Smaller, More Efficient Homes On The Horizon

triciaeOctober 27, 2008

I'm sitting here looking at the Dow futures, reading through this morning's news, & feeling reflective.

I remember responding to a thread here 18-20 months ago that my DH had attended a meeting where homebuilders from across the country spoke of shifting their design staff to smaller & much more efficient homes noting they were meeting with yacht builders for ideas on efficiency & storage solutions. Mostly, I was "poo poo'd" & accused of just being anti-McMansion. DH listened to what those builders were saying & began the process of adjusting the bank's strategic planning to reflect smaller loans.

As the housing boom has collapsed that meeting looks almost prophetic. When any boom's never led out by the same product that led to the collapse. A bust of any magnitude results in a sea change in people's attitude reflected in their desire for significant change. Combined with a rising 'green movement' (which I also predicted & was even more "poo poo'd" for) people are going to be clammering for smaller & more efficient housing.

McMansions are going to be white elephants for the foreseeable future, IMO. Sure, there will always be demand, at some level, for a large home. Telecommunting will keep a few properly designed large homes viable for a while; but, the days of people aspiring to & builders responding with subdivision after subdivision of gated, 4,000-6,000 s.f. homes filled with non-renewable resources are now a part of our history not our future.

My grandkids will be looking at purchasing their first homes in about ten years. IMO, as they drive around looking at choosing a neighborhood they'll point to the huge aging houses & mutter "Oh man, look at all these decaying homes. Some developer needs to come in here & condo these things into multi-family housing!"

Even as the market recovers these McMansions won't command the prices of 2004-2006. The next generation of home buyers will want a different product. They'll become the looming symbols of excess that charcterizes this financial collapse. It will take many decades for them to attain "vintage" appeal that some up & coming young couple will want to restore to its original condition in an affort to 'preserve heritage'. :(

I wonder what will happen to those dozen, or so, that sit empty & unsold in my area? Will they ever sell with those soaring ceilings that require heat, the kitchens that necessitate rollar skates to function efficiently, & endless slow to regenerate hardwood flooring? Or, will they continue to sit deteriorating in our harsh weather? There has been massive wealth destruction in the past couple months. I imagine even old New England money has been hit hard...I feel sorry for the elderly couple who's home we toured spring '07 with the incredible view of LIS. They'd already moved to their new, even larger home & felt this home would sell within days. It's still sitting there empty. We drove by a few weeks ago & the roof has lost some shingles from when H. Hanna blew thru in early September. It came on the market for $1.595M spring '07. It's now listed with the same agent at $1.395M. I predict it will sell for around $800K...and that only because of the view.

Some of these houses were built with enough quality they will withstand the passage of time & the changing consumer environment graciously & in many years become like the 1920s mansions. Sadly, those built with true jaw-dropping quality are few in number. Most are just semi-custom large boxes constructed without the true design, style, & level of workmanship to raise them to that level. Someday, our grandkids will be touring a few & gawking in wonder at the display of easy money characterizing this past decade in much the way we now tour Newport's Golden Age mansions. What? Maybe one in a thousand? What will become of the rest? It's going to take the passage of centuries for them to blend into the New England landscape full of large colonial homes. Many were built by people with adequate resources to afford the finished product & few McMansions went to subprime borrowers but...people are visual. So, for now, they have become the tangible poster child for the largest financial collapse since the Great Depression.


"The homes, while smaller, feature large open spaces, a so-called great room often linking the living room and dining room area that might have previously been walled off. The homes also have a two-car garage standard and storage space.

"The square footage isn't the focus, it's really the utility and efficiency and flexibility of the home that is our focus," Ruffner said. "You could have a three-bedroom, 2,500 square-foot single-story home and all you had was wide hallways and bigger rooms. It wasn't really giving (buyers) the utility."


Here is a link that might be useful: Builders Shift to Smaller Houses

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"'s hard to fix something that keeps breaking."


