Killin’ the dream

Here’s something that hit me the other day while working on some copy for a 1000WATT client: 

Why are so many people stuck on the notion of homeownership being a dream?

For too long, this metaphor has dominated real estate marketing.

I think there’s a strong case for killing this “dream.”

Here is my argument:

Overused metaphors reach a point of dilution where they no longer hold any meaning, or have an impact.

The “dream of homeownership” is overused in real estate marketing to the point of cliché. It is what really good writers would call first-level creativity.

Think of the tsunami of news stories just from the last housing recession alone in which the writer thoughtlessly slipped in the line about the “dream of homeownership becoming a nightmare.” 

Tired metaphors just aren’t that interesting. They aren’t enough to wake us up from the trance of daily life, or to pull us away from the latest disaster or high-fidelity action that awaits us in another click.

Using this phrase versus something fresher is the difference between breathing in a whiff of a recent California wildfire and a cool breeze that opens your lungs in one swig.

Homeownership is more significant than a dream.

For many people, owning a home is the difference between creating a nest egg for the future and living with the uncertainty of fluctuating monthly housing costs… forever.

It’s a goal.

It’s an achievement.

It’s debt.



A lifestyle.

It’s also an industry.

Why would we — collectively, the people who are helping to make homeownership a result, a reality — continue to shill it as a mysterious “dream?”

Positioning your industry’s thing as a flighty intangible seems like a bad idea, even if it weren’t so tired.

The problem with the “dream of homeownership” is that it has become an old sweater, pilled, faded, and stretched with loose yarn hanging out, worn by every marketing campaign in real estate at least once over the last 100 years.

When you wear an overworn sweater to a party (remember those?), no one looks twice to check it out. No one returns home that night with the color of your worn, washed out sweater seared into their memory of you as you mingled with a chilled white wine in hand.

Language deserves thought.

Words and metaphors can be refreshing like a chilly autumn night. They can be stunning like a bold red lipstick. Or they can be frumpy and uninteresting.

Which do you think people will respond to more?

Maybe we just ditch the metaphor and get powerfully simple.

Language doesn’t have to be complicated to have impact. In fact, the simplest writings are usually the most powerful. One of my all-time favorite opening sentences of a book is this one in “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood:

Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.

The beauty here is in the simple words. Nearly every word is one syllable. Each is critical. The effect is a sentence that pulls me into the book by my collar. It creates a curiosity I have no choice but to satisfy with the sentence that comes after.

OK, so now what?

Homeownership isn’t a dream.

It’s an investment.

A decision.

A progression.

It tells us something about economic disparities.

It can create security. It can create financial ruin.

In a highly digital age, homeownership is about as real as we can get.

The “dream of homeownership” puts people to sleep.

So let’s put it to bed.