Short answer: Not mine.
Property the first “hard” currency and certainly the first “fiat” currency. Emperors, Kings, Queens, Lords and every one from lowly serfs to cave men have fought and died over property ownership through out the entire history of the human race. It is a lasting and poisonous racial myth that confounded the Native Americans and fueled short lived dreams of European settlers. As it turns out the Native Americans were right all along, you can’t actually own property, if you think you can you’re dreaming, and sooner or later you’ll “come a’cropper.” But as those same natives found out, people who think they can own property are impossible to convince otherwise. They have to come to that realization their own. Which is why, as the proud “owner” of .26 acres with a house in Northern New Jersey, I am confident of two things: I don’t actually “own” anything, and it will be a lot cheaper when I finally admit that.
You can own a car. You can own clothes. However, it’s a big stretch of the imagination to believe that we actually own property. We can sign deeds, build houses, march around proudly proclaiming our stewardship but as soon as we try to do something with our property the light dawns. For instance, I have enough acreage to provide the base for an impressive 300 foot medieval stone tower, with which I could stupefy my neighbors. But, I’d soon be in court and eventually have to take it down, at my own expense. That’s because property ownership comes with conditions and, more importantly, other owners.
First, all property within the territorial boundaries of the United States actually belongs to the good old US government (Why?: They also own missiles and Predator drones). They can build a highway, railroad or cheese storage facility right on top of my yard anytime they want. It would be my guaranteed right as an American citizen to spend every nickel I have fighting them, but by then the cheese would have been sitting for 20 years, which would no doubt affect the property value.
The next owner of “my” property is the state of New Jersey. The “Garden State” can squish me like a bug and flick me away with little more than a signature and a cloudy plan for suburban renewal. If nothing else they have mammoth lists of property “dos and donts” that they can produce at a moment’s notice, to confound your every dream. After that comes the Township where my property actually resides, whose own lists, far beyond those of mortal men, allow them to subdivide, redistrict, pave over or pasteurize my property to their little heart’s content. They don’t tell you these things when you dream of “never renting again.”
Second, we are renters not owners. We either pay rent to the banks we borrow from to buy the property in the form of interest, or to the state and local municipalities in the form of property taxes, or both. It could be worse, I could be a condo owner and have to pay monthly facilities fees as well. There is no place in this fair country that you can just pitch a tent or build a log cabin and go about the business of living without a continual payment of some kind or another. Sorry, space is not free even if you own it.
Third, you can’t take it with you. The very definition of ownership is to completely control the present and future of something. When you die your property stays behind and goes to someone else, even if they bury you in it. As many landowners throughout the ages have learned, you can leave property to your children, but it’s a loosing game. Like a reverse pyramid scheme the land gets split up over and over with each succeeding generation until there either isn’t enough to put a mailbox on or the killing starts. Of course, these day we just sue each other. It’s a eventuality that now forces many parents to sell their property before their deaths and just split up the money. It saves lives and after we go, our children may still talk to each other once in a while.
I’ve experienced this in conversations with both my father and father in law. One had a vacation property in the Adirondacks and one has a summer house in Maine. My father sold the Adirondack property to my sister but my father in law is still holding out for “a lasting legacy.” Which means we’ll all share vacation time, for a few generations, at least until there are 40 of us vying for the “good weeks.” In Maine there are exactly 2 good weeks in summer when you don’t need a sword to fight off the black flies. In winter, when the ocean freezes, it’s easier to outrun the black flies if you have a fast snowmobile.
This was uppermost in my thoughts when my wife and I considered our own vacation property. The idea of another piece of property sucking the life out of us during our last few moments on the planet had me in nightmares. We finally resolved to by a boat instead, with the proviso that we sink the damn thing when we can’t stand it any more or the kids start to fight over it.
Which prompts me to leave you all with this sound advice, sell your property now and let some other sucker take the ride for a while. Take a nice legal pad and write down all the things you pay for each month, and year, due to “property ownership,” and then take that figure to the rental section of the newspaper. See, you can afford a really nice apartment in a building with a doorman, a laundry service, and balconies. Yard work will be confined to flower pots and your friends will all think “they’re so sophisticated, the big show offs.” Your stories of the times of property ownership will grow with each telling, as you cunningly perpetuate the myth to keep rental prices down. Best of all the banks, the taxes and all the maintenance are someone else’s problem. All you have to do is sit around, count your money from the sale of property and complain about the paint color in the hallway.
There you go, problem solved.
Copyright Prentiss Gray 2011