Right and (Self) Righteous

STAR Tannery, Virginia – Are there still some people out there that missed the memo about the devaluation of property values due to the housing market bust? I mean, are there really some people who didn’t know that when housing market busts, it affects everyone‘s housing prices – not just the people of which you disapprove?

Recently I read a local story in The Winchester Star about housing assessments putting existing home owners into a “negative equity” situation where the mortgage on their house is greater than its assessment value. This is messing with the financial planning of many a baby boomer who smugly thought the economic crisis would only affect the irresponsible spendthrifts who bought houses way above their “station” they couldn’t afford.

The article offers the example of the Bochers, who bought a nice house several years ago, knowing they were going to retire when they were both over 64 years old, at which point they planned to refinance, lowering their monthly mortgage payments to make retirement affordable. That was the plan back when housing and real estate appreciated in value; an investment so safe, the couple didn’t see any problem with spending $30,000 in improvements. The house would be worth much more when they were ready to refinance.

That’s what they thought.

Well, Mr. Bocher, that’s what we all thought.

“We did everything right,” Gordon Bocher told The Winchester Star, citing the fact that he put his son through college and takes care of a disabled daughter. “People who can’t pay are getting all the assistance in the world.”

People who can’t pay. . . Oh! You mean us – the ones who were affected before you.

Here’s a reality check: We thought we did everything right (we take good care of our children also) and, frankly, like thousands of other families who were forced into foreclosure prior to President Obama’s stimulus package, I’m not getting a penny in assistance.

The Bocher’s attitude is common and a nasty turn of human nature. I knew all but the very rich would feel the economy’s bite. There are people who a year ago were harshly judging my family’s economic downfall are now calling to apologize and asking, “By the way – ahem – how did you handle you husband’s depression?” — since he didn’t do the “right thing” and get a job with the federal government with a fairly secure pension (Mr. Bocher is a retired air traffic controller) and instead chose to work in a field that, by the way, built the very house Mr. Bocher now occupies.

We’re all learning the economy is always a gamble. You may want to call it “financial planning,” but you are still relying on events outside your sphere of influence to increase your assets. Sometimes you win. But sometimes you lose and, when you do, it’s bad form to blame the dice or the croupier and downright misguided to blame the other losing gamblers.

I suppose I was naive to imagine that once the economic dominoes reached a larger portion of the population, we’d all come to realize the profound philosophical change that we should have initiated a long time ago about how we plan for the future, how we direct our children and how we live in the present.

I forgot the annoying American tendencies toward self-righteousness. Your domino falling is the result of your irresponsibility; my domino falling is an injustice.

The Bochers and other homeowners whose financial plans now require updating would do better to stop throwing their hissy fits and realize we are all in the same boat – even if they do prefer to stay in their staterooms rather than mingle with us slobs in steerage.

My husband and I admit we made a mistake and bought too much of a house to withstand the devastating blow to the housing market. And – Mr. Bocher – so did you. Only we did it a year earlier and were closer to the blast zone.

And, honestly, be thankful. The market will come back and your home will again start to grow in value. Your wife is employed and you have a secure pension. There are people living in relative’s basements or crammed in tiny apartments with no such advantages, whose only sin was their choice of livelihood and really poor timing.

Copyright (c) 2007, SteelWill, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Spot On is a trademark of SteelWill, Inc.


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