Thursday, August 27, 2009

Economic Survivor Guilt

A number of months ago, my Little Brother's mom mentioned to me that she was looking to buy her first house but felt badly that she was going to get a killer deal on the back of someone else's misfortune. It was a fascinating notion, something I termed economic survivor guilt. It's not logical and it's not justified -- it's not her fault someone else lost their home -- but it's a unique experience to move into the living space of other people, a place where drama must have occurred.

As is often the case, it launched a story idea. It wasn't easy to pull this one off, though, because real estate agents don't want to help journalists locate people who have any misgivings or hesitations, however founded or unfounded. I did it, though, and this piece in today's USA Today is the result.

Take a read. It's obviously focused on Vegas since this is a foreclosure capital -- usually I do broaden these stories to other regions, but this one sat comfortably in one town for the most part -- but I am sure people feel this way in Florida, Detroit and elsewhere.

What is a little shocking to me is how angry so many of the USA Today commenters are. Nobody is suggesting that this sense of guilt is appropriate. But it's the human condition, usually, to feel badly for unfortunate others, isn't it?


mike_ch said...

These people should feel no shame. Getting into the housing market can be difficult at times and they simply moved at the right time.

If you want to take your rage out on foreclosures, take your rage out by calling on lending reform to prevent these kinds of untrustworthy loans from being made in the first place.

Anonymous said...

To judge by the "Comments" sections of our daily newspaper, it is the human condition to gloat over others' misfortune and say that they had it coming.

But, as William Munny observes in "Unforgiven": "We all got it comin'."

David McKee

Michael said...

But it's the human condition, usually, to feel badly for unfortunate others, isn't it?

It used to be, I think, and I still think there is a large portion that do. I think that as our society has experienced the recess and things have become more competitive perhaps we've lost more of that compassion. On top of that everything in our lives from TV, new, to internet, seems to be focused on what the other person is getting and why you should stand up and scream for yours.

Good article though, I had what I would term survivor's guilt from a large amount of layoffs at my company, especially when I was visiting Vegas back in March for a vacation.

JeffW said...

I find that commentary on open newspaper sites is usually filled with angry people. It is rare to find an educated or thought out opinion.


Mike_Ch: there are lots of emotions we "shouldn't" feel but we do. Some idiot tells us our nose is too big and it sticks even if it's ridiculous and comes from a cruel place and an non-credible source. And so on. Emotions aren't logical.

Michael: It's interesting because a link from the site with my story is to one about the stress and guilt bosses feel having to fire people. This recession should be a boon for all sorts of therapists!

Anonymous said...

I think there's much less guilt involved in buying a foreclosure, and for the very comparison you used in your comment.

A boss knows their employees. That becomes personal. Watch the tragedies you see on the news, from car wrecks, fires, robberies or murder. Chances are there may only be a fleeting emotional response, unless you have a personal connection with the victims.

With foreclosures the owner is long gone. Particularly in Vegas where there were so many investor homes, they may have been empty or a tenant, not owner, evicted. Could be the buyers would despise those flippers as greedy bastards that jacked prices in the boom. Could be those evected tenants can now afford to buy.

The personal exception might be in a short sale, but even then a buyer may feel they are helping the owner from a burden of the foreclosure that's looming.

I think any buyers feeling guilty would be very minute. Saying that agents were reluctant to make the connection also seems a stretch. Most likely it would be hard, if not impossible, to find reluctant buyers when they never even met the previous owner.

If people were that sensitive they would never turn on the TV, computer, or pick up a paper. We're surrounded by all sorts of human tragedy every day.