Last night I watched one of my favorite shows on one of my favorite channels: Property Brothers on HGTV. And just as I had the previous week, and the week before, I was disgusted. Why do I watch it then?

I love home improvement shows. Even while living in an apartment I loved to watch Design on a Dime and Trading Spaces. I love interior design but rarely have the resources to do it well or I’m too indecisive, so I like to watch other people do it and read Better Homes and Gardens for ideas about how I might do it one day (and sometimes I get inspired and move things around and add old family pieces to our living areas to change things up). I enjoy watching shows like Property Brothers because they take houses that have been neglected and run-down and reinvent, revamp and reinvest in the house and community.

What I really don’t like about Property Brothers, however, are the buyers. They’re probably prompted by the show to complain so as to cause some tension between the buyers and the “Brothers” who redesign and renovate the property, but they are always complaining about how their “dream home has turned into a nightmare” or they break down and cry when the type of hardwood floor they want isn’t available anymore, or they storm out mad when the wrong kitchen cabinets are brought in.

Why should that bother me? It’s their home! But these renovations are costing at least $50,000 or more, on homes that are often $500,000 or more. The cost of the renovations alone is the cost of a home in our area. And I think about not only the homeless on the street, but the many families who have that dream of owning their own home and are stuck in renter’s hell for the rest of their lives. Trust me, it’s not always bad to rent, but I know so many people who pay so much in rent that they easily could be paying a mortgage and utilities instead, if they only had the money for the down payment and closing costs. I remember reading an article at Sojourners a few years ago of an elderly woman who rented her whole life, never owned her own home, but when someone ran the numbers, they figured out she paid the mortgage on the places she rented about three times over.

So I get a little disgusted and sick to my stomach over the greed of some people in trying to create a dream home. For many people, the dream is simply to own their own home. The American Dream–the idea that one person could work hard and one parent could stay home and raise a family in a home that they owned has vanished for most people. Even now, I know many two parent households where both parents work full time and still they cannot afford to own a home. For us, we wondered if we would have the chance, with the cost of our education (both of us have Master of Divinity degrees). Fortunately when we moved to Southern Oklahoma we moved to a place where the cost of living is lower and housing costs are down.

Home improvement has been a steady business for Americans and has increased rapidly over the last twenty years with the advent of Home Depot and Lowes appearing across America, including my hometown of Wasilla, Alaska just in the past few years. My dad is in the construction business and has been a carpenter ever since he graduated college with a degree in Physics–he always said he couldn’t handle a desk job. I remember as a small child going to the Home Show in Anchorage every year, where all the local vendors would have booths with free giveaways such as yardsticks and mini tape-measurers, especially the local hardware stores. I still remember going into the local hardware store and being greeted by the salesperson, finding what we needed easily because it was a small store. Living in Massachusetts, even the chain Ace Hardware was still found in many small towns and still kept the small-store feel. Unfortunately, that landscape has changed. You can go into one of the national chain mega-stores and still get friendly service, no doubt about that, but you can also get lost in the store. Warehouses packed full from flooring to ceiling fans and everything in between, including appliances, which you used to have to go to the appliance store to get separately.

The last time I was home in Wasilla, it looked like the lone remaining builder supply store was barely making it. The rest had closed. I’m sure there are great employees working there now, but the personal relationships are gone between builders and the store. Small business owners once again can’t complete with the mega you-can-buy-anything-here type of stores, even in home improvement. No more free yardsticks and tape measurers and mini levels, and no more greeting by first name.

My dad still builds houses, but builds them much slower these days as he has gotten older. He no longer works for a contractor or construction company but does his own work (occasionally roping my brother in to do the roof because my brother used to be a roofer). My dad started out as a finish carpenter–doing cabinets and countertops and trimwork, but now he leaves them unfinished. He figures every buyer is so picky these days that he won’t choose something and have a potential buyer not like the choice in cabinet or countertop, so he sells the house, without carpet or hardwood or laminate, without countertops or cabinets, without paint or ceiling tile–just unfinished. Thanks to the Home Improvement Industry, the rest can be taken care of by the buyer, because my dad doesn’t want to deal with people like I watch on the TV, changing their minds and complaining that their dream home is a nightmare.

To end on a more positive note: I learned a lot as a child of a carpenter. I’m not afraid of drywall and paint and minor home repairs. I’m already eyeing the chipped paint of the post outside on our patio (our new puppy chewed it already) and plan on sanding it and repainting once the sun goes down (it’s over 100 degrees here in Southern Oklahoma and has been for a month) and then will tackle fixing the cracks and paint by our living room windows. I’d also like to paint the trim in our bedroom.

I still love watching design and home improvement shows–I remember watching Bob Villa on Saturdays years ago with my dad. But I could do without the people complaining, who will still get a beautiful home once it is all said and done even if it is not exactly the way they wanted or imagined it. They still have a home that is theirs. They still get their American Dream. Leave the cabinets and flooring alone, and instead check out ways that you can help families achieve their dream of owning a home. There are housing organizations in local communities that work to help families with down payments and closing costs. You don’t have to go on Extreme Makeover to get a hand. Habitat for Humanity is another great organization that helps families own their own home. In both situations, families still have to make payments and upkeep and take responsibility for their home, but they get that little help needed to move from renting forever to ownership.

And in case you were curious, here is a picture of the front of our “dream house.” And it really is a dream–when I walked in, I already imagined Christmas in front of the back windows, and looking out the windows or sitting on the back patio looking out over our backyard that slopes down to a creek, I can’t help but think I’m staying at a vacation home on Cape Cod or in North Carolina. I still cannot believe it is ours, and I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to own our home.

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One Response to Home-wrecking the American Dream

  1. […] Home Improvement Posted on November 15, 2011 by Rev. Mindi (The following appeared in an earlier version on […]

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