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The American Dream is Alive and Somewhat Well

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Posted 12-28-2012 at 11:23 AM by Roy Sanborn

The year is coming to a close and once again people will be making predictions and resolutions. There’s no question we’ve had some pretty lean years recently and everyone is truly hoping for a more prosperous New Year. We are all looking for good news. Everyone wants to have their share of the American Dream. To many, the most important part of the American Dream is home ownership, you know, to have a nice house with a white picket fence on a tree lined corner lot. The monetary and housing crisis that we have been going through have left many wondering if achieving the American Dream is possible.

The term “American Dream” was coined by a James Truslow Adams (October 18, 1878 – May 18, 1949) who was a historian and lived in New York. He became famous for a three volume history of New England. Adams used the term “American Dream" in his depression era book "The Epic of America." His American Dream is "of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

So, the term “American Dream” originally had a much loftier meaning than just home ownership, but that goes to show how important home ownership has become to most Americans. Is the American Dream in jeopardy in 2013? I don’t think so, but it could use a little help here and there. Trulia just released the results of its American Dream survey in December. This survey has tracked American attitudes towards home ownership since 2008. It found that “ more than 1 in 4 consumers (27 percent) feel more positive about home ownership than they were six months ago, compared with 19 percent who report feeling more negative. In fact, 31 percent of today’s renters plan to buy a home in the next two years—a 9-point increase from 22 percent in January 2011.” But, some Americans aren’t positive about owning their own home with only 72 percent saying home ownership is part of their personal “American Dream.” That’s down a bit from January 2010 when 77 percent agreed with this sentiment.

One thing that I found really positive is that 72 percent of the Millennials (these are 18-34 year olds also know as Generation Y. They are not related to millipedes) also had home ownership as part of their American Dream and among renters a whopping 93 percent intend to purchase a home someday. Now this may not necessarily help us in the Lakes Region as Millennials, and the good jobs that would keep them here, aren’t in abundance. But we do have a strong second home market. According to NHAR’s Peter Francese “New Hampshire ranks third in the nation in the percent of homes that are second or vacation homes. This is partly due to the fact that our state and the rest of New England has more than its share of aging Baby Boomers, who are in the prime age group for second home buyers.” Owning a second home in the Lakes Region is a pretty darn good American Dream, too.

I decided not to give any prognostications this year and rely on the wisdom of others. That way I can point my finger at them when their forecasts don't come to fruition. A recent article in Forbes by Bill Conerly predicts that “the housing market (nationally) will improve moderately in 2013, but nobody will mistake this for a boom. The gains in activity and prices will be a welcome relief, but will leave many homeowners still underwater.” I’d agree with that. The author also predicts that “2013 will probably see over one million total housing starts. This will be a substantial percentage gain over 2012,” and that is really good news, but then quantifies it by saying “but remember that a 30 percent gain from diddly squat is still not too far away from diddly squat.” I like his use of technical adjectives.

So for 2013, resolve to work on your American Dream whether it be your first home, that vacation get-a-way, or just paying off your credit cards. But keep things in perspective. Mr. Adams perhaps should have said instead; “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable and the rest don’t mean diddly squat.”

Happy New Year!

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