Suze Orman. She's the sassy "money guru" you often see on CNBC, PBS and Oprah speaking to an audience of middle-class men and women who hang on her every word. Their eyes always seem to be looking for answers, looking for a way out, or a sure-fire method for gaining control. Flipping through PBS a couple of weeks ago, there she was – proclaiming to her audience that homeownership is no longer the American Dream it once was, that she's been hearing a lot lately from folks who can't wait to get rid of their houses and go back to renting. Owning a home apparently is a dream now dead.
Seriously? Or is it more like sensationally?
Let's look at what Suze is really saying.
In her latest book, "The Money Class," Orman points to the troubles that many Americans will have getting the financing to buy a home now and in the future. She points to the fact that many are still jobless or underemployed, making it even harder to save for a house and sustain the income needed to keep one. Borrowing standards are strict and getting stricter – and those with spotty credit histories will be left in the lurch.
These are all great points – and true. But not being able to afford a house and not wanting a house are two entirely different things.
The woman in the audience of the PBS show I saw stood up and told Suze how paying her mortgage and associated housing bills was killing her finances and that she couldn't wait to get out from under this mess. It's easy to conclude here that owning a home isn't ideal for this woman because she's buckling under the weight of the bills.
What Suze failed to dig into was whether this woman would rather own than rent should the financial situation be different. In other words, if a magic wand was waved and she could comfortably afford her home, would she stay?
A recent survey done by Wells Fargo tells an entirely different story. More than 70% of folks surveyed said that even despite market setbacks, they still want to own a home. Of these people, those in the younger "Millennial" generation were even more keen on buying a home, seeing the stricter lending guidelines as a good thing because to them, that means they'll be financially stable and able to stay in their homes as long as they want.
Sure, it's all a bit anecdotal. Let's just not be so quick to listen to these people who conclude that home ownership is dead or no longer a dream. Just because the economy is slow and loans are harder to get, doesn't mean young renters won't aspire to be homeowners. It just means that the dream is back to being the challenge it was before the days of loose lending.
And maybe we end up with a much better homeowner in the process – one who worked hard to get the house and one who will continue to work hard to keep the house. We end up with homeowners who are in homes they can afford, and we avoid stepping into this same housing mess all over again.