You don’t have to be planning a move to ask this question. I think about it daily, and I suspect it’s on your mind too. I wonder if my career is stable enough so that I can keep up my current lifestyle. I want to ignore the possibility of another economic dip, but the hard reality is that it could happen. Then there are the social questions. I am single, but would like to change that eventually. Would moving increase my odds of finding the right someone?
Moving today means more than changing addresses. It is an opportunity to assess how you really want to live. The formulas that once guided our life decisions are being questioned, opening the door for you to create your own formula and live a more fulfilling life. Where you live is much more than the structure you live in. Where you live is tied to your community, your job, your family, your health, and your personal finances. This book explores the factors beyond home that affect your quality of life. The goal is to help you consider all of the variables so you can make the best decisions possible, whether you’re taking stock of your current situation or planning a move to someplace new.
When the house of cards fell in the mid-2000s, more than a mortgage meltdown was revealed. The fundamental formula that guides the lifestyle of the American middle class also came into question. First graduate from college and get a job in the city. Then get married and buy a house in the ’burbs. Later have kids and buy a larger house farther out in the ’burbs. Retire and buy a smaller house someplace warm. Live happily ever after.
What happens if you followed the formula, but the formula let you down? For many, keeping up with the Joneses was a pursuit with diminishing returns. It might have felt great at first, but it eventually revealed a dismal quality of life, with long hours in the car, half-furnished homes, and overextended credit. The silver lining of the bad economy is that we have a chance to hit the reset button, to stop and think about what really matters in our lives, and to ask ourselves what will provide true, lasting value rather than a quick fix.
The inevitable housing collapse has revealed new values. Once upon a time, if you didn’t fit the formula, you might have still done what you thought you “should” do. Or perhaps what was easiest, even if it wasn’t what you really wanted for your life. Unfortunately, in this pursuit of what we thought we “should” be doing, a lot of people ended up very unhappy, making decisions that were doomed to fail.
Today, your choices are yours, and your future is yours. If you are worried that you aren’t in the right place, if you are concerned that you can’t sustain your current lifestyle, now is the time to truly assess your realities and make the tough decisions. Don’t wait until it is too late to make a move.
When the good times were rolling, free credit and cheap gas enabled a system of conspicuous consumption where housing was an easy-to-attain status symbol. Our life decisions didn’t feel like they had much consequence. Of course, anyone in an upside-down mortgage (owing more than the house is worth) knows that was never the case. Today’s economic instability, both globally and in our personal finances, weighs heavily on all decisions we make about where and how we live. It is no longer a given that we can earn as much in the future as we have in the past, or that the job with benefits (vacation, health insurance, and a 401K) you planned your life around will remain. It is no longer given that the value of a home you purchase today will increase tomorrow. What is a given is that today you have an opportunity to make thoughtful and meaningful decisions about the type of life you want to live.
So what is your American Dream? Where is Home Sweet Home for you? How can you avoid turning your home into a golden noose? The old formula was set up like a treadmill that you couldn’t get off. The more money you made, the more you spent. The more you spent, the more you needed to make. Despite all of our riches, when did we stop to live? The American Dream used to be a cottage with a white picket fence. Over time, it morphed into the Garage Mahal on a cul-de-sac. The American Dream is evolving again. The question is, Where is it going? That is up to you. We all have the image of our perfect “dream home,” perhaps a villa in the South of France or an estate in wine country. But we also have the realities of daily life. One of my key goals is to help you articulate your actual needs (not just wants) and to offer ideas that will help you find a home that is livable, lovable, and within your means.
My original title for this book was The Autopsy of the McMansion. At the height of the housing boom, roughly 2 million new homes were being built each year. Most of these homes were larger than needed, isolated from everything, and more expensive than their owners could afford, yet they were endearing to millions. My idea was to examine how these homes evolved and to explore the next chapter for the “American Dream Home.” I was told this was a great topic for a magazine article, but not a book. My advisers were right. I was missing the big picture. While new-home starts (that’s industry-speak for the number of new homes being built) dropped to as low as 300,000, more than 37 million people switch addresses in any given year and millions more sit on the sidelines contemplating a move. To serve the needs of those 37 million (plus) people, this book needed to help navigate the landscape and explore personal realities to help them, and you, find the right home—a home that is more than a structure, or to paraphrase a song from my college days, “not (just) the place you live, but the place you belong.”
The original book idea lives on, woven into the pages you are about to read, because to move forward we must first understand where we have been. You can read it from front to back, back to front, or in any order you like. Some sections may not apply to you, whereas others will be central to your journey. As you read, remember that one size doesn’t fit all, so take what you want and leave the rest. Most important, understand that you can have something other than the default setting.
In a sense, the Great Recession is perhaps best renamed the Great Opportunity. If you feel you are not in the right place in life, it is never too late to correct your course. If you are young and starting out, wondering what you “should” do next, follow your gut. If the conventional formula works for you, go for it and don’t look back. But if it doesn’t, don’t worry.
Wherever you are in life, be true to yourself about your realities so you can keep your priorities in check. Listen to your heart, but follow your gut. And always live within—or even a bit below—your means. My hope is that this book will help you understand all of your options and assess your true needs, so that you will be able to make informed and educated decisions about where and how you want to live. And in the end, live the life you want to live on your own terms.