Death of the McMansions

dian57August 22, 2010

Interesting article on today's Yahoo home page. Looks like those of us in smaller homes have been "in the know" all along.

Here is a link that might be useful: Death of the McMansions

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That is great news. We have a couple of them close to us, and they've been works in progress for several years now, and don't look anywhere near finished. They are ugly eyesores, too large for the property, what were the people thinking.

Our little cottage is our haven from the hectic world we live in. We are still working on decluttering, and remodeling. It's easy to heat during the winter, and easy to keep cool in the summer.

Hurray for 'living small'.


    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 7:26AM
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I saw the article yesterday. I'm glad to see people's attitudes shifting.

What remains to be seen is, what will these new developments with smaller homes look like? From the developer's perspective, the attitude of maximum profit with no concern for what the project will look like in 10, 20 or 50 years remains prevalent. From the general buyers perspective, planned obsolescence is an acceptable concept with most products they buy and that attitude is working itÂs way into the housing market. Many home buyers are somewhat transient and are perfectly willing to put up with cheap construction, and lack of lasting aesthetic appeal because in many cases, they have no intentions of putting down roots there. Add in the negative effects of a high tenant verses owner-occupant ratio that is prevalent in affordably priced homes and neighborhoods and it is doubtful that the next generation of smaller, hopefully less expensive neighborhoods will evolve into the desirable, appealing, village like, older neighborhoods that are common in most every city today.

I am a mortgage lender for a small, community bank. On Friday, a Realtor friend of mine asked me to drive out to a house he has been asked to put on the market. He wanted a non-biased, disinterested partyÂs opinion of the house and neighborhood. We drove into an area I was somewhat familiar with. Developers began taking interest in the area back in the 80Âs. They began by developing single-family homesites with lot sizes around .3 to .5 acres. The homes they built were typical ranch homes with approximately 2,000sf of living space. Another area was laid out to have smaller lots with smaller, brick homes separated by attractive brick fences. The parcel I was driven to was across the street from the older, smaller, brick homes. This parcel remained undeveloped until two years ago. The new developer created a short, one street cul-de-sac lined with about 15 homes. The houses are approximately 1,200sf to 1,400sf with front facing garages and minimal separation between the homes and they have tiny back yards. The front façade is brick and the remainder of the home is inexpensive vinyl siding. The front setback is also very short, leaving a driveway that will only accommodate one vehicle in the driveway itself. The street meets minimum code requirements with not an inch to spare. The same goes for the turn around at the end of the cul-de-sac.

Given the common practice of packing oneÂs garage with useless junk, leaving no room for a vehicle, most residents park in the driveway. Since most families have two vehicles, one vehicle must park in the street. Park a car on either side of the street and emergency vehicles will not be able to access the neighborhood. Turning a fire truck around in the cul-de-sac would require a door to door encouragement to please move your vehicle.

This neighborhood has about a 50/50 ratio of owner-occupants to tenants. Most of the lawns are unkept and few houses have more than a small shrub here and there for landscaping. There is not a single tree in sight.

In short, the subdivision is less than two years old and already looks like it is heading down hill fast.

So, there is the $1 Trillion question. How do you build an affordable neighborhood that doesnÂt follow this path?


    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 10:10AM
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"So, there is the $1 Trillion question. How do you build an affordable neighborhood that doesnt follow this path?"

Scott, and Dian57, this is a very provocative subject, and one I hold dear to my heart.

Our side of town is the one "chosen" for the location of many government insured housing ventures. The high dollar side of town is somehow able to keep them out. In general, our side has traditionally had very large lots, low cost home construction next to very high dollar river front home construction. The sewer system is taxed to its limit already, so adding new neighborhoods is an iffy thing. Some of the old houses sitting on 5 acres or more, are being sold off when the original owner dies, and developers are putting roads into the spaces, and then something like Section 8 homes.

Our part of the city has one thing protecting it from total over development. A negative that is a plus if you will. We are BELOW I-10, AND INSURANCE COMPANIES WILL NOT WRITE POLICIES FOR NEW PROPERTIES. That one thing is preventing the wholesale destruction of our very green tree-lined neighborhoods. Until the insurance issue is satisfied, I do not think developers will be able to get the funding, and buyers the mortgages, required to build these low-income sardine houses.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 10:48AM
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dian57, Very interesting. We have lived as small as 800 SQ FT and as large as 1850 SQ FT. Thought the 1850 was HUGE and as much as I loved living there I was so relieved to move back to a smaller house. We are at 1375 now and it is just perfect for us.We have a 3 and 2 One room is totally dedicated to my art studio. We are very happy with how this house works for us and the occasional guest. We are comfortable and cleaning is not overwhelming as it was in the 1850 SQ FT house.