Here is a link that might be useful: Why The Housing Crisis Is Hard To Fix

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 7:43AM
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Not to sound pompous, but having lived in a 2200 sf home before this one, i can honestly say i would never go back to that small in the near future..3 children 2 dogs, and frequent guests make my current home of 4000+ sf exactly what we need now...
and as i have posted many times, 2200 sf was too much when my parents visited when we bought that home...They thought their 1700 sf Cape Cod was perfect..BUT, my grandparents thought my parents home was WAY too large, and loved their 1200 sf row home in NYC...all perception, and generational

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 7:51AM
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Cindy Noll

I've never lived in a 2200 sq. ft. home. Have raised 2 kids and 2 dogs in my 1500 sq. ft which is up from 1200 sq. ft. that we built in the 1980s. It was built this way because rates were 12% and we built what we could afford. Somehow we have lived with 4 people and 1 bathroom for over 2 decades. Guests can find a hotel. I am not paying for space I use once or twice a year.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 8:39AM
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I remember that thread!
I was very excited because that was the kind of house I had been looking for and couldn't find. I had wanted new construction after living in some really old homes, but I couldn't stomach the kinds of houses builders were making.

We ended up buying a fixer upper that was underpriced, planning to be in a good cash position when prices dropped. Then we could pick up a bargain whether or not we sold this house. But we've been thinking firstly, that this 1700sf house is not so bad, and secondly that we'd rather wait and see what the next wave of new construction will bring. I hope your smaller, greener, more efficient houses are right on the horizon in my part of Connecticut.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 11:42AM
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My current 2500 sq foot home is too large, but adaptable.

My parents built on a 600 sq ft. room for them to stay in when they visit. I close that off except when company is coming.

When my knees and ankle becaome a problem, and they will eventually, I'll close off the upstairs, and use their large bedroom as my own.

I do wish now that I hadn't done such high ceilings int he 2 additions, but at this point I'm not willing to lower them, maybe eventually.

I wold like to put solar panels on my barn, and a personal windmill in the back pasture. I don't currently have the money for these 2 projects, but will at some point.

The big windmills are going up in my local rural area, and causing quite a stir. I think they are good, but many people do not. They put windmills on the waterfront in Buffalo, and people complained that they ruined their view. I asked, What View? The windmills were placed on the old Bethlehem Steel plant property. The view of a decaying steel plant is better than a cleaned up propoerty with some windmills????

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 12:29PM
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Looks like smaller, more efficient furniture is on the horizon as well. This should be good news for college students and retirees (or petite persons) who often find it necessary to hire or recruit help to move or re-arrange what heavier furniture they have.

Demographics, markets shrink furniture designs
Oct 25, 2008
By Chuck Burton, AP

Furniture manufacturers are responding to downsizing baby boomers and the growing appeal of urban living by reducing the scale of dressers, coffee tables, night stands, and the like.The trend tracks the slowing residential real estate market and demographic changes.

"Increasingly, people are choosing to live by themselves, with apartments and flats becoming a more popular choice of residence in metropolitan areas. These smaller households therefore also drive large demand for smaller furniture items," according to a recent report by IBISWorld Inc., a Los Angeles-based industry intelligence firm.

Smaller furniture also is in line with moves by home builders to trim the scale of some new homes to meet reduced buying power. KB Home, which once offering large homes with expensive amenities, has redesigned its new home layouts from 3,400 square feet, to 2,400 square-foot homes. And it recently unveiled a 1,230-square-foot home for the foreclosure-stricken Southern California market.

A link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 1:03PM
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The downsizing of homes and furniture is a direct result of the downturn in the financial markets,be it homes,stocks/et al....When the economy turns,which it will at some point,the "excesses" will return,for better or worse

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 1:07PM
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I agree, qdog, that when this immediate crisis recedes there will once again develop some type of excess. But, it will not be in the same type of housing associated with this excess. Americans are creative...we will think of something not envisioned today.

There's tremendous pent-up demand for housing now; but buyers are going to want a different product going forward. Manufacturers will introduce new products, styles, colors, etc. to entice people. Americans are so 'over' their McMansion phase. They'll want something new to get excited about. Grante counters, Wolfe & Sub-Zero SS appliances, & two-story foyers are going to draw the, "Oh my gosh, it's SOOOOO dated! Let's go look at those new stylish homes over on Main Street. They look so easy to live in!", from buyers.


    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 1:28PM
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It'll be interesting to see,thats for sure...I still have serious doubts that homeowners will scale down from wolfe/subzero's(not that i have them)..Just like a Mercedes owner would NEVER trade down to a Toyota...

