Which came first, bigger houses or the demand for them?

columbiascAugust 1, 2008

Which do you think happened first? Did the public demand larger houses which caused builders to build bigger houses or did the builders create the demand which started the "great space race"?

~ Scott ~

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I think people came first, but the builders were so close on their tails (when opportunity knocks...) with more money than ever being out there to use, that I can't see that it matters much now... Why does it?

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 6:34AM
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From what I've read, the increase in square footage began in the 1970s. I've always found it odd that as family size shrank, square footage grew, but I don't know what initially sparked this trend.

I do know that when people were, on average, raising three to four children, the average home for these families was 1300 square feet or less. And people saw nothing unusual about this. Nowadays, folks who raise their kids in a smaller house are part of a "small space trend"--back then it was just business as usual.

I think the reasons for the explosion in large homes do matter--if we ever want to see that trend toward large, resource gobbling homes reversed.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 8:42AM
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Marketing? Better jobs, better pay? Spending more and saving less than our parents would have ever considered? Everyone wanting what the other person has? Builders would be very happy to accomodate and the banking industry was right there with them.

Smaller homes were due to the ratio of price versus income. And the explosion of small tract homes was a gift to many in being able to have the working family's dream. Most people couldn't afford much more because your income needed to be 2/3 of the home price and a down was far higher. Wonder when that went away?

Our cars became larger right along with the housing. I honestly believe the SUV is a separate living quarters with all the electronic options avialable. Plus the myriad of activities I see going on while people are driving.

Yes I've had a big house....and the SUV when they first came out with a couple since. But now I'm small in house and car. Thankfully before the energy high and economy hit us. It wouldn't surprise me if the price of a small home starts increasing before larger homes when the housing slump rebounds. Small cars are now higher in price than normal increases and I just read that resell value has jumped 20%.

Just took a train ride from CA to CO yesterday. It was interesting to see huge, beautiful homes built right along the train tracks. Odd that having a home on a train track is now acceptable, buyable. Big, but what a deal? And they are still building plenty of big homes throughout the areas passed by. It didn't feel like there was a housing slump seeing this, nor a trend towards smaller homes.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 9:53AM
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I think human greed preceeded it all.

And then I think that the WWII baby boomers continued it. Vets came home from the war and were happy to have small little starter homes. Their kids, people of my generation (48-64ish), who'd never really wanted for anything figured that what had been a luxury for our parents had now become a necessity for us (individual bedrooms for everyone, central a/c, 2 car garages if not 3 etc). Generally, economic growth supported that lifestyle and marketing played right into the human greed.

I see this continuing and getting worse with the 15-29 crowd today and I have very strong feelings about what I see. Sure, there are exceptions in the 48-64 crowd and exceptions in the 15-35 crowd. However, I also believe that a protracted pullback period in the US economy might be very good for many folks.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 11:32AM
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Thanks for the comments everyone. Lucy, my purpose in asking is mutlifaceted.

First, I simply enjoy chatting with like minded individuals so I am trying to throw out ideas to stimulate more activity on this page. You have to admit, this could be a more active page. Listening and discussing are great brain exercise.

Next, I have become keenly aware of and intruiged by the "super size" mentality that has sweep our country especially during the last 15 years or so. Yes, home sizes have steadily crept up since the 70's but we seem to have absolutley become obsessed with "bigger is better" through the 90's. Examples: soft drink sizes becoming so large that they had to redesign the bottom of the cup so they would fit cup holders, my old '92 Honda Accord is now smaller than the current Civic. Almost all vehicles in production in the 90's have grown exponentially, RAV4, Escape, Eclipse, Camry, CRV, all of them. Don't even get me started on TV's. From an intellectual perspective, I'm trying to decide what people are trying to prove by having the newest, larger item. Is it some widepread Napolean syndrome? Or have we lost the ability to find contentment internally? Maybe it's the "programming" on TV.

Just an intellectual journey, that's all.


