There’s always something to howl about

Under all is the land: Celebrating property rights wherever you live

I think about this every now and then. Under all is the land- real estate not as business, but as a sort of philosophy, a big idea. Greg wrote an incredible piece about this in his usual big thinker style. I can’t take this on from the place Greg’s at, but I can see this from the street level- from where I’m working.

My transactions with first time buyers and with HUD owned homes are teaching me a few things. You may not deal in that market. It’s very gritty. Not everyone wants to get their hands that dirty, or do that much work for a couple hundred dollars, and believe me when I tell you that there are times I understand that completely. But le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas, so against the best advice of some of the best brains in the business, I’m working with the people who do not take home ownership for granted, they didn’t grow up assuming they will ever own a home. And in spite of all this collective intelligence pointing me elsewhere, I love working with people who are excited about owning property. Do you know what I mean when I say that?

Think about how incredible that statement is: Owning property. Land. Something that can’t get moved, can’t be taken away. I know eminent domain exists. Forget that for just a moment and think about the history of man. Property ownership equals freedom. The right to own property? That’s extraordinary! So while I understand I could make more money with less work if I worked at real estate differently, I get a huge kick out of helping people who see what I see when they buy a home.

These are people who may have grown up under circumstances that would not have precluded home ownership. They may have grown up in parts of the country that have become too exclusive for the average person and they have been shut out of a life they literally helped build. Perhaps they are not children of privilege but children of other circumstances. They might be newly minted citizens, thrilled with the possibilities the future holds. Maybe they are just people who spent their youth making stoopid decisions and have finally pulled their head out of their ass and want to move forward with their lives. Whatever their reasons, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that these are people for whom owning a home means more than an investment and getting their kids into the right schools. Home ownership means freedom to these people. Think about that.

I would guess that most of us don’t understand the mental and emotional changes that take place under these circumstances. If your parents, your aunts and uncles and cousins and neighbors and hardly anyone you knew owned property, the thought of owning property? This is huge! This is everything. This is moving forward. This is life itself- it’s freedom.

We don’t have it all right, this property ownership freedom idea. Our laws still mean that we are constricted about usage, and we can have that property taken away to suit someone else, but we have what we have and it’s a damn good start for many people.

Saturday night I couldn’t sleep. I poked about online and found the TED lectures. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, but I this particular lecture from Robert Neuwirth about Squatter Cities stuck with me. It’s about 20 minutes long, so you might not want to take the time, although you should. I’ll pull a few points for you: These squatter cities in India or Africa or South America- where millions (billions?) of people live, have become not about living in poverty, but about thriving- flourishing even- freely in a society that is of your own making. Carving out a life, owning property?, starting a business. Can you see it? We have squatter communities in Dayton, I’m sure your big city has them as well. These are communities that will, to some extent, be shaping the future of our world. Consider what property ownership means to these people.

I showed homes last night. My buyer has always assumed he would buy a home, so this was a fairly typical buyer in that respect, but the neighborhood we were in? Something has changed in this neighborhood. On this Memorial Day weekend, from what once was a battle ground with abandoned playgrounds, there was block after block filled with the lovely sound of laughter as families and young children and neighbors celebrated Memorial Day in a very American way by opening up their homes, firing up their grills, pulling their resources- probably meager to most of us- and having a barbecue. Happy to be owning property, even if it is property no one else really wanted. But most of all this neighborhood was going about the very serious business of celebrating their freedom, and yours too, and grateful for all those sacrifices that made this possible.

Under all is the land; but understanding that keeps us free. Happy Memorial Day!


16 Comments so far

  1. Greg Swann May 25th, 2009 6:37 am

    Beautiful. Thank you. You brought tears to my eyes. I say to people: Be who you are. Do what you want. Have what you love. But a corollary of that is: Love what you have.

  2. Teri Lussier May 25th, 2009 10:33 am

    Thank you for bringing these ideas up and not letting them go.

    There are those of us who understand property rights, but cannot articulate it the way you do. Perhaps we understand it differently, or maybe our understanding is born from a different place? I’m not sure how that works, but the result is that owning land does represent not living under the thumb of another soul. It’s simple, but very complicated.

  3. John May 25th, 2009 8:26 pm

    Teri – I normally scan thru posts, but I went back and read each word. Very powerful. Thank you.