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 2:56PM
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I don't see that much of a change either - but that is just my opinion. Space is always nice to have and designed well - it is not the energy hog that an old house can be.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 3:18PM
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It'll be interesting to see,thats for sure...I still have serious doubts that homeowners will scale down from wolfe/subzero's(not that i have them)..Just like a Mercedes owner would NEVER trade down to a Toyota...

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 4:46PM
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qdognj - I couldn't help myself, but I guess I traded down from the Mercedes to a Toyota. Haven't had to have any warranty work done since. Was not happy with my ML as it left me stranded out in the middle of nowhere with computer problems. Also had lots of rattles etc. The CLK wasn't much better. Never got rid of the vibrations in the front end and it also had computer issues. My Camry on the other hand I'm very happy with from a grocery getter/commuter stand point. Got other vehicles for the fun although the SE camry handles really well too.

I do see your point though that unless you feel you have wasted space or like me issues with a product that it would be hard to trade down if you can still afford what you have and you happen to really like it.

I do wish at times that we had a smaller house as we tried our hardest to keep a smaller size and not have areas we don't use on a regular basis. We still ended up with 2300 sq ft (goal was 1900 sq ft). So far we're using all rooms except the breakfast area. Once we have our little one I think that will be the play area as it will satisfy the kiddos need to be near us and within our line of sight from all but the bedrooms, so I don't feel too bad about it.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 5:25PM
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don't drive a Mercedes either,lol...But i do have 2 alleged upscale vehicles,lol...And i can assure you,i wouldn't trade down to a Hyundai,ever...My point is people will continue to whatever they can afford,whether its high end vehicles,larger homes,vacation homes etc...This downturn in housing and economy and stock market will be painful to many,but others will thrive...And time heals all wounds... ;)

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 5:44PM
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I live in a 2,000 SF townhouse. The SF is fine but the layout is not so great. I would love to some day live in a "Not So big House" like Sarah Susanka designs.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Not So Big House.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 8:36PM
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Some of the biggest homes in older communities are also the OLDEST ones -- big old Victorians and huge lakefront villas. 'Big' isn't always 'new', as in McMansions. The difference is that the old homes were built when people had big families and live-in help. The 'prestige' factor isn't new either.

Our town's preservation society claims it isn't 'green' to tear down older homes to replace them with 'more energy efficient' ones, nor to replace old single pane windows. The removal goes into landfill and the low-E double pane replacement windows will fail in a couple of decades. They claim old windows merely need storms and caulking to be just as efficient. Not sure I buy that, and what about the mechanicals and insulation?

DH and I started looking for a one-story 'small house with big rooms' in the late 1990's. We ended up custom building. Around 2005 builders began offering a few one-story plans instead of just big two-story boxes. Now we hear more about 'quality not just quantity' building. A good thing!

Never underestimate the market force of Boomers! I wonder how the post-Boomer group will impact housing. There was a big dip in numbers; I remember school districts downsizing from the time our DS started kindergarten.

I'd sure welcome some smaller-scaled furniture and vehicles.

Funny about cars. At one time we owned a little Toyota wagon (RR station car, mostly) and a Jaguar sedan. I had to remember which I was driving when I came to a four-way stop sign. If it was the wagon, I was expected to yield. If it was the Jag, other cars yielded. (Thus endeth the Sociology lesson for today.)

    Bookmark   October 28, 2008 at 10:34AM
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Actually, it surprises me how many Gen X and Y couples that I know, either want to have, or already have started, having children. It's definitely a higher percentage than the Boomers I know.

At one point during the period when I worked at a dot-com consulting company, 43 of the 350 employees were expecting their first or second child, including the two brothers who co-founded the company. And of course, the rise in minorities equals higher birth numbers as well. One of the things my DH's family has always disliked about me is that I didn't want to have children - something that in their Catholic eyes, was as close to a sin as you could get.

Boomers will need universal design one-story designs, of which there are pitiably few in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2008 at 12:06PM
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jkom51 -- Your area may get some flat land and one-story houses after The Big One. LOL

The son of dear friends is with Risk Management. He and his family, his sister and his parents all live in the Bay area *despite* knowing "it's coming".

    Bookmark   October 28, 2008 at 12:42PM
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lyfia: "Was not happy with my ML as it left me stranded out in the middle of nowhere with computer problems. Also had lots of rattles etc. The CLK wasn't much better. Never got rid of the vibrations in the front end and it also had computer issues."