    Bookmark   August 3, 2008 at 10:37AM
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I think you just listed most of the reasons. Another one is
that it's what is expected from us. Our head surgen drives
a Benz, Told me one day that it's a POS, he would rather drive a Hondo, But people in his position are expected to drive better. I think it's stupid myself. But sometimes you
have to impress or your skills may come under question.
Stupid i know

    Bookmark   August 3, 2008 at 11:42AM
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I agree with everything already said. I believe the demand came first. The "demands" of some (the wealthy) became the demands of the culture. I think anymore, the demand for the larger home has evolved into a milestone and bragging right on whether one has "made it" in their quest for the American Dream.

The progression of dual-income households with more disposable $$ than back in "the day".

The US has become a throw-away society.

The current society has no first-hand recollection of the depression & what it meant to live humbly or starve.

The evolution of credit cards & mortgages.

Oh, I'm sure there are a bazillion more reasons that all interplay with each other on how this all came about.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2008 at 12:47PM
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Hi, I was browsing thru the forums when I came across yours. I'm de and live in Florida. Just wanted to say besides all that's beens said, I feel that with both couples working outside the home today, I think we'll see smaller homes, and smaller families than years ago, where children helped with all the chores, which now we have all this technology to do it for us. No longer do we need to know a trade to hand down generation after generation...Sad to say tho,...as that's what kept us (in my opinion) in better physical and mental condition. We have two grown children, and when we bought our 2nd home, I took into consideration when they left, just how much home I had to clean..From a 950 sq. ft. home, to a 1400, was big enough, yet not too much for me to continue to take care of. With both our children gown and on their own, we took our sons room and made it into a chids bedroom for our grandson of 4,..and he loves it. Our daughters, I kept for myself with my bad back I needed a firm bed. I Always told my hubby if we ever won the lottery, I would want no more than what we have now,(for family sleepovers).....just more land.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2008 at 10:21PM
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Just to play devil's advocate, though, there's always been a certain level of demand for large houses, especially when larger families, both more children and especially multiple generations living under the same roof, were more the norm than they are today. When we were househunting last summer, we had a jones for old houses and even in this old mill town which has never been very wealthy compared to surrounding towns, many of the ones we encountered were quite large - big Victorians (I was horribly tempted by one that was something like 2800 sf, we're talking inlaid hardwood floors and stained glass and such here, but it needed SO much work!) and sprawling old New England farmhouses. However, "keeping up with the Joneses" and trying to outdo and outshine one's peers has been a standard of Western culture for centuries if not millennia.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2008 at 11:47AM
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Our head surgen drives a Benz, Told me one day that it's a POS, he would rather drive a Hondo, But people in his position are expected to drive better. I think it's stupid myself. But sometimes you have to impress or your skills may come under question.

It certainly is stupid, and hopefully this is a "trend" that's doing a disappearing act. A surgeon driving an expensive vehicle only makes me think that he's getting the goodies from the insurance companies -- not that his skills are somehow superior. What a shallow and illogical society we've become when this kind of thinking is the norm. I say it's high time we all adopt a different mindset.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2008 at 5:35PM
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Here, here Jen. As a mortgage banker I have closed mortgage loans for several doctors. On average they cear about $17,000 to $20,000 per month and have done so for several years yet they still need to borrow money. Amazing!

Doesn't say much for their common sense.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 6:02AM
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As a surgeon I can tell you that most doctors do NOT have a lot of money sense and many of them/us have a mind-bogglingly low net worth. I am happily driving my 99 Camry so I just sneer at that behavior. I have said more than once that in my next life I want to come back as a financial advisor to doctors because it is legalized robbery and oh so easy to do. I used to be in academic medcine and I would sit all the graduating residents down one-on-one and give them my "now is not the time to spend" speech and they generally ignored me and so I generally got to hear stories of great moaning and doom 18 months later when the first big job didn't work out. I would also add that male physicians with non-frugal wives get pushed in deep by what she wants.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 4:58PM
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To Rileysmom,

Glad to count you among the sensible. Considering the hours your profession demands and the daily stress of real life and death decisions you have to make, I honestly do not understand why someone earning that kind of money would allow themselves to get buried/trapped by the debt and lifestyle. It would seem "they" would want to pay off their staggering student debt, pay off a primary residence and maybe a second home, accumalate enough investments to live off of then pull back and refocus on truly enjoying life. With the incomes I see, it's hard to imagine "they" couldn't accomplish all that in about 10 years or roughly 1/3 of the time it takes the rest of us to "get there".

