May 15, 2012 / 10:51 AM / in 6 years

Mine, yours, ours: Owning a priority but sharing finds niche

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Millions of families displaced after the housing market imploded haven’t totally shattered the American dream — owning a home remains a priority for the majority of adults, according to a new consumer survey.

An overwhelming 91 percent of homeowners and renters said owning a house is still part of that ideal American life, with 83 percent of those now paying rent hoping to own someday, according to a survey by the real estate company Coldwell Banker released on Tuesday.

For some 95 percent of Americans, it’s important for their children to own a home, too, the data showed.

“There is a place for renting, clearly,” said psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig, who partnered with the property firm to interpret answers gathered online in April from more than 2,100 adults. “But I don’t think that changes that inherent desire to own a home.”

That desire to own isn’t limited to property either.

Beyond a simple rent versus buy financial equation, experts say the value derived from ownership - be it homes, cars or book collections - that is so deeply rooted in American society would be hard to budge, despite easy access to a rental market today that spans apartments, luxury hand bags and even prom dresses.

“From a psychological perspective, what we have becomes an extension of who we are, our identity,” Ludwig said. “I think renting certain things are always going to be a component of American life, but I don’t think that will ever displace ownership.”

Home ownership may be considered the big prize for many, but other possessions and collections also link the past to the present, create memories and create a sense of community, experts said.

Yet before people rush to buy, buy, buy again as the economy shows signs of improving - be it houses or other goods - many are treading a bit more carefully these days, invoking a back-to-basics mentality.

This desire to simplify and downsize may be one factor driving an uptick in sharing, according to Frederic Brunel, associate professor of marketing at Boston University.

The sharing economy, Brunel said, is seeing a re-birth of sorts in suburban and urban communities. Neighbors around the cul-de-sac, for example, may decide they don’t each need to own a leaf blower, power washer and lawn mower.

Peer-to-peer solutions like this - sometimes including explicit sharing contracts - are one way to solve the problem, and in other instances the market provides the answer with business opportunities like Zipcar’s car sharing model.

Just because you can afford something, owning doesn’t always make sense, he said. People today are opting to share not just for financial reasons, but social motivators, too.

Younger generations might feel uncomfortable tied down to one lifestyle or place, he said. Not being encumbered by major possessions, including real estate, gives some people a sense of mobility - and a path to reinventing themselves, he said.

Access to easy money has driven a lot of American consumption in the past, Brunel said. But renting or sharing offers an alternative to simply buying new stuff and incurring extra debt.

“The proactive act of not owning can be equally expressive as owning,” Brunel said.

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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