I was the daughter of real estate investors who owned apartment buildings scattered throughout New Jersey’s second largest city, Jersey City. During our dinners, I dreaded hearing a ringing phone. Since I was a daddy’s girl, my father would ask me to answer the phone in case there was an emergency with one of his tenants. My mother, on the other hand, would forbid me to rise from my seat because she didn’t want her home-cooked meal and the precious time with her family disrupted.
I always answered.
Turning the clock forward, as I approach the sixth decade of my life, I am surrounded by friends and family who own at least two homes: primary residences, vacation getaways and/or investment property. When I get the opportunity to dine with my loved ones, I once again get that childhood feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. But this time it’s not due to the piercing sound of a phone ringing during our meal, although there are frequent cellphone interruptions. It’s the sound of these dear homeowners’ complaints about their taxes, condo maintenance fees, denials of applications for refinancing mortgage loans, or the possibility of facing foreclosure. This time, I don’t answer.
It’s time to wake up from the so-called American dream. Owning property at this time in our history is more like a nightmare. If you want to downsize, you can’t sell. If you sell, you can’t afford to downsize because the new home is more expensive than the old one. If you want to move closer to your grandchildren, you can’t give up your job because you need the income to live because you were unable to save money because it all went into your house. And so on and so on. I’ve heard all the stories—and am sure that there are more.
What I know about the American dream is that I’m living it my way. Instead of purchasing a home, I rent two apartments: one in the city close to work and one at the beach close to my grandchildren. The American dream is to be free—and I’m as free as a bird.
Excuse me, the phone is ringing.
Angelica Santomauro is a reader from North Bergen, N.J.