And to be fair, the same goes for other high earning professions that grind people up and spit them out. Not just picking on you Dr. types.

Enjoy the journey.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 7:38PM
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Rileysmom, I did not mean to slam doctors, Sorry it came across that way. I was useing that as an example as to what
some people except from us. My doctor has been great for me. Giving me free help along the way. But i do like the small and simple lifestyle of a small property close in town. I would like to have more land as many have said, but
that comes with much more work. Sorry for the dumb coment.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 11:35PM
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Dear Gary, don't stress. I didn't think your content was dumb. It did make me smile because the general understanding of a typical, honest, really-here-to-help-people doctor's income isn't in sync with reality now (and maybe never has been). Education is an investment and it should be considered in terms of its return. Medical education is an extremely poor investment by any measure, and all the smart people who used to go to medical school are the same smart people who figured that out and now pursue other professional careers. This is why I told my nephew to go to PA school. If it weren't for the rapid expansion of physician extenders there would be a vertiginous lack of primary health care resources within the next 10 years.

The average doctor who is living a prudent lifestyle does not circulate in the upper tiers of society. Key "average" and "prudent". We are not usually worried about monthly bills, but we're not in the million dollar golf course homes either.

Never forget that when you hear some doctor's income reported, it is often 1) practice revenue, not practice profit, or 2) pre-tax personal gross income.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2008 at 3:43PM
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Two points just to set things straight.

1. I too did not intend to slam doctors. That was just the first example that came to mind.

2. The incomes I refered to were net deposits which would have been after taxes, ss, malpractice, etc.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2008 at 7:44PM
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**have we lost the ability to find contentment internally?**
I think so, IMHO.

This is a great thread!

DH and I also would love more land. We've said we wish we could transport our little 50's cottage, workshop, sm. barn and other storage buildings out into the country on about 5 acres. Our 1/4 acre off a 5 lane road is the pits, it was a little 2 laner until the county came through with imminent domain several years back. But, it is our little haven when we pull into our driveway, our home sweet home. It is paid for.

We've lived here for 35 years and have seen many changes in our area. Lots of land grabbing and McMansions, bigger townhomes, etc. During the 'season' the roads are packed with 'snowbirds'.

We keep working on making our place more energy efficient, and as we declutter our place feels bigger.


    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 4:07PM
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Hey rileysmom, thanks for the kind words, We all seam to be
living in the same pressure cooker. I bought my home with two demands. Close to the interstate and in a historic hood. Well i got a good one for cheap. Now that the hood has improved, so has the pressure increased for the home owners. Sometimes i think like flowerlady! Transport my house to a seeply bayou on stilts. Build under the house,
and have a grand stair case up to the front door.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 7:33PM
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We have gone from big houses to smaller houses and back again. I do like the smaller house so much better. Not sure what came first.

I really wanted to comment on the wishes for larger land. We have been there done that too. From small lots in town to 100 acres. We just sold 8 acres to move to a half acre back in town.

Since we no longer have large animals as in the horses mules and cows well the chickens too but they are not so large, we do not need the larger properties. If anyone thinks they are missing out because they do not have their 5 acres it is not all that it is cracked up to be. Really.

There are fences to keep up and if you do not have animals to eat it down you need to mow it. The tall grasses become a fire hazard when they dry out. Unless you are blessed to have lots of water. Then you have to keep it watered. Unless you have an irrigation system in place it is a big job.

You can not get away unless you can get some one to come take care of your animals and yards.