A friend bought that 1850 SQ FT house and was thrilled with the size. NOW they are selling it because it is just to much to clean. I remember it took me over 20 minutes to vacuum the 35 by 14 foot living room dining room and I would be exhausted from all of it and STILL had the rest of the house to do.

Scott it is interesting to hear about what you are experiencing in your area on small verses large housing. Our neighborhoods here are so diversified. Wonderful small houses next to huge houses crummy next to nice. Love this little city of 150-180 people. Can't wait for the official census to come out so we know how many people. I know we have 90 water meters in use but a few are using two. GADS so that would mean there are about 84 houses lived in in our town. Need to feed my man.

Thanks dian57

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 11:00AM
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The obsession of both developers and clueless buyers with raw square footage, to the detriment of demonstrably more important human and societal factors, is truly one of the more "ig-nernt" herd mentality trends of our Age.

During this current downturn, while the developers' economic and political clout is at a low ebb, it would behoove all of us to become active in our local politics, and thereby pass ordinances prohibiting McMansions. This is done by requiring generous setbacks, height limits with NO exceptions, lower bldg sq. footage to lot size ratios, AIR/SKY RIGHTS, and even, yes, ARBs (Architectural Review Boards).

Few peeps are going to show up at an ARB and champion the non-style/faux-style most McMansions are cobbled together with. JUST SAY NO TO FAUX, lol... ;')

(Just say YES to Mid-Century Modernism (aka "MidMod", aka "MiMo")... STILL ahead of its time... and nothing better has come along yet... ;')

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 12:31PM
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I read that article too. I see a lot of newer subdivisions here just like ML described. They are tract houses, every third one looks exactly alike. There are a couple of streets down my road like that, and since there is no room to park in the street (they'll be ticketed), their guests park in the yard beside the street. Lovely.

When we first moved here, the houses were kept up, but as the years have gone by, a lot of them are rentals and very run down.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 1:45PM
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fixizin. That is a thought to set restrictions. But then you will have people complaining government is trying to be too controlling. I doubt we have too much to worry about here. I have not sold a building permit since March 2009. Still I do know here the people would totally freak out if the city council tried to set these restrictions.

I would bet the economy will be the end of the Mc Mansions. They will do them selves in. Even in our cozy house with artic pack insulation and all I would HATE to have to pay to heat more in the winter. With electric going up all the time just our electric bill can run up to $250 a month or so. WHY we are looking into alternative heat.


    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 1:53PM
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This is why some inner-city neighborhoods are experiencing rebirths/revivals. I live in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland very close to downtown. Lots of huge shade trees, old victorians/worker's cottages...very nice neighborhood. The occasional hookers and crackheads walk by, but what do you expect when you live in the city? There's a lot of diversity. It happens and we've accepted it.

Anyhoo, to ME, McMansions aren't necessarily "huge". To me, McMansion is a "style" - that is to say, a mixed up jumble of eclectic styling. Even some 2200 sq ft houses "look like" mcmansions.

Just like yesteryear, some of these houses will stand the test of time, some of them won't.

And, interestingly, Queen Anne Victorians were the McMansions of their day. Who knows, maybe in 100 years, 3000 sq ft McMansions will be as valued as a Victorian?

In any event, the real problem in new neighborhoods is lack of urban planning...streets with no sidewalks, cul-de-sacs, not enough trees (or if there are trees, tiny crabapples instead of "heritage trees"), etc.

There's nothing unusual or new about houses being crammed together...that's how they were built in the city. What is new is the way the neighborhood is designed.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 3:13PM
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"I see a lot of newer subdivisions here just like ML described. They are tract houses, every third one looks exactly alike. "

they built a whole new city like that here... in the past 10-12 yrs they issued over 100,000 building permits. The land out here was cheap and the developers went hog wild.

there are a lot of HUGE houses and in some areas some really small ones. a large number of them are empty / being foreclosed on. for this they destroyed the desert wildlife out's disgusting to me. even the huge ones are lucky to have 20' out their back doors and 6' on the sides.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 3:21PM
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Can you say ostentatious?? Most are cookie cutter designs, on a postage-size lot. IMO, if you're in the market for an extra large home, a good idea would be to purchase a historic home and renovate. The cost w/renovations would probably be comparable to what a MM would cost new. ;o)

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 3:52PM
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idaho, not sure what lot size you're talking about, and yep, not much chance or need to "gov't control" McMansions on 5+ acre sites. But the all-too-often scenario in my water-bounded, built-out neck of the woods is a classic ONE-STORY neighborhood that is esthetically TRASHED by two- and even THREE-STORY MMs. Pre-existing folks just ass-u-me-d there were "rules" against it... nope, turns out 'twas just decades of reliance on good taste and good neighborliness... once that was gone... =:O

Seeing the shoddy construction on some MMs almost makes you pray for a Cat 5 hurricane.

