September 6, 2010
Nation's Building News

The Official Online Weekly Newspaper of NAHB

Readers Not Buying Time Magazine Cover Story Attacking Homeownership

Time magazine’s Sept. 6 cover story, “The Case Against Homeownership,” has drawn sharp criticism from home builders responding to its many inaccuracies but has also apparently raised the hackles of the publication’s readership.

The article by Barbara Kiviat, who has covered business and economics for Time for more than nine years, launches an all-out assault on homeownership, describing it as a “cult” and a “fetish,” and charges, among other things, that it “may have triggered the financial crisis,” has “contributed to the hollowing out of cities,” has “fed America’s overuse of energy and oil” and “made it more difficult for those who had lost a job to find another.”

“Perhaps worst of all,” she writes, “it helped us become casually self-deceiving: by telling ourselves that homeownership was a pathway to wealth and stable communities and better test scores, we avoided dealing with these formidable issues head-on.”

The article, which appeared first in excerpted form on the magazine’s website, elicited a blistering response from NAHB Chairman Bob Jones.

“Homeownership is not the monster under the bed here,” Jones said. “It is the bulwark of our society. Homeownership provides shelter and stability to tens of millions of Americans and their families as well as to countless communities and neighborhoods. Real estate taxes on owned homes are a prime component in local government budgets.

“Homeownership is by far the single largest creator of wealth for Americans. And, over the long term, real estate has consistently appreciated, even through periodic adjustments in local markets in response to economic conditions.”

In his letter, Jones also suggests that restoring the health of housing is needed to move the U.S. economy more decisively along the road to recovery.

In her Time piece, Kiviat acknowledges the economic importance of housing and discusses how it has been instrumental in providing economic stimulus when it was needed in the past, yet concludes that now would be a good time for the nation to step back from its commitment to homeownership.

“Housing remains a drag on the economy,” she says. “Existing-home sales in July dropped 27% from the prior month, exacerbating fears of a double-dip recession and accelerating the accompanying slide in stock that took the Dow Jones industrial average to a seven-week low.”

Retracing the history of the housing finance system, she writes: “The 30-year mortgage was a revolution, a stark contrast to the short-term loans that had been the norm until then; it put homeownership within the reach of many more families. It made perfect sense. At a time when 25% of workers were jobless and a third of the lost jobs were in construction and related trades, kick-starting housing was a smart piece of economic stimulus.”

Yet looking at the situation today, she observes: “If there were a time to start weaning America off the idea that homeownership cures all our ills, now — after the worst housing crash in 75 years — would be it.”

Howard Kurtz, a staff writer for The Washington Post, reported on Aug. 30 that Time magazine, in an effort to draw readers during perilous times for the print media, has shifted to what its managing editor, Rick Stengel, calls “reported analysis,” stories with a clear point of view.

Hard-hitting cover stories, along with more emphasis on its website, are getting results for Time, Kurtz says, boosting its audience by 47% in the last two years, to seven million monthly visitors, according to Nielsen.

The magazine’s competitors — Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report — have fallen far behind.

However, there is evidence on Time’s website that the tirade against homeownership may have backfired. On Sept. 1, the cover story was in 11th place on a list of the most frequently read articles by time.com readers. Ranking in first place was “Why Do Heavy Drinkers Outlive Nondrinkers?”

The article did succeed in garnering a heavy response from readers, but the comments tended to be unfavorable.

“So Time magazine makes a case for doing away with summer vacation for kids, and now questions the wisdom of homeownership,” writes one reader. “What’s next — arguing the economic case against maintaining national park? …. I understand the business rationale for Time magazine’s apparent new trend of front-cover challenges to traditional American values in order to sell more magazines. But I am alarmed at Time’s either weak or altogether non-existent portrayal of the real reasons why these values existed in the first place; why they have eroded; or why we just might want to keep them in place after all.”

Other reader responses:

  • “In my honest opinion, a home will always be a good long-term investment. The need will always be there since it’s a necessity and you will always need a home regardless if you buy or rent. Keep in mind that renting is not cheap either.”

  • “I think this is a very misguided and irresponsible article. Homeownership is a great thing, but overextending your income is not.”

  • “This Time magazine article just goes to show that even ridiculous ideas can be on the front page of a national magazine.”

  • “I strongly disagree with the premise of this article. The author is taking what happened over the last eight years and extrapolating it over the last 100 years.”

  • “The dream remains valid. A place that you can call home for as long as you choose, a place where the rent can’t go up ‘willy nilly,’ a place where you can make improvements for your own good, a place where you can grow equity as you pay down a mortgage are just some of the reasons to consider buying a home. These reasons were true centuries ago and remain true today.”

  • “The ‘cult’ of homeownership?! Those greedy Americans are at it again. How dare a family own a piece of land? This article is more than a little unfairly slanted against suburban-style living — even in trendy older houses located in many ‘first suburbs.’ However, the idea of homeownership wasn’t foisted upon an unwilling public. People love their houses.”

  • “I’d be interested in knowing how many writers and editors at Time own a home at this time.”

  • “Nothing has fundamentally changed about the advantages of owning a home. I love how journalists come up with these non-stories. This is probably one of the most worthless articles I have seen in recent memory.”

NAHB continues to aggressively challenge anti-homeownership messages, which have been surfacing lately with greater frequency in national and local media outlets. The association has been working with such groups as the National Association of Realtors®, which immediately responded to the Time story.

NAHB is urging its members to become engaged in this effort by responding directly to Time — in a letter to the editor (letters@time.com) or by adding a comment to the story online (click here) — and by conducting media outreach in their communities.

NAHB talking points highlight the many benefits of homeownership. In addition, NAHB Public Affairs has developed numerous reports, articles and studies on this topic and they are available in the homeownership resources section of www.nahb.org. The “Opportunity Knocks” brochure also provides excellent arguments in delivering a pro-homeownership message.

For more information, e-mail Brooke Fishel at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8061.

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