5 Acres is just enough to become weeds up to your ,well you know, if you do not keep up with it. I had to just mow down 2 of the 8 acres we just sold and it only took a couple of hours a week on a rider but breathing all the dust and grass/weeds stuff had me coughing for another day.

I am going to start living my dream of having a very small drop dead beautiful yard. A yard I can enjoy being in and not one that I have to force myself to go out and work every day for two to three hours just to keep ahead of it. I know right now we have nothing but the pine trees planted.Give me a couple of years. :^))


    Bookmark   August 8, 2008 at 10:07PM
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Chris ~ What we really crave is quiet, and views. Down here in the flat land of FL, where it is tropical, hot and humid, population continually growing it just gets to be too much at times. We aren't getting any younger, I'm 59 DH is 60. The thought of moving is daunting, especially since we are pack rats. We would be happy with an acre, it doesn't have to be larger. ~ I love to garden, that's my favorite hobby and it keeps me busy, especially since down here there is no break, it's a 365 day a year ongoing project. ~ This morning I was checking out properties in NE Ga. and after I got done, I walked around our little place and it felt good. Sure we're still remodeling, etc. but it is ours. We know all of it quirks, etc. The grass or house isn't always greener/better somewhere else.

FlowerLady ~ practicing contentment

    Bookmark   August 9, 2008 at 12:29PM
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I do understand Flower lady. We are lucky enough to have a little view even if it is only out the master bedroom. Our last place had HUGE 360 degree view. It was quiet too. Course here ,even in town, it is pretty quiet. 150 people do not make all that much noise. I can hear the kids at the community pool. We can hear the highway but it is not that big of a deal being two lane highway.There is a nice community park just at the end of our block so sometimes there are events there making a little more noise.

I think I made my comments because so many times we saw people wanting acreage then it all goes to weeds and a big mess because they do not have a clue what it involves to take care of.

There is a darling smaller home backs up to us. Might be sold waiting on buyer to maybe get loan kind of thing. Drop dead date Sept 5th. Was just in it today vising with owner. OH What I could do with that little house.Just darling. Needs lipstick and rouge. Carpet and some paint. New stove. It is so perfect. I wish we had known it was for sale before we got this place. It is a two bed one bath. Wonderful yard. Simple house but for us small house people it has the things we look for. Walk in pantry descent bedrooms. Guessing 10 by 12. Nice living room. Attached garage and also a carport. A few smaller out buildings.Yard needs some TLC but all do able.

Someone who buys this one is going to have a nice smaller home.

Anyway drifting off course here and feeling bad we did not get this other house with already done yard. What is done is done. sigh.


    Bookmark   August 9, 2008 at 4:02PM
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Good morning Chris ~ Town of 150. Boy would that ever be much quieter than here. Our county has a population of around 1,400,000 and our unincorporated and incorporated town a population of around 200,000. Sheesh! No wonder we crave peace and quiet. How much property does the little home behind you have and what's it's price? Just to give us an idea of what things are going for elsewhere.

I worked out in my main garden this morning for an hour, pulling up overgrown ferns and asparagus ferns and other things I don't want in there anymore. I only worked an hour and that was enough for me. It felt great coming into our air-conditioned cottage to relax. At least living in a smaller home, they are easier and cheaper to heat and cool.

Well, have a great afternoon. It's time to fix some lunch.


    Bookmark   August 10, 2008 at 12:21PM
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This is truly a chicken or egg question. I live in a small town just 15 miles from midtown Manhattan (a 20 minute or 120 minute trip depending on time day, traffic, etc.) which is becoming McMansion central. 1500-2000 sq.ft. houses from the 50's are torn down to build 5000 sq. ft. TacoBell style monstrosities.

