Too Much of a Good Thing

Home ownership is the American dream. Also uniquely American; unnecessary excess. Putting these two concepts together gave us the 8,500+ square foot family home. The idea of owning three times more living space than you would ever need is very American. Very, turn-of-the-century American.

As city dwellers scavenge for every square inch of living space, some suburbanites are finding they have too much of it. Since 1973, the average U.S home has increased about 1,000 square feet. Good news for the planet, homes are getting smaller again. Statistically, 2007 was our heaviest year with an average of; 2,521 square feet. Today, the average home is around 2,350 square feet. Still these numbers don’t tell the real story.

Professional baseball and home building experienced their steroid eras around the same time. As Sosa and McGwire battled it out in a drug-addled home run contest, home builders were outdoing themselves in terms of building prestige through bloated artificial square feet numbers. Suddenly, home theatres, gyms, yoga rooms, wine cellars, a seasonal solariums, in-law suites, teen suites, game rooms and wrapping rooms all became standard issue. With every home run, builders grew houses in size; 5,500 sq, 6,700 sq, 7,800 sq, 11,250sq, all the way to “what the hell were you thinking” sq. 

And all across America, people were asking their friends; “who’s buying all these places?” We, “kinda” knew at the time, but hindsight has confirmed, the idea of building the XXXL family home was a trend at the tail-end of a significant generational shift. Depending on how old you are; McMansions were either your father’s or your grandfather’s vision. And, that vision isn’t positioned well for generations going forward.

I once spoke with a very upset seller who swore I was doing something wrong because his, $150K under market value McMansion wasn’t selling. I asked him what his monthly energy costs were. “Most of the time it’s under $2K”. Herein lies our problem.

McMansion enclaves are usually drop-dead, magazine gorgeous. Big, gorgeous and secluded. Sounds great right? Well…? Energy costs are just the start. Remember, gorgeous costs. Landscaping routinely runs about the same as an average home mortgage. Add, larger than life HOA dues, plus elevated taxes and insurance. Throw on a healthy budget for ongoing maintenance and repair and the McMansion vision becomes less and less viable for future home buyers.

Today’s trends speak to carbon footprints, sustainability, waste and efficiency. Being practical is prized. Say what you will of the McMansion: but, practical they ain’t.

These days, younger million-dollar buyers are looking for more upscale, feature-laden townhomes or condominiums in-town or near community centers. Today, a home’s walkability factor is a prized feature. As we live in ever increasing electronic isolation, today’s newer buyers aren’t as keen to having acreage between themselves and their neighbors. Community is good.

McMansions are an easy target. But, the suburbs are filled with homes larger than they need to be. If you see room after room without a discernable function, even if it looks pretty, it may be too large. While technically not a McMansion, 4,500 square feet is still a large space. But ask yourself, would your life be that negatively affected if it were living in a 3,500 square foot home? Probably not. Yet the ramifications of taking on an additional 1,000 square feet are huge. Taxes, insurance, upkeep and maintenance. Over time, many XL homeowners are paying tens of thousands of dollars for rooms they never go in.

In many ways, real estate has become the management of square feet. City dwellers utilize every square inch. Suburbanites must manage their square feet against practical. What is practical? Hard to tell, but your future buyers will certainly let you know.

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