RE: From one of the linked articles, mentioning fire access, and dumb-ass/corrupt suburban street design:
I once lived in a very "tracty" cookie-cutter development in Las Vegas, built in 1991, zero-lot on one side, one car-length setbacks to garage door, spillover on-street parking a regular feature, etc... but in terms of fire dept. access, the city planners, to their credit, required the streets be a full FIVE lanes wide, and the more outlying cul-de-sacs had crash-thru gates, and the LVFD fire trucks had the "cow-catchers" to do the crashin'!

This development (Peccole Ranch) also had lots of set asides for public greenspace, and the drainage swales formed a loop of walking trails... except when it rained, lol.

The downside of this, of course, is that those uber-wide streets were all blacktop... in the desert sun... heat island effect, anyone?

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 4:51PM
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"The downside of this, of course, is that those uber-wide streets were all blacktop... in the desert sun... heat island effect, anyone?"

OH NO kidding I bet it would cause an inferno. Being the city clerk here I am having to dig through ordinances made in the last 10 years to sort out a huge mess. I do remember seeing one there that said roads were to be 40 foot wide and the setbacks escapes me. This is on NEW subdivisions. Well here it might happen some day but not some day soon. What is odd is the old city streets were already 60 foot wide. So not really sure what to think if it and need to sort it out. I think the next town down the mountain the streets are 80 foot.

Course most towns do not have designated cattle drive routs through them and the narrower roads do help to keep the cows in line. AND houses were so much smaller back in the early days. The next door neighbor to us right now. No one lives there now.

With no jobs our town has been loosing population for the last 80-90 years. This used to be a town of over 2000 and now maybe 180 at the most. Like I said before I am anxious to see this new census.

I also agree the MM style is a good part that and not just the size of the house. Life to excess. WE do not live that way but we do have all we want. We just do not want for much.Just in that there is a difference in life style.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 5:29PM
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YES! I will be so glad when this trend of huge houses ends. I like the concept of "right-sizing." Yesterday, DH and I toured a 1,00 sqft home during a solar energy presentation. With nearly 20 people milling through the house, there was room to spare. (of course, they won't be in your bedrooms if they're over as company). FOr the two of us, it would be just enough space for sure. Today, we toured a neighborhood of homes ranging from 1800-3200 sqft (yikes!). I was delighted when the realtor actually pointed us toward the smaller homes when he found out we were a family of two. That never happens around here. Everyone wants to show us 5 bedroom mcmansions, claiming we'll have to move soon if we buy something smaller. Seriously? THere was MORE than enough room in the 1800 sqft places we saw today, and that's with a family in mind.

Here's a link for the little place. I took a couple pics and posted them, but you can find more if you google "Lew Oliver, nest." ON his blog, you click "featured" at the bottom. It's a lovely little place that lives large. The use of light was most impressive.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 9:40PM
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Shades, I really do like that tiny neighbor house. But it is in the wrong town for me.

I could look it up again, but I'm just going to respond to the statement that in 100 years the McMs may be the QueenAnnes of their day. I do not think they are being built well enough to last that long. A good old Queen Anne might be a conglomeration of architectural styles, but it was built strongly if not wisely. The McMs just are thrown together in a hurry, springing up like mushrooms. Nothing wrong with building a structure with a limited lifespan if you know the difference and realize it will come a tent does, or a little metal storage shed. Our society has been called the "disposable" society, and it is a philosophy that is extending to home building.

But even in Mobile now, they are requiring that sheds and such be held in place with tiedowns and such. Who wants to have a building come flying through the air to crush their possessions! So the International Residential Building Code of 2006 is the one adopted almost without exception here in our fair city. I hope it means that new homes will be built better.

In some ways, the code limited the financially challenged from making home improvements, if they cannot afford the new style windows this calls for, or a new roof which can withstand 140 mile/hour winds. Looking at the way our contractor is adding on the tub and closet bumpout to our house built in 1950, I know where I will seek shelter should a tornado or hurricane blast through the neighborhood. Right in my new closet. Yep. It might end up going, but not without a struggle. All those tie downs into the poured foundation, and the way it is put together, I think it will be pretty darn strong. It just won't FLOAT if the water comes up above 25 feet. We sit 22 feet above sea level here now, and that is really HIGH for this area south of I-10. One reason we decided to settle here.