On larger sites, the houses grow exponentially. I stopped at a house that's been under construction for at least ten months, and getting uglier and uglier as it gets closer to completion. The owner was at the door of his BMW when I had to say, "You know, your house makes the crap they built down the street look good." The sad part is that they "accidentally" built it almost 15 feet closer to the street than the setback permitted. But now they have enough room to put the pool in the backyard. No, strike that. The sad part is that the town is more interested in the higher ratable than in enforcing the zoning law or preserving a neighborhood.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 12:01AM
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We have 1600 sq ft on 1/6 of an acre, and we are going to build 1200 sq ft on 7 acres. We plan to keep almost all of it as woods, though. It's all mature hardwoods, and there is almost no upkeep. And our yard will be a 'farm' lawn- whatever comes up will get mowed when it's too tall. No more weed whackers, edgers, or blowers for me! What I don't understand (in addition to the giant houses) is the practicality of having a 5 acre lawn. There's no privacy, and it's a lot of work and resources to keep up.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 9:38AM
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I was undergoing a cultural and environmental change at the same time that the houses were getting bigger. We had just moved to New Jersey in 1980, from Michigan and Minnesota. DH had finished grad school and was hired by Exxon. We were suddenly meeting and socializing with people older and further along in their careers - and from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

DH's dad had built their house on the outskirts of a small northern Minnesota town with cash. He started with a small mobile home, added a basement, then a living room, some bedrooms, and a kitchen. Each year he would add on a room as he could afford to do so with cash. When the house was big enough, the mobile home went away. I came into the family just after they added a master bedroom and a second bath. His dad was a miner, and they had some rough times. DH remembered eating rice with raisins as dinner at the end of a pay period quite often. Me- I came from a broken family. Mom had been taking care of me for a few years before I won the college scholarships and met DH. I think she was just above the poverty line and we lived paycheck-to-paycheck in an inherited bungalow.

When our NJ peers started to buy houses, we were in culture shock. They all got those center-hall colonials with family room, formal living room and dining room downstairs with a big kitchen, and four bedrooms and two baths upstairs. Plus the half bath on the main floor and big basements just ready to finish. When we visited back home, our little ranch homes, bungalows and split levels were still the most prominent styles. I developed a theory that we Midwesterners lived outside much of the time, and the house was a place to retire to at the end of the day, so could be like a small nest. I figured that the hustle and bustle of the busy east coast, the overcrowded highways, the town on top of town suburbs, led people to need the home to be a larger space, a peaceful oasis of serenity in a sea of confusion. That made the east coast homes naturally larger.

That was my theory for several years. Then the Midwestern homes started to grow, too and all I can attribute that to is "keeping up with the Joneses." In the seventies and eighties we started to see TV turn to shows about the rich. (Dallas, etc.) If your leisure time is spent watching the rich, people will start to expect to start living like the rich, I think. Changed expectations and increasing incomes, lower cost furnishings all contributed. Remember when a new set of furniture would happen once or twice in a lifetime? Not anymore. Furniture is disposable now, too.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 2:45PM
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flgargoyle, Way to go on the new place yard plan. Unfortunately we ended up with the big land with shrubs and flowers planted over 2 acres. It was pretty just too much to take care of. I am all for the natural look. The less you can disturb the land the better for you. Hehehe on the Farmer lawn. I hoped to get that here too but it did not happen by the time we had all the septic water power phone dug in.:^((

Best of luck to you. Hope to see your progress.


    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 8:59PM
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In referring to television influencing our behavior, just remember, there is a reason they call it "programming". That's why mine is off most of the time.


    Bookmark   August 11, 2008 at 10:23PM
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I know I'm late to the conversation here, but referring back to the doctors spending habits, my father is a family doc (so kind of low on the totem pole) but has been working for nearly 30 years, one would think he's getting ready to retire (he's now 62) but no, he can't. He and my mother have 4 houses and crazy spending habits. He came from a very poor immigrant family and had to take out loans for school, guess what the very first thing he did when he graduated? Pay off some loans? Nope, bought a Porsche! In their defense, they are trying to sell their mcmansion (5000 sqft) outside of charlotte NC.

