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What's Your American Dream?

An interesting question came up during a recent taping of NPR's "On Point" radio program that I thought I would share here. I was a guest along with Susan Wachter, a professor of real estate and financial management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, and June Fletcher, a real estate columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Among other things we talked about "The American Dream," and whether owning a home is a key part of it.

Despite the losses of the past few years, I still believe that homes will once again become assets that significantly add to households' wealth. But that wealth will accumulate slowly, over decades, not at a double-digit annual rate like we saw (mirage though it was) during the boom. But is owning a home the American Dream? I said I thought that is more of a marketing concept pushed by the real estate industry, as in "The American Dream of Homeownership."

In my mind, the American Dream involves much more than owning a home. Basically, I define it as the opportunity to take your best chance at success, in whatever manner you happen to define success. Owning a home can be part of that success, but it's not the dream itself.

All dreaming aside, this Saturday's Real Estate Section will offer cold, hard numbers on what's happening to prices in the Washington area, according to Zip code. We'll be looking at 2008 vs. 2007 -- not exactly an upward trend -- both in print and, in more depth, online. Look for those numbers and accompanying maps beginning Saturday.

The Weekend Poll:

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 27, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Poll , The market  
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The problem is that too many people bought houses who couldn't afford them. Owning a home is a key element in the American dream, but it comes only after you've done the hard work to save the down payment and are stable enough in a good-paying job to afford the monthly payments. If you're not there yet, renting is the sensible alternative.

Posted by: Sgoldberg | March 27, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

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