Editor's Letter: Of hearth and home

In spite of all the turmoil during the last few years, Americans continue to think that buying a home is “an important part of the American dream.”

Four years into a howling real estate recession, you might think that the American mania for owning a home would have subsided. One out of four homeowners is now underwater, which means people are stuck paying off mortgages greater than their homes’ value. Prices have plummeted, the market is still risky, and foreclosures are as common as dirt. But last week, a New York Times/CBS News survey confirmed the persistence of property fever. Nearly nine of 10 Americans said buying a home was “an important part of the American dream.” More than half would ask the government to bail out a fellow homeowner, a greater number than would help a long-term jobless person. Homeownership seems to be entwined in our DNA. Another recent survey found that three quarters of Americans would dismember any politician who dared to vote against the home-mortgage tax deduction.

I exaggerate, but not by much. The idea of hearth and home has a mighty force field, and not just for the tax break. I know. I fell for it, too. But as a veteran homeowner, I can tell you it’s a toss-up as to who owns whom. The mortgage is mere beginner’s bondage. Then there are the taxes, the mowing, blowing, leaky toilets, clogged gutters, drafty windows, and, if you’re lucky, one roof in a lifetime. “The minute you start they put you on the all-American sucker list,” said Jim Blandings, the fictional protagonist of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, a must-see movie for every prospective homeowner. And yet, when the day’s labor is done and the key turns in the lock, what’s better than coming back to the place where you can scratch any itch, no matter where it is?

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