Realtor.Rock: Reassessing our choices on the home front

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REALTOR.Rock is a bi-monthly column where local REALTORS share their expertise on real estate matters.

Our interview this week is with Patrick Murphy, a Realtor with Whitehead Realtors, Rockford. He can be reached at (815) 229-8029 or his cell phone at (815) 985-1541 or e-mail,

What is it you mean by reassessing our choices on the home front?

In my business, I see inside a lot of homes. Working in all price ranges, I witness what is happening to a lot of Americans, and I appreciate that interaction and trust. But sometimes what I see is alarming, and with all the news about environmental disasters, widespread bankruptcies, credit card debt, oil-based war, I’m wondering if we Americans need to consider a new ideal.

How does this relate to real estate?

Maybe we can change our priorities, lessen our impact on the planet, and make ourselves happier and freer, by starting with our own home. It’s up to each individual. All I know is what I see—foreclosures rising dramatically, huge single-family houses that require an unprecedented amount of raw materials to build and power, garages and basements filled with excess belongings, people frazzled by endless demands on their time. Although foreclosure is sometimes due to loss of income or illness, it is often because of financial mismanagement or the purchase of a home that the buyer could not really afford. Every time I see a huge house big enough for two families, I think about climate change. An overwhelming number of scientists now agree that human behavior is contributing to this situation. Every piece of a home takes energy to create and contributes in some way to greenhouse gas emissions—not to mention the energy of operating a large home. Garages filled with unused possessions, same thing…all that excess property, like all that square footage, is expensive. It sometimes causes us to overextend ourselves financially and emotionally, and it also taxes the globe…because that stuff has to be made. Walk through your home and look at every piece: the flooring, the trim, the table, the carpet, think of the foundation, the TV, the roof joists, the shingles, the nails, all the resources and energy it took to create each part. And then think of all the energy it took you to earn the funds to purchase it. Also, we buy homes in neighborhoods far from where we work because they are more affordable or in a better area of town. But think of what it costs you, and the world, to drive 60, 30, even 15 minutes to work each day.

Do you think there’s a growing awareness of all this right now?

I hope so, and I know this all sounds critical, but believe me, I fit this profile, too. I’m not pointing a finger, I’m asking a question. When we’re deciding how we want to live, what type of home to purchase, what to put in it, where it should be…are we really making the right choices for ourselves, our family, our community, our world? Are we practicing good judgment that helps us find peace and satisfaction in life as well as become good global citizens? For example, I’m working with a young first-time homebuyer. She’s looking at homes 20 percent below her pre-approved amount and staying in her priority living area. Now, that is a person likely to maintain an excellent financial profile throughout her life. This will make her happier, give her more freedom, and she will be lessening her impact on the world. Another of my clients said she does not want a large kitchen. First time I’d ever heard that. “I have been living in an apartment, and my little kitchen is easy to clean,” she added. Small kitchens are out of favor, so that may save her family some money. It will save her time and energy. And it cost the world less resources. On the other hand, I market some large, beautiful homes (and yes, I see the contradiction there). The builder is trying to utilize more environmentally-sound features, but it’s hard. People don’t choose refrigerators or windows with the Energy Star rating. And they want imported wood floors instead of sustainable locally-grown products.

Is it that we celebrate our prosperity and freedom of choice here in America?

Absolutely, I celebrate them, too. But is renovating an old home in Rockford’s core rather than purchasing a new one in what was recently a food-producing field losing freedom or creating it? Is walking or busing to work rather than driving losing freedom or sustaining it? Does saving $3,000 a year or taking your children on vacation feel more like freedom than buying gadgets to fill all the extra spaces? Most anything we want to do can be done responsibly, if we choose to pause and consider. That’s freedom. And we have the ability here to reassess our lives anytime we like, and change direction if we want. Isn’t our own home the perfect place to start?

James Frazier is the owner of A Defined Design-Professional Home Staging Service. He can be reached at 815-997-3212 or through his Web site at

from the July 25-31, 2007, issue

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