Family First, House Second

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Over the past couple of weeks I have spent a great deal of time exploring why now is the time for you to buy. And, I firmly believe that it is…if, you are able to do so. While I have been espousing the many benefits of homeownership, I have unintentionally ignored a large subset of the current housing market. They are those who are losing their homes because they can no longer carry the weight of their obligations.I bring this up because I met a couple recently who are more typical then they might realize.  Most likely they are in their late twenties to early thirties. They have two adorable children and they are living in the house of their dreams. A massive home by any measure, they got it for a great price and believed that this would be the family home for years to come.

It is often very sad how life sometimes makes a mockery out of our best plans and intentions. You see, this family is now another statistic of an economy struggling to rebound from near melt down.
A job downsizing, and a reassessment of property values which raised taxes dramatically plus the cost of heating, cooling, and living in a  three thousand three hundred square foot home have combined to create a perfect storm from which they cannot stay in the home and recover.

The stress their situation is putting on the family may very well break up the family. And that, is a true American tragedy.

This couple did not make a bad business decision. They purchased a home that they could afford. At a price guaranteed to seem like a steal in the years to come. They lived within their means. And, they must now sell or lose their home.

Few people will ever know the pressure that the loss of a home or, any other financial crisis can put on the family dynamic until they experience it for themselves. The first time you wake up, look in the checkbook, and at the stack of unpaid bills on the desk and realize there is no way to bridge the gap between the two, it feels like you have been punched in the stomach and all the air has been pushed from your lungs.

At first you feel ashamed. It is often difficult to look in the mirror without a certain level of embarrassment. Life in an instant seems almost unbearable. It is not long before you and your spouse begin the blame game.
And blame comes all too often. And the barbs of blame become more painful and penetrate ever deeper until soon a family who once dreamed of forever can no longer see tomorrow.

When I am in front of a family who is facing this scenario I often counsel them that the home they view as the anchor of their future may in fact be acting as if it were a boat anchor attached to a drowning man attempting to tread water for survival.

The fact is that for many families living this nightmare that once they come to the conclusion that in order to survive as a unit they must regroup and hold onto the things that truly matter (specifically each other), life often gets immediately better.

Once you recognize what you must do, you can begin the process of healing. Soon, you are no longer afraid to answer the phone or read your mail.

Better yet, almost immediately the stress of regret and, the fear of uncertainty is replaced with hope and more importantly clarity.

I know that this column is typically about the business  end of owning a house. But reality is that ones primary concern should always be to first protect the integrity of the family.  Every home you ever buy will be sold sometime in the future.

In other words, homes are replaceable. Families are not. And while we can certainly reconfigure our families, once broken, they are never the same. Like the couple in my story, no matter what your situation, you will have the opportunity to own again. However, you only get one chance at building your family.
I will say this to you, owning hone should be part of a bigger plan. By selling their home, this family will have a chance to put themselves back in order. And, the truth is no matter how disastrous your financial incident is, time is your friend. And, with time, credit can be repaired, wealth can be built. And, there will be a day in the not too distant future when you can be a participant in the great American dream of home ownership once again

So on this Thanksgiving weekend, I hope you gave thanks not for what you have but for who you love, and for who loves you. The rest will work itself out in time