  4. Dan Connolly May 25th, 2009 9:13 pm

    I have always worked in the trenches. The phone number 770-HUD-HOME rings through to my cell phone. You are right about helping those who really appreciate it, it makes all the difference in the world. I have seen people who were so happy that tears literally squirted from their eyes at the closing table. That market never goes away. It’s recession proof.

  5. May 25th, 2009 10:42 pm

    BloodhoundBlog » Blog Archive » Under all is the land: Celebrating property rights wherever you live…

    I think about this every now and then. Under all is the land- real estate not as business, but as a sort of philosophy, a big idea. Greg wrote an incredible piece about this in his usual big thinker style. I can’t take this on from the place Greg’s…

  6. Clarevz May 26th, 2009 1:33 am

    Teri, I must say it is so refreshing to know that there are estate agents like you out there. My partner and I have just started to look for our own home in Cape TOwn South Africa. Due to the economic situation we have decided if there is a time for us to buy property it is now. I must say the estate agents we are dealing with are on;y interested in you if you are willing to spend big bucks. We know what our limit is and at first we were very hesitant to tell the agents our total spending capacity, how ever it took us telling them and they realizing that we have above average money to spend for them to take interest in us. It really leaves a sour taste in your mouth.

    Good on you and keep loving your work and helping people!


  7. Joe Loomer May 26th, 2009 4:02 am

    I thought I’d had my “emotional day” yesterday as I celebrated Memorial Day with a fellow vet still on active duty and his family. Then I read your post this morning.

    As someone who plies his trade in the trenches you eloquently describe, I share your feeling of accomplishment – no, let’s call it outright joy – at sealing a deal for a first time homebuyer who never believed the day would come when they actually owned a home.

    But my favorite deal of all time (I don’t see it being topped) was a little $65K home in a somewhat safe neighborhood. My Buyer was (is) a wonderful lady who works in the medical clerical field. She had been abused by a former husband, left him, and took her son with her. Her son, you see, is a severely handicapped man of 35. All she wanted was a nice place she could feel safe in and take care of her son. She had never owned property before – despite being in her late 50’s. The overwhelming gratitude this woman bestowed on me had me weeping privately for days (I’m doing it now just thinking about it). Under all is the land, indeed.

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  8. Teri Lussier May 26th, 2009 4:56 am

    Hi John-
    High praise indeed, thank you.

    >it makes all the difference in the world.

    That’s it, I suppose. That’s why I love that market. I love making all the difference in the world.

    I know that there are Realtors in other markets who are so good at what they do that they also make all the difference in the world, and this isn’t exclusive to one particular market, but I also think that appreciating that one chunk of land does not translate across every market. People who buy land to work- farmers, gardeners, and those folks who just want to tuck their children in under a roof of their own, home buying is a different process and holds a different meaning for them.

    Hi Joe-

    Happy Memorial Day!
    Thank you for sharing that story, but also for sharing your response to that experience. Those are the clients that touch us, that give back to us in priceless ways.

  9. Teri Lussier May 26th, 2009 5:36 pm

    Hi Clare-

    (Your comment must have been held in moderation.)

    I can understand your situation. When my husband and I bought our first house, our real estate agent made us feel like idiots for not spending our limit. We bought a home that we were comfortable with and we remembered that we were the ones paying the mortgage, and we were the ones who had to live with our decision. Our wisdom served us well.

    Stick to your guns and don’t let anyone talk you into a decision that you aren’t comfortable with.

    Thanks for the comment, and best of luck to you and your partner. 🙂

  10. Steve Hysinger May 27th, 2009 10:15 am

    I was raised on a farm in the panhandle of Texas as was my wife of 30 + years. You helped me to rememeber the pride our parents felt in ownership of land. It was a place we could always go back to. It was home. thanks for the menories.

  11. Teri Lussier May 27th, 2009 2:12 pm


    >You helped me to rememeber the pride our parents felt in ownership of land.

    I’m very glad. 🙂

  12. David Cody May 27th, 2009 10:06 pm

    LOve the TED videos.

    I just want to say, community is spontaneous and created voluntarily, ALWAYS. It cannot truly be made up of those who chose to live in the same neighborhood, because they could all afford similar homes.

