." Many people these days have a hard time making that differentiation. From what you told me and from what I have gathered by reading your blog, which is very original and fun to read and am now following (you're a real handyman...or should I say, handywoman), you don't feel like you always have the opportunity to make a house your home for any extended period of time. Even if you don't get the chance to knock down a wall or renovate a bathroom, there are always smaller ways to settle in. Many people these days don't stay in one place like my grandmother did, but that doesn't mean memories still can't be made.

  3. WOW, this is a great article! I have been recently saying the same thing! My husband and I were no different, we built our HUGE, FANCY home to live in for a few years and sell to make a profit. Problem was, the market crashed and we were stuck!!! We only recently were able to get out of that home and we now live in a very traditional 1977 family home! Funny thing is, WE LOVE IT!!! So much more homey than our big house! I totally get it, it's not all about the house, it's all about the memories you are able to create together that count! Thanks for writing this!

  4. Hi Keisha Lynn. I'm happy you were able to relate to the post. My wife and I agree that a smaller, cozy home, is all we need as well and I see that you feel the same way. I'm sure you will make many, many memories for years to come in your new place.