Is The Dream of Homeownership In Danger?

I was watching a show on HGTV last night when this commercial came on, one of the ads in National Association of Realtors’ most recent public awareness campaign. As a Realtor, my dues, in part, contribute to these ads. I always expect a certain level of corny schmaltz from NAR, all that warm and fuzzy stuff that the organization is known for. After this one concluded, though, I wrinkled my brow, thinking: I must have missed something. Maybe I had one too many sips of wine at dinner. But then my wife and daughter looked at me and asked, essentially, “huh?”

The ad starts off like a color-saturated version of a Frank Capra front-porch setting. “I’m gonna have a house like this when I grow up,” a boy says to his grandpa.

Grandpa, as a look of worry starts to creep across his kind face, draws his little guy closer, and replies, “I hope so, buddy.” After a slight pause, Gramps peers across the street as movers pack away the belongings from a house with a For Sale sign on the lawn, and he adds a final, ominous, “I. Hope. So.”

Then the narrator comes on to offer some attempt at an explanation: “For the first time in generations, the dream of homeownership is being threatened … Realtors® are here to represent you and protect homeownership.”

Take away the Realtor framework, and this ad could be for one of those paranoid Tea Party PACs. Suddenly, the normally cheerful optimism of the NAR has dissipated and some vague sense of foreboding has arrived. We have no idea specifically what this “threat” is that the narrator has alluded to. We do not know what comes next in the scene. Perhaps a black cloud will appear, or some distant sounds of explosions, and the boy and grandpa will flee like the father and son in The Road.

Well, as a Realtor, I simply have to know what is looming off in the distance if I am going to “protect” such seemingly fantastic folks from this insidiousness. Is it a nuclear dawn? Out-of-control robots? Both?! I mean, when I got my agent’s license, I didn’t believe I was signing up to be Nicholas Cage.

So I opened up my newly arrived Realtor Magazine. In it, there’s a two-page spread about this ad campaign that directs me to the Facebook page, Home Ownership Matters, which only specifies the challenge to the mortgage interest tax deduction from some politicians. The information section states:

Recent media reports have questioned whether home ownership is good for America and challenged federal initiatives that favor it. REALTORS are working to preserve this American institution through the Home Ownership Matters campaign.

Recent media reports have questioned whether home ownership is good for America and challenged federal initiatives that favor home ownership — including the mortgage interest deduction. The attacks seek to lay the groundwork for curtailing public policies and to persuade the public that such actions are in their best interest.

I am not about to argue against the mortgage interest deduction. This is one of those precious tax incentives left for middle class while the Mitt Romneys of the world are paying 15 percent while collecting $56,000 a day. But despite the national disaster that has befallen so many homeowners across the country, the dream of homeownership is alive and well for the majority of people I know. All I have to think about is how my mortgage payment on my house in Lexington is significantly less than what the rent would for my old apartment in a Somerville three-decker. Sure, there are taxes and insurance to factor in, but with 30-year rates less than 4 percent, homeownership still seems like a pretty great idea for those who want to settle down and are not expecting an investment windfall in fewer than seven years.

So, thanks NAR, for keeping pressure on misguided politicians. I truly hope the organization is fighting for the little guys whose homes are in distress, threatened by foreclosure. Along with higher education, home ownership has historically been one of the — if not the most important — factors in creating and bolstering America’s middle class. As John Feehery wrote for (another NAR site):

All in all, Washington has avoided making some really bad decisions and taken some decent steps in the right direction when it comes to our nation’s real estate market. But all too often, it decided to punt rather than move the ball forward in any dramatic fashion. The economy won’t get better until the real estate market gets better. Time’s a-wasting, Washington.

Time’s a-wasting, indeed. Apparently, there are out-of-contol cyborgs threatening nuclear disaster for a boy and his grandpa on Main Street, Anytown, Midwest, USA.