    That all being said, I am a Permaculture Designer and educator in San Francisco and my wife is a real estate agent. Experiencing the market here first-hand, I can say it is INSANE what people must pay for a home. The value of an average home here could build an entire squatter neighborhood like those seen in that video.

    And what drives the price? As we all know, supply and demand, perceived value, speculation, etc. BUt what is so valuable? The house? Oh no, those are often torn down and rebuilt, its the land. Non-resident landlords owning multiple properties for the sole purpose of investment is the single greatest factor to high property prices, and consequently high rent prices.

    And why does everyone think that owning is the key to prosperity in America?

    Imagine this, I will make you a deal you can’t pass up. You can pay me a lot of money for 30 years. And, get this, you can call yourself a home owner. Really, you and I know who really owns the home. But thats ok, you can call yourself a home owner and I will let that go, for a price.

    In San Francisco, we have an organization called the Community Land Trust. Their vision is that the trust would own all the land in SF, but the people would own the houses. That would chop the property speculation off at the knees and drop the prices to realistic levels for normal Americans to won and not embark in ridiculous long-term debt.

    Buautiful vision?

    I am going to give the link here, this is not spam and I do not work for these folks. It is however something I think can change our lives for the better.

  13. Johnny hjemmeside May 28th, 2009 5:58 am

    When you buy property in USA,
    do you also “rent” the land it stands on for a period of time?

    I mean, here, you buy a house… The house is yours
    but the land it stands on…. isn’t?

  14. Teri Lussier May 28th, 2009 7:11 am

    Hi David-

    I recently helped a couple purchase 100 acres for less than 475k. They wanted a self-sustaining farm. This parcel of land has a stream, a pond, harvest-able lumber, 2 wells, and fully one-third of it is tillable.

    I recently showed a gorgeous historic home that was listed at 10k. I have no idea what makes home prices in SF so outrageous. Seriously. Except that you all have decided that you are willing to live under those circumstances, so you do.

    Land is important here. We can grow food on our land, and we can pull potable water from our land. We prosper emotionally from land, not so much financially. Perhaps we are attached to land the way San Franciscans are attached to lifestyle? With that in mind, I’d find the idea of a land trust unappealing. I’d want to own the land myself. Have control of my own piece of earth. We do have a small land trust community out here though, in a community that was concerned about the lack of affordable housing. Again, the folks who chose to live in that community have made financial sacrifices for lifestyle choices.

    >And why does everyone think that owning is the key to prosperity in America?

    Not prosperity here, but freedom, yes, certainly freedom.

    Real estate is local. 🙂

  15. David Cody June 7th, 2009 10:02 am

    Well thanks for the thoughtful response. I certainly dont want to get into philosophical debates in a comments thread but I will say this:

    Owning the land is ridiculous concept. What a fiction that is. We cannot own anything truly, not the land or any object. We will never be able to live in a just world until we stop concentrating wealth into smaller and smaller places.

    Land ownership in America is just that, concentrating wealth into the hands of the few. You can stweard the land and not have to “own” it. You can claim your right to tend a section of land and not have to “own” it.

    There are now over 6 billion people in the world and over 50% of them live in the urban setting. How does land ownership sound now? In the next 20 years it is estimated that we will climb to over 70% of the population living in the urban setting. How does land ownership sound now?

    1% of the world’s population owns and controls 99% of it’s wealth. The other 99% of the world’s population have 1% of the world’s wealth. Call me a socialist if you like, but I can prove to you this model is not working, won’t last, is not only is it doomed to fail, it IS failing as we write this. Wealth concentration is ethically wrong.

    You can still invest in your future by making IMPROVEMENTS to you land that you can claim equity in. If you dig a well, thats an improvement. If you build a barn thats an improvement. Land ownership is not required to build a legacy for your future generations. Ask the Native Americans or any indigenous people what they think abotu land ownership.

    WHEW! ok i can step down off the soap box. Please don’t take any of my comments as overly angry or radical. I really just fealt the personal need to be sure that the full argument is out there, this issue transcends personal or geographical contexts.

  16. Teri Lussier June 7th, 2009 2:17 pm

    Hi David-

    Interesting point of view. Kinda sad, too. I can assure you that no one is hoarding land out here in the Midwest. Come on out and improve it all you want. Bring your friends, there’s plenty to go around.