Has the price of real estate been climbing in your town? Home prices are skyrocketing in many places in the U.S. Fortune magazine captured some stunning stats about the superheated market during the last year:
Over the next 12 months, Zillow, an online real estate marketplace, is forecasting an 11.7% appreciation in U.S. home values. While that would mark a slowdown in appreciation—over the past 12 months the typical home has increased 17.7% in value—it would hardly be a relief for priced-out homebuyers. After all, even in this strong labor market, most workers won’t get anything close to an 11% raise next year.
These numbers are a little surreal when you consider that more than 10 million people lost their homes in the recession and housing market implosion between 2008-2014. My husband and i were among them. We purchased a townhome at the peak of the last real estate boom in a not-especially desirable suburb an hour from Chicago in 2006. By 2012, it has lost two-thirds of its value. After much anguish, lots of prayer, and several strategic conversations with a trusted financial planner, we went through a short sale process. A recent check of the property’s current value shows that it is still worth about 10% less than what we originally paid for it, despite the recent rise in home sale prices.
My husband and I were in our fifties when we lost our home via a short sale. We’d always believed that owning our own home was a low-risk investment, and a pathway toward building a financially-secure retirement. This was how the American Dream was supposed to work. Every bit of conservative retirement planning advice we’d ever received was predicated on home ownership as a way to build wealth. Historically, home ownership has been for the vast majority of Americans a live-in piggy bank.
A home is more than an investment for most of us. The word “home” speaks of rootedness, security, and sanctuary. And even if the bank holds our mortgage, our name on those loan papers tells us that the property is edging ever closer to becoming fully ours with each mortgage payment.
It took more than six months before our bank approved the short sale of our home. When they did, we had 10 days to vacate the premises. Because we didn’t know if or when the transaction would go through, we couldn’t look for a place to rent until we received notice that the house had sold. That 10 day period was a whirlwind of looking at rentals, packing, arranging for moving help, and notifying people of our new address. For years, we’d lived with the slowly-unfolding trauma of watching our home’s value plummet, and the anguish of trying to make wise, ethical decisions about what to do when the old assumptions about finances no longer applied. That house was a broken piggy bank, and no longer a safe place. It was no longer our home.
When we unpacked the boxes in our rental, we carefully folded and stored them because we knew we’d need them again sooner or later. (We did, two more times over the next decade.) God provided a rental in a beautiful town that became for us perhaps the favorite place we’d ever lived to that point. Though our financial future had shifted dramatically in 2012, that rental was a respite for us. I’d been holding my emotional breath for a long time, wondering what would happen next. I didn’t realize I’d been doing that until I finally exhaled.
This isn’t a story of a tidy happy ending. In the early days of our sojourn, the notion that God desires to work his good purposes in our lives when bad stuff happens seemed more of a slogan I might find on a Hobby Lobby coffee mug than my own lived reality. But it seemed that the more I reflected on how deeply the notion of a future secured by our little slice of the American Dream had rooted itself in my life, the more I recognized that God had indeed been inviting me to learn to trust him with that future instead. I am a work in progress, and no matter what my address is, I now recognize it is a temporary home.
This gorgeous song from Carrie Underwood says it well.