Brand new 2002 C Class..WORST car we ever owned. It was a Yugo disguised as a Mercedes. Head gasket at 10K miles...gas gauge NEVER worked..despite many attempts to fix...panoramic sunroof worked when it wanted to.Seats did not always move back after moving forward...locks and windows temperamental...power steering pump went at 25K miles...replacement on back order.

I LIVED at the dealership...finally took a loss to get rid of it..Have had Infinti's and Acura's since, along with Honda and Nissan...not one problem.

Research showed that Mercedes quality totally tanked since '99 or so..and about a year ago, they were quoted as finally admitting all of the problems, and that their goal was to achieve the quality level of Toyota.

That said, trading a Mercedes for a Toyota is actually "trading up". :-D

    Bookmark   October 28, 2008 at 3:32PM
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I would prefer efficient layout & quality over size any day. There are a lot of McMansions around here -- they are about 4000-6000sqft and there are so many wasted rooms: like the wine tasting room next to the wine cellar, the library, massage room next to the master bedroom, etc. One of the model I see actually has 2 toilets in a master bath (his & hers!) I am surprised that the people who buy these houses are actually older folks with older children, and not younger families with young children. Just 2 people living in all that space! When I am old, I probably want a tiny 500 sqft cottage -- I don't want to get loss in my own house. :-)

I hate our current formal DR & formal LR and would gladly trade them for a large family room & large kitchen.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2008 at 4:13PM
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LOL - logic that is exactly how I felt after I got rid of them. Good Riddance!

    Bookmark   October 28, 2008 at 7:49PM
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we just moved to a larger house - 1900 sq.ft. our last house was 625 sq.ft. i don't like the size of this house and i hate the housework that comes with it. i also miss feeling 'cozy' and lower utility bills (and smaller mortgage). where we moved, there was little to choose from when we needed to buy (due to work). we'd have been thrilled with about 1000 - 1200 sq ft. we wanted it to be a little bigger than what we'd had but not this big.

we have wasted space, too. our 'formal dining room' is now an office, which works out well. i have absolutely no idea what to do with the 'formal living room' space. it just sits there. the basement is fully finished and the kids use it as a rec room but there are an additional two bedrooms down there that will hardly ever be touched.

my other gripe is that i can NEVER find my slippers in this place.. >:(

we've already talked about our next home which is about 10 years away. the kids will be grown (hopefully and the house will defintely be under 1000 sq ft. the only benefit i've found regarding extra space is having extra storage but a house doesn't need to be three times larger than our last house to get it.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2008 at 9:26PM
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I grew up in a small house a zillion years ago. When I got married we bought a large house with over an acre of land. We used 'all' the house. Two kids, lots of dogs, lots of hobbies, friends, parties. I could never live in a small house again, I'd feel claustrophobic.

Even now, with my children grown and gone, we still use the entire house. When my kids and grandkids come, there's plenty of room, and space for everyone to be comfortable. We have tons of books, music, grand piano, plants and more plants. I love having my own space as does my husband. No one is tripping over the other.

Everyone thinks we should downsize and I wonder why. Our interests have only grown over the years. Why would I want to live in a small house? If I could afford it, I'd buy one of those giant houses as long as it had enough land for privacy and gardens.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2008 at 11:19PM
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It will be interesting to see just what comes next. We have been looking at relocating. We live in a 35 year old 2500 square foot house that we've been gradually "rebuilding" as things fall apart. It's a unique house on a great lot in a high demand area but it was rather poorly constructed in the 70s. It's getting pretty nice now as we've replaced things with quality materials and craftsmanship. It's along the lines of The Not So Big House now. Quality and character vs. size.

