Q: Why does the thought of becoming a homeowner make me feel crazy?

March 19, 2009 Published in the April 2009 issue of Seattle Met

It’s not necessarily your fault that you lose all financial perspective when you find the “perfect house.” But if you value your sanity, it’s time to recalibrate your ownership outlook, according to Kevin Krycka, the director of Seattle University’s graduate psychology program. “Having a home isn’t necessary for good feelings about yourself,” he says. Maybe not, but not having one can lead to self-loathing, so we picked Krycka’s brain for insight into the psychology of buying and selling.

Homeownership has been compared to a rite of passage, similar to, say, losing your virginity. Why is that? Calling it a rite of passage is a good way of putting it. We have an enormous cultural expectation on homes and what they convey or what they mean. So it’s kind of a litmus test, if you will, of success and what all that means for anybody.

Yes, but we’re in America, where ownership equals success and a rental symbolizes coming up short. Why do people equate houses with success? I think consumerism is a factor, particularly if you’ve got someone who keeps on buying something they can’t afford. But I think it’s almost, first, an unchecked assumption: Unless you’re very poor, you will probably think that being able to buy something and own a piece of ground will be a mark of success in life. And it’s gotten to this point now that some people don’t just expect it, they demand it.

Why would someone say, “Yes, I understand that home values are declining, but no, I don’t think my home’s value has decreased”? Maybe denial would be a strong word, psychologically. It might be more like you’re unwilling to accept the diminishment of the dream.

So it’s not just about how much a home is worth? No. Someone else is now saying about your dream, which you have invested in and built on and taken personally, “Sorry, you’re wrong about that. It’s no longer what you thought.” It’s a smack upside the head.

If we fall in love with a house, how can we protect ourselves emotionally if the sale doesn’t go through? To be trite, just remember that there’s always something else. And you don’t have to have that thing right now. You can defer your dream for a better situation, a better house, or whatever. I think that speaks to not becoming attached to the outcome of the event.

True, but so often the suggestion in looking for a house is, “Try to imagine yourself raising a family here.” How do you not become attached to a house? It’s not easy. The minute you picture yourself in a home, you’ve already formed an emotional attachment. So in a way you have to tell yourself, “Yes, of course, I’m not going to buy something that I can’t imagine myself living in, but I can also imagine myself not living in this house.”

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