Why America is Not Building Forever Homes anymore

A Forever Home – one where a family puts down roots, builds their lives together and the kids come to visit mom and dad when they are old. Family memories are etched on the door frames, a tree house the kids built with their dad or the kids’ bedrooms still set aside for when they visit. At the pace we move homes nowadays, these Forever Homes are a rarity, most particularly in the cities.

We have seen some version of this home in movies or old stories-and we admire them and wish they were part of our own memories. Why is is then that these are fewer found in reality though often romanticized in culture?

Upgrading Investment(s)

The model for conventional real estate ownership in America has been to buy low, wait a few years and then sell high. Buy at a discount, remodel and refinance. A home is seen as a status symbol-and as such the goal is often to go up higher to the next level. To display your rise among your class so to speak.

You first buy a starter home, learn from that and use what equity you save so you can move to the next home. Eventually you learn to force appreciation into your home by remodeling very specific things. Usually this involves kitchen or bathroom upgrades, staying up to date on repairs that were neglected by previous owners of the home: roof repairs, foundation, HVAC updates, etc. Entire markets are built on documenting these upgrades so that they assist in revaluing the home.

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Sometimes you don’t even need to do anything other than to hold the property and wait for the market to go up. You buy when the real estate market is in a slump (like 2008) and hold for a few years til your home appraises for a number you are comfortable with (then maybe sell in 2015). Remodel or not you are likely to come away with a profit and equity which incentivizes the next bigger house. The banks will also want you to take that bigger loan for their benefit.

Relocating for Better Opportunities

In some occasions, one relocates for better opportunity and has to move to a different city/state altogether. Obviously there, selling your home is more of a necessity since it often does not make sense for a young family to own multiple properties. With the speed of career changes we face from this economy-this has only been more evident as population shifts out of the larger cities.

We have witnessed multiple types of exodus like from New York, even pre-Covid, where citizens realize the cost of living is unsustainable and seek work in better economies. From this article back in 2018, people left in droves seeking better live-work balance and seeking better job opportunities

This exodus from New York is due to many factors, the top ones cited by experts being recent tax hikes, high cost of living, a poor jobs climate, and unideal weather.

Bizjournal may 25 2018
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California is undergoing the same exodus a second time. Sparked by Covid but also justified by the changing economy. When driven too far, people wake up and realize they may need to leave their current home and their communities altogether so that they can put down roots elsewhere where it makes more sense for the long term.

Endless cycle

I have to admit I am new to all of this, having lived in one house for my entire childhood. But understanding how the country’s economic engine definitely helps to explain why there are few forever homes in America-or why we don’t see them built for this purpose anymore. A home owner is taught to use the home as a status symbol. They are taught to use the home as a vehicle of investing. They are taught that they should want a well presented home to prove they have been building success and should be in a neighborhood decorated for the same caliber of successful people. Then, perhaps, you will be deemed a worthy individual, admired by other well to do people around you.

However-it never really ends. If you follow these principles of determining the value of a individual, it extends infinitely. What you have will never be enough. Once you get to the success you aspired to, there will be someone with more success-and if you fall into this trap you will then get sucked into moving up to that next level. And so will your self image as tied to your home.

Value of a Home and our Self Worth

I guess the problem is that, as individuals we are mostly incapable of determining our own self worth. We base our value on how others perceive us: our friends, our coworkers, our neighbors, our relatives. To build up this facade we also leverage our home-being one of our biggest SYMBOLS OF OWNERSHIP. For as long as we, as a general population, will seek others to define how valuable we are, we will be stuck and unable to be at peace with the home we have. And we will not have a home we will stay in forever, we will move from one home to the next. Thinking we have improved our status and that we should be able to display this so others can see our achievements. We continue the cycle, until one day, we find our resources and our time have run out-and we are settling in to the last “better” home we got into before our time ran out.

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I say there is a better way. I say we define ourselves and value ourselves on our own terms based on what matters to us-not how others see us. We build our lives depending on what things truly matter for us and our family. We define our long term goals and values, plant roots where it makes sense with a long term mindset and get to work in building that future. With the trophy mindset out of the way, we improve our lives-and our home being our day to day sanctuary-becomes a deep, deep reflection of this way of living we are true to.

With the trophy mindset out of the way, we improve our lives-and our home being our day to day sanctuary-becomes a deep, deep reflection of this way of living we are true to.

And we then realize we are in that forever home-where our children will visit us with their kids in the future. Where it was worth it printing and hanging those picture frames of our fondest memories. Where our grandkids play in the same treehouse we built.

Here at Alt-Ark, our goal is to make architecture more permaculture. We seek to empower the creation of forever homes that families can actively design to match the lives they choose to live.

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