Everyone is entitled to their own opinions about their own life, their own neighborhood, and their own home. However, when economic conditions or other concerns encourage people to lower the profit from their properties, the neighborhood they live in can change.
The U.S. economy is still weak and many are working hard to pay off debt and live within their means. Anyone who has read my book Winning is Not Enough or did his or her part to avoid foreclosure knows what it’s like to walk into your neighborhood and all too often find your old home has changed hands.
I grew up in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., a Rivertown, a mixed-income town almost on the border between N.Y. and Long Island. My grandfather and grandmother settled in this area in 1911 and in 1912 the community was founded by Freeport pioneers who settled there in the ‘30s. The area is still relatively close-knit. These places are notorious for a sense of “rule by neighbors” and generations of overachievers whose children work hard to get ahead, do well and know what’s expected of them.
One of the groups who have brought about change over the years in this area and other Rivertowns is the Asian community. Many of these immigrants come from South Korea, Malaysia, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Their goal is always to better their economic status and have a comfortable, livable-wage work environment, which they do. Their low-cost Asian imports and large infrastructures support these immigrants in their new homes.
Mostly men in their early 30s, these men generally find a comfortable place to live with their families and still work part-time in employment. That is, until now. They have higher incomes. So much so that they feel their homes have increased in value and they want to do things such as paint their homes or install fancy new lighting, landscaping, and carpeting.
Regardless of whether the owner or tenants want to do this type of decoration, someone else is paying the bill. So their next responsibility is to obtain permits to do these things. Sometimes, especially for the larger projects such as new flooring, heating, and air conditioning, folks in the current community have a low tolerance for such change.
In many cases, these remodeling or decoration requests have been thwarted. This is both because of the strong community spirit of many people and because these new owners seem to be discriminating against the current residents with their remodeling requests. For example, many older homes that are in lesser condition would be approved, whereas newer homes that are in better condition are often blocked from doing as much as they would like to do.
Others have asked me, “Isn’t that what we want?” But in my opinion, you cannot turn your back on the past just because you can afford more today. “Your house reflects your past, and is a living testimony of your heritage. What’s wrong with that?”
Just how different these two communities are can be seen from what I see most often in their garbage cans. Back in the day you found your modest (and now now land-shuttered) home covered with discarded food and metal cans, glassware, water bottles, packages, and plastics. Now that neighborhood tradition has long since disappeared. Can you tell me how many microbreweries have been opened up in the town or the nation? Just how many of these folks work at the local grocery stores?
No, I don’t see things like that all the time any more, but there are still some funny cultural variations that I just can’t help but observe and think about.
However, I am happy that most of these people are managing well and would like to stay that way. That is also a part of the American dream.
For those who can afford to do something special to improve their homes, they should do so, but this usually comes down to community norms, not personal choice. If you want your home to look like a mansion but live like a mountain goat, stay on the right side of the fence that separates you from the land. If not, prepare to get stuck in the mud.
R.J. Rummel is a co-host of the Fox News Live program, airing weekday mornings from 8-11am on Fox News Radio. He is also the owner of the Real Estate Strategy Center and author of Winning Without a Plan.