Hmmm, did I get offtrack again? Sorry.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 9:56PM
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80 foot wide side streets? Wow. Is that common out west? If you figure 12 feet for each car, and 12 feet for one side for parking, that's 36' max. Most of the streets here in the city are quite a bit more narrow than that. Isn't that just a waste of concrete to have a 60 or 80' residential street?

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 11:17PM
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ML I totally understand the added strength needed in building in areas where you like. Even our little junky garden shed, which it really is made of satellite dish fins and used tin roofing, is anchored to the ground with fence stakes. They do not really show but each side it driven and cross tied and braced to the ground.Certainly not like a house but this baby would take off like a kite with out tie downs.

Also there is a requirement for the house and we had to do special tie downs in the cement foundations. They only stick up a few inches but were well over a foot long anchored into the cement. Then there is a metal strap that threads through and tied to the frame of the house.

krycek. The streets in Weiser are 80 foot wide. Some of them. They are also four lane. Two each way. Seems over kill until winter and then with all the snow the streets narrow down so much on a heavy snow year.Mostly I think they were planning in growth. Not happening. Yet anyway.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2010 at 1:41AM
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young-gardener, I enjoyed the tour of the nest as well as your blog. Hard to believe utilities for $200 a year isn't it? Was that sitting area that faced the kitchen the entire living area and is there anything upstairs past the little sitting area? I wish he had a floor plan on his website so I could get an idea of the space better than a few carefully set up photos.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2010 at 8:51AM
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Weren't the wider streets for horse and wagons? I know SL built the city with wide streets so they could turn around.,...long ago. This may hold true for many old towns.

MCMs are built all over my neighborhood too. They wait until 2 or 3 houses with attached lots are for sale. Some of the MCMs are vacation houses because of the golf course and many seminars held at the large hotel sitting inbetween the neighborhood. I can ignore most of the big things, we still have wonderful eras owners are prizing and kept up well.

There are a lot of teeny house rentals in back yards, not allowed now, but 30yrs ago it was and still is a great income. I doubt if you could build an 10000 ' house now.

A neighbor stopped by recently while I was in the front yard. He said the big house down the street cost over a 1,000 to water the lawn. I haven't figured this one out forever, Denver was the orignal xeriscape implementer. You would think they would get it and use it. But even the city/county buildings don't use it, still all lawn with this little 5X5 square as an example of xeriscape.

Our downtown is georgious with big beautiful victorians. It is always a joy to drive down there. But most are split into apartments for college students. Or many turned into businesses, they still maintain their character though. It would be a tough call to turn the MCMs into apartments here, not much around to get easily to. Maybe retirement homes or whatever. I'd think an expensive option though. The million dollar homes for sale here are in the dozens. The small homes are selling at what once was, nice.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2010 at 9:09AM
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Emagineer, I have grown disgruntled with HGTV and the House Hunters show especially, which has been featuring houses way up there in price. It blows my mind that there are people with budgets of $1 to $5 million!

Somehow the show loses credibility by featuring these people. I suppose all us small potatos might like to see how the other half lives, but frankly it is offensive. There is only so much SPACE to be enclosed in a home, and then it becomes something besides a home. There might be an interest in shows like "Rich and Famous" whatever, but I find it pretentious to have families glibly debating the merits of one $$$ house over another.

The same goes for Selling NY, the new show on HGTV this season. I guess it shows a piece of the apple that us common folk don't see, but honestly....why should they expect me to CARE?

I'd much rather see more of the green homes, the spatially economical, the ones with super conservative utility systems, smaller spaces that have multiple use options, outside buildings which could be garages or pool houses or gardening sheds or studios. And located in such a way that someone like Sandy who wants a sewing room would not feel separated from the rest of her obligations and her family.

These McMs were a bad dream after consuming too much candy in an over-reaching economyy, and now bring on the Pepto!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2010 at 11:42AM
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I'm glad to hear it! I live in central Illinois and for years they have been eating up our corn fields and open prairie (really the only beauty a completely flat land can have) with hideously laid out homes that are identical, each with the rainbow colored playset in the backyard and the one struggling pear tree in the front. I was with my mom once when she wanted to go to a garage sale in one of these neighborhoods and it was actually a little traumatizing. It was so barren and deserted looking I couldn't believe people were able to live there, it made you want to run away, what a wasteland!