When we looked at houses in the new area I didn't see anything comparable. The new company is in the outskirts of a good sized metro area but much of the nearby housing is pretty new and comparable priced homes are gargantuan, unimaginative, made of cheap materials and on postage stamp size lots and they all start to look the same. Lots of them were vacant and you do wonder how long they will be. I didn't want any of them for many reasons including the fact I might not be able to unload it if I decided to move again.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2008 at 11:28PM
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We have a 2200 sf house in MN and are currently living in an 800 sf apartment in West Los Angeles. During a brief time between the 2, we were staying with friends. They just finished building their 7000 sf house. I've decided that I NEVER would want a house that large and, while 2200 is a better fit, the changes we've had to make in our lifestyles in the 800 sf apartment have been very valuable. We don't have too many spaces to look before we have to find something and I can finally clean my own house! We've been able to reduce our carbon foot print merely out of necessity. There's not alot of room for the tons of stuff we still have stored in MN. While I do miss some of my "stuff", I am happier without most of it bogging me down and holding me back. I agree that efficient and creative use of space and building quality is key for a good purchase.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2008 at 1:35AM
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I just posted to the "McMansions" thread before I read this one, where everyone is saying pretty much exactly what I was trying to....
Anyway, I subscribe to the TNSBH concepts and looked for a house with a flexible, fully usable floor plan. We went from about 3500sf with full basement for storage to our current 2000sf. Had to declutter all the big stuff and still quite a bit of the smaller stuff to go. Added elderly mother and two guinea pigs to the already existing husband working at home, two kids, dog and three parrots (but the parrots live out on the lanai). Sailboat in backyard serves as 3BR/2BA guesthouse; or guests can opt for the pullout sofa or blow up mattresses.

My SIL lives in what I'd guess is a 3500sf house and put an offer in for a larger short-sale in her neighborhood. She's kind of stuck because her house has a weird, inflexible floor plan with lots of open floor space. For example, you could hold a small yoga class in her bathroom because it's just huge with all the bathroom stuff around the walls and open floor in the middle. And it has upstairs and downstairs foyers that are as big as our small bedroom. Can't do much with a foyer. So her only choice is to go bigger if she wants to stay in the same schools because they only built giant homes all around. Her neighborhood in Rocklin is one of the older ones so the homes there are "smaller" than all the newer ones. It's going to be interesting to see what the builders start doing in her neighborhood now...(although it's almost all built out now so that I can barely find her house.)

    Bookmark   November 5, 2008 at 7:34PM
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qdognj wrote:

"t'll be interesting to see,thats for sure...I still have serious doubts that homeowners will scale down from wolfe/subzero's(not that i have them)..Just like a Mercedes owner would NEVER trade down to a Toyota..."

I'm laughing SO hard here, because we did exactly that. We had a 1995 Mercedes E320, and we just got sick of the stupid thing breaking on us over and over again, and always having to pay so much to have it fixed. So, we traded it in for a 2004 Toyota Corolla, brand new, about as basic as you can get. We just needed something to get from point A to B, and as the Merc was letting us down on that front, out it went.

Four years later, we're feeling SO smart. Although we still do look longingly at the beautiful mercedes, we'll not be buying another one.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2008 at 1:26PM
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Not to be demeaning but a 1995 Mercedes is not the analogy i was making in regards to high-end appliances..It is the newer Mercedes to which i was referring...Ask any person who purchased a Mercedes in the last 3 years if they'd trade down to a Toyota...

    Bookmark   November 7, 2008 at 2:15PM
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Ok - 2005 BMW 545 - loaded (heads up display/20 way adj seats etc). Got out of lease early and got me a 2007 Honda Civic.

I looked at MB but wanted the better driving experience of a BMW. I'll give you that the MB is a little glitzier in the interior but they are pretty close on most fronts. And I hope you think that Toyota and Honda are pretty comparable (and a Civic is much less luxurious than an Accord/Camry) so the change in amenities was significant.

Now people definitely raised their eyebrows but then when gas hit $4, they understood the wisdom. I'm not the only surgeon I know driving a Civic either - there is one hospital where 3 of the 12 have Civics (including me - all hybrids)

    Bookmark   November 8, 2008 at 4:32AM
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Back in 1995 the E320 was considered the workhorse of the MB badge.

We looked last year at the mercedes diesel bluetecs, and we just couldn't justify spending that much money on a clean running diesel, no matter how purty it was.

Anybody else out there watch Top Gear on BBC America? So refreshing to watch them regularly verbally demolish luxury cars...

Well, not all of them. They do love the Aston Martin Db9, and Jeremy did get chased by a British Tank in a Land Rover sport he was testing.

Pardon the thread spread...

Here is a link that might be useful: Top Gear

    Bookmark   November 8, 2008 at 7:09PM
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FYI: There is a 'Cars' forum here, for those who want to discuss that subject. This is a Housing forum.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2008 at 7:40AM
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