I agree with you on some levels, hence I didn't use stronger words such as "everyone" or "must".
I think you're not being precise with words then, because you also wrote, "I for one believe people should own their home..." The "people" there does mean "everyone" and the "should" does mean "must".
But the problem is that, in the case where the home is rented and not owned, over the lifetime the expense spent on renting alone would amount to a pretty significant amount. It would probably still amount to "biggest spenditure" by most middle class. One way or other it would come back to the same point. Unless you live in Germany or similar countries where there are housing that is subsidized or regulated by the government, cost of renting would most certainly end up being more than a purchase.
In the majority of cases, yes, people will probably end up paying at least as much in rent. However, there are definitely lots of times (they might only be temporary, say five years) when buying a house would be the wrong thing to do and would lead to paying more over one's lifetime, either because the rent to purchase ratio is completely mismatched, or because someone can buy at the top of a bubble and end up under water, or because interest rates can go through the roof and mortgage payments can become huge.
Bottom line is, landlords are out there to make money. So besides paying for landlord's holding cost, renters are also paying a premium for landlord's profit. Seriously, unless one is in a situation where they foresee changes within five to ten years, they should seriously consider a purchase within means.
Except that not all landlords make money. Not everyone makes money in real estate. Not everyone makes money in any investment. In Taiwan, for instance, there must be lots of landlords who don't make any money, and probably even lose money. They think that's okay on some level for one of two reasons. Either they inherited the property, so they think it's already paid for (though actually losing money is still silly), or they're hoping for capital gains, or both.
Also, I see your point on financial advices from middle class, hence why I mentioned that there should be a definitively separation between an investment and a home. And that fact is, home is usually the one thing middle class can fall back on in the end, if they don't leverage it.
If it's the thing they're going to have to fall back on in the end, then that's all the more reason why it should be a (smart) investment. Being a home and an investment are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Likewise, being a liability and then eventually making more money from capital gains is also not necessarily a bad idea, but it does have to be considered.
One of the major problems I have with owning a home is that most people end up putting far too much equity into it (and by "far too much", that may even mean "any") when they could be getting greater returns elsewhere, which would set them up better for retirement. Why would/should people take the single biggest financial decision of their lives, and something they will probably have to rely upon for their retirement (in which case, yes, it is an investment), and accept middling returns (once the true costs are factored in)? I'm trying to live by a rule of thumb of 75+:20:5, where those three numbers mean a person's respective net worth tied up in investments, a house, and stuff (including a car), though I am actually trying to get the first category much higher than 75 and may end up with zero in the second.
Back before the whole bubble burst, its startles me everytime I watched the reality shows that show people making huge profits from flipping houses. I kept saying this shit can't keep going on... I had no knowledge of the subprime debacle. But when you see boatloads of people jumping into the same industry and money seemingly flowing out of nowhere, shits' about to happen.
I agree, but that's no reason to say that your house shouldn't be thought of as an investment in the long run.
Anyways I have to say, in times like these, unless I get positive cash flow from a real estate investment, I would probably bet my money on commodities...
I wouldn't necessarily do either or neither. I would try to estimate the underlying value of the thing in question, and then look at the asking price for it.