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Amidst the housing crisis I have read many stories about how many immigrant minorities were “duped” into borrowing ridiculous amounts of money for homes that they could not possibly afford.  An example that is often passed around is of     I cannot say that I understand the motivation of this family on buying such an expensive home, but I can speak from my experience as a Chinese immigrant as to why the “American dream” of homeownership could be so alluring and so destructive.

First of all, most Chinese immigrants I know are pretty frugal about everything except for their homes, cars, and their kids’ education.  Amongst the adults in my parents generation I think most do not go on expensive vacations, eat out  a lot, or buy very expensive clothes.  As a result, their idea of home affordability is a lot higher than 38% of their incomes.  Several people have said to me that Chinese people do not really care about spending more than 50% of their incomes on a mortgage, and I have found that to be true in many instances.  As  a result many people buy a lot more than they probably should have.  I have also  heard the same logic from some first generation  Asian Indian coworkers in the past.  Basically, they can afford the expensive house because they save on everything else.  Usually for married couples this is usually fine until one person loses his or her job.

Another cultural dynamic  that skews how affordable a home is for many immigrants is that many adult children , parents, and other family members are expected to pool their money together towards buying a house.  I know many people my age who own homes due to parental contribution, or some are living with their parents and helping to pay for the mortgage.  In the case of the strawberry pickers it seems that several families pooled together to afford the ridiculously high mortgage.  I think this arrangement is a lot less common in non-immigrant Caucasian American families.  Again, this could work if all family members are committed to paying for the debt and they keep their jobs, but otherwise it could be disastrous.

Next, Chinese culture has a big thing with something we call “face” or mianzi.  It essentially means that you have to project how successful you are to others.  In America I guess it is called “keeping up with the Joneses”.  Having a big beautiful house in a nice school district is a big part of having face.  It is something you can take pictures of and send back home to China and it is also something you can show off to friends and family via dinner parties.  Having face also includes having , and sometimes a nice car, too.  The value of face is priceless for a lot of Chinese people, and they are willing to sacrifice financially for what is essentially bragging rights. I remember a friend telling me once that all her parents spends on is their house and their expensive car, and they do not seem to enjoy life at all because they have no money left over to take vacations.  However, having that house and car seems to add to their self worth even though she thinks it is pretty superficial.

Finally, I think homeownership is so ridiculously appealing to all immigrants because it is a form of assimilation.  It is saying to the world that you own a little piece of America and you are part of something bigger.  Most  immigrants I know do work really hard for what they have, and it is pretty sad when they lose it all, but ultimately those who are in foreclosure now are responsible for their own decisions.  There were definitely shady real estate agents and mortgage brokers that targeted immigrant populations in this crisis, but I think many immigrants lost their usual conservatism and frugality when they were mesmerized with the idea of owning a home.  I know many immigrant families are still plodding away by pooling their incomes for huge mortgages these days, and I applaud them for being responsible, but for those who are draining their savings perhaps it is better to walk away and  start over again.

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viagra brand name drugon 06.24.09 at 5:58 pm

I wonder if this immigrant mentality applies to younger generation immigrants. My feeling is younger generation immigrants (at least from Asia) are not as manic about home ownership. It’s really the parents that are the ones pushing the dream of home ownership… perhaps because they grew up in a different era (that was in most cases a lot less economically prosperous) and thus seek stability more than anything else. … Not that owning a home necessarily gives you financial stability… but I think there is the impression with that generation that home ownership equals financial stability.

Yeah, yeah, sue me… I am an ungrateful brat?

viagra brand name drugon 06.24.09 at 7:29 pm

Part of this is the perception that stocks and bonds are not “real”. I suppose Westerners felt the same way once; hence, the term “real property”.

viagra brand name drugon 06.25.09 at 8:19 am

I was just saying that to BF the other day…

The parents are definitely the ones who push for property to be held, but I’m more into renting than buying if it makes sense financially…

viagra brand name drugon 06.30.09 at 7:45 am

I definitely understand the desire to spend on education and also to a certain extent on a house. What I really don’t get about Asians is the whole luxury car/SUV thing. It’s a depreciating asset and is a BMW or Lexus really three times as good at getting you from point A to point B than a Honda or Toyota?

viagra brand name drugon 09.22.09 at 7:41 pm

[...] of even one job means that the  next mortgage payment is no longer affordable.  As I wrote in this article about Chinese/Asian  immigrants and real estate, Asians often ignore the basic debt to income ratio guidelines to buy a home because they figure [...]

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