McMansions vs. Two Prong Outlets
By Tommy Britt -
A few years ago someone coined a new term to describe a trend in single family residential construction; McMansion. Being an old guy and not being exactly sure what the true definition was, I hit the Google button on the “interweb” machine and found these two:
Exhibit A from the Urban Dictionary:
A large and pretentious house, typically of shoddy construction, typical of “upscale” suburban developments in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Such houses are characterized by steep roofs of complex design, theatrical entrances, lack of stylistic integrity and backsides which are notably less fussy than their fronts. They are often placed closely together to maximize the developer’s profits and appeal to people who value perceived social status over actual, physical, economic or historic value.
Exhibit B from Investopedia:
A slang term that describes a large, opulent house that may be generic in style and represents a good value for a home buyer in terms of its size. This type of home is built to provide middle and/or upper middle class homeowners with the luxurious housing experience that was previously only available to high-net-worth individuals. The McMansion term is meant as a play on McDonald’s fast food restaurants, as these homes also represent the pervasiveness and excessive consumption that critics often associate with McDonald’s.
As you can see, the definition is in the eyes of the beholder. Some see them as blight and others see them as a positive trend. You can visit with your friends and neighbors in Timbergrove and get both viewpoints. The traditionalists are attracted to the quaint ranch style homes and bristle at the idea that they have outlived their usefulness. Others appreciate the past and the care taken to keep our little corner of the world a great place to live but find 8’ ceilings, two prong electrical outlets and cedar shakes something they can live without. Thejust as divergent. Our architectural review sessions almost always include some comment of regret that another old house is headed to a dumpster.
Recently I read an article titled “We must kill McMansions.” No wiggle room with that opinion, is there? According to the author and much to my surprise, there has apparently been a 6 decade decline in the miles driven by Americans. With urban sprawl as it is I suspected it would the opposite. The author tied this statistic to our appetite for larger homes. Since 1973 the square footage of the average American home has grown by 50% to 2,521square feet. Correspondingly, our housing budgets have risen from 26% of our income to 41%. The author goes on to point out that despite these numbers the rise in multi-family units (apartments/townhomes) is holding at 40% of the market. Those are remarkable statistics. The question is how do they relate to us?
Simple: dirt is getting expensive because more and more people want a pieces of a finite commodity. For the first time that I can remember, there is a spec home going up in our part of the world that the builder expects to get $1.2 million dollars for. Is it a McMansion as in Exhibit A or Exhibit B? Or is it a truly fine custom home that will up the ante for those that come after it? I’m betting some nearby property owners who maintain their 1950 ranch style and have upgraded a few things, find its presence threatening. It’s just as likely that an equal number of nearby property owners’ see it as their ticket to making a bundle when their 2 bedroom, one bath cottage goes on the market.
Most of us, even the ones that want a new two story house with all the bells and whistles, appreciate it when a traditionalist upgrades an original structure. But according to a recent article in the Leader those traditionalist may be a dying breed. Leader reporter, Cynthia Lescaleet, found that “flippers” who rehab older properties for a profit are slowly dropping out of our local market. Rising real estate prices are driving them elsewhere. The old axiom of buying low and selling high has become harder to do because the getting-in price makes any reasonable upgrade cost prohibitive. A local real estate agent told me recently that the old model of asking more than your expect to get when you list your home is out. The new model is to ask lower than you want and get out of the way so bidders can start fighting. Some buyers are even submitting essays to the sellers in an effort to win over sellers with personal stories of why they need that home. This all points to the obvious. Bargains are few and far between. In Lescaleet’s piece a local real estate agent cautioned homeowners who are thinking about dropping a bundle of cash on a major upgrade: “Be careful. You’ll only get lot value for it one day.”
So whether your McMansion mind set fits in one category or the other, we are in for a wild ride for the next couple of years. Rehabbed old is still cool, but for how long? After a lot of soul searching on this subject I’m fully prepared for the day when someone who starts kindergarten this coming fall looks at my house one day and says: “What a great place to build a new home.” In the meantime I’m still trying to figure out a safe way to run a three prong plug in some parts of my house.
And so it goes.