In all fairness, there ARE some areas around her with new homes that are enormous that are doing a good job. Curving, generous streets, full brick and stone facades with heirloom trees planted, I really appreciate the effort of these builders to make beautiful homes regardless of the price (and boy do they sell for $$$!) but they are also kept up nicely. I think in 50 years these will be very nice areas...

Because we have (had) so much open land, there is (thankfully) VERY little new construction in older neighborhoods. There is only one NC in our whole area that I can think of and it is moderately sized and fits in well. I couldn't live in a NC though, the construction practices are appalling. The builder of our neighborhood in the 50's double boarded all our walls (inside and outside) instead of drywall, hence all of our walls are wood, the basement is poured cement instead of block, the whole thing is like a little fortress. I do have to pick on their layouts though, every cape on the street has a horizontal staircase which is absurd when thinking about future projects.

Personally I tend to think that the "open layout" design of these larger homes will go out very soon, I can see it both ways but I definitely prefer not to have rooms spilling into each other quite so much.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2010 at 12:41PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

Looks as if the news is out. Here's a thread on the same subject, from the Home Decorating Forum:

"Good riddance McMansions!"

    Bookmark   August 23, 2010 at 12:55PM
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marti- Here is a link to all of the plans for The Nest. They are all by Lew. Hopefully it will give you a better idea of the space. The one photographed is Plan D. The loft was the only second sitting area, and it has a desk and two chairs. The extra storage closet in the upstairs BR was most impressive.

Scroll down the page and click on the floorplans to enlarge them. In the model, they reconfigured the layout of the laundry/master closet/half bath so the laundry was stacked in a second closet in the master, right behind the half bath and it had a full walkin closet where the laundry is supposed to go. The tub is where the toilet is supposed to be, and the toilet is straight ahead when you walk into the master bathroom, and they put in two sinks instead of one. They changed the LR window that's along the porch to double french doors. Well, gee, that makes it sound like they changed a lot, but really they didn't.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2010 at 7:24PM
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mama_goose, thanks for that link. I read through almost the whole thread, I'm just so used to the square foot numbers in the small homes forum that after a while I couldn't believe the number of zeros! I guess I didn't think "real" people lived in 8,000sqft houses! I guess though that there are some beautiful, very large homes on our "grand view drive" overlooking the river that people must live in. I definitely wouldn't classify them as mcmansions though, they are old and gorgeous...

In that thread they seemed to be struggling for a mcmansion definition...I guess in my mind I associate them with tract homes regardless of the size, just all identical and smushed next to each other with the same rubbermaid mailbox in the sidewalk lining their tree-less streets. In all fairness though, sixty years ago my neighborhood would have been similar, they're not identical and the lots aren't tiny but they are modest and all the homes are cape cods with different variations/layouts. I think the hills and curving streets make the difference though...and of course the mature trees now :)

    Bookmark   August 24, 2010 at 1:47AM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

You're welcome, enigma. I noticed there are now 3200+ comments to the original article. I don't want to tell anyone else how to build their home(s), or regulate size, style, etc., but it seems to me that to design a home in the vernacular would be best. We live in a rural area--no zoning laws, no permits for anything except septic systems, so anything goes. The houses are mostly older farmhouses, newer ranches and modular homes, and a few trailers parked on a relative's property.

Within a half-mile of our house are 4 new builds, two of them on opposite corners, 1/4 mile from our driveway. Three of them are two-storey, 3000-3500sf brick homes with Palladian-type windows, and attached garages in the front. The homes are beautiful, well-built, I assume, because they were sub-contracted by the owners, built on land that was part of the original farm that we also live on, and not as tract-housing.

One of the brick homes is on the corner of our road and a state highway, about 25 feet from the highway, with only enough back yard to support an aerator, and park a boat. It backs onto another lot of the same size, undeveloped, unmaintained and weedy. We are all surrounded by cultivated or grazed farm land. Personally, I would have spent more money on a larger lot or acreage, and less on the home, especially as they built after both of their children were grown.

The new build across the highway is a modular cape, probably 1400sf, in the traditional style with a detached garage, and it looks much more 'at home' in it's surroundings.

These are all nice folks, some we've known for years, all (save one) in roughly the same per-capita income bracket, but the brick homes are bordering on the McMansion status, to me, because they don't fit the feel of the area. The brick may have been chosen because of low-maintenance issues, but a farmhouse, even a 3500sf farmhouse, would look better, IMO.

The land around us is currently leased for farming, but may eventually be a tract development--I've seen lots of cornfields developed, too.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2010 at 8:57AM
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