Luckily I did not follow in their footsteps. At 23 at bought my first house right at 1000 sqft and am now building my second house that will be a little less than 1500 sqft which I think is far too large, but Im turning around and selling it and donÂt want to hurt re-sale values. My wife and I lived in a 400 sqft apartment for awhile and loved every minute of it!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 10:22AM
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Here is an interesting article relating to our conversation. It was posted on the decorating forum.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2008 at 3:55PM
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Nancy in Mich; It's SO GOOD to see you! I remember chatting with you 5 or more years ago on BAH! How are you?

As a spec-home builder, I can tell you absolutely that it's a symbiotic relationship; everyone wants bigger and better, and homebuilders are/were MORE than willing to provide that service. Homes I built that were 'up to size' in the 90's just didn't cut it five years later. Big cars, big food, big houses. I have an excellent quote I'll go look for right now about the size of homes.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2008 at 4:38PM
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I've enjoyed reading everyone's ideas about the large home trend. I wish more homes were built like the ones I've seen in that Susanka book: "The Not So Big House". The hardest thing that I've found is locating furniture that will be small enough for a NSBH.

Personally I think demand came first.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2008 at 5:53PM
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Good article Emagineer. Effectively steps us through the decades. Thanks for the link.

There will always be a very large segment of our society that is caught up in conspicuous consumption. And if that works for them then that's great. It's just unfortunate that there aren't more options for those of us that want a little less. If by chance I ever hit the lottery, I would put my money where my mouth is and build a neighborhood of small, attractive and affordable homes. I'll bet they would sell out faster than the "typical spec home".

About two years ago I acquired a lot in an older, built out neighborhood ten doors down from my children. A house burned down which made the lot available. I wanted to build a smaller home, in scale with most of the 50+ year old homes that surrounded me. I called over 20 builders. Most never returned my call. of the few that did, the majority of them wouldn't "even consider" building a "custom" home less than 2000 square feet. Only two would even talk about it. The first one offered to build me "an all vinyl piece of crap" (that's an exact quote)starting at around $110/sf. The other one was a little more conversive but was still overpriced considering I could go two miles down the road and buy a pre-built home the same size as I wanted to build for $100/sf. Stop...think...I owned my land, there were no Realtors, and I would provide the construction financing. The price of the homes down the street, $10/sf cheaper than the quotes I got, included interest to the bank, land, realtor commission, closing costs and advertising.

I'm a Banker and I simply don't understand the math. I never could strike a deal so I had to let the lot go and move further away from my children. Thank you nice builders.

PS - a spec builder bought the lot from me. He cut down the best trees which would not have encroached on the footprint or driveway, built an out-of-scale, out-of-character house and probably paid for his kid's tuition on the one deal. That's reality. Gordon Geko (Wall Street, the movie) was wrong, greed is not good.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2008 at 8:59AM
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I'm not sure I'm following you, Scott--did you want a smaller custom house at a "reasonable" price? Because even Susanka admits that it costs a pretty penny to get those custom details. She advocates spending the same amount you would spend on a larger house, but building smaller and putting the money into craftmanship--built-ins, etc.

Stinks, I know.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2008 at 6:34PM
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I was trying to build a small, simple floorplan with normal to low levels of trim and finish in the beginning. I did not have a Susanka house in mind. Higher finish items like crown molding, built-in's, etc. can be added over time as the budget allows. Most people will want to update countertops and flooring over time. I had planned on upgrading those later during a future remodel.

I used to work for a builder in another state so I know that certain items like toilets, sinks, lighting package, interior and exterior doors, etc. are relatively the same price regardless of the overall home size (within reason)so the price per square foot does increase somewhat as the size of the home decreases. However, I was trying to build a simple floorplan with a simple roof line. With that in mind, it appeared the builders that would talk to me quoted prices based on the value of the neighborhood not actual cost to build.

My opinions may seem assumptive, but please refer to my initial observation that even though I owned the land, there was no realtor commission and I would provide the construction financing the price/sf I was quoted was higher than similar sized homes nearby. The price of those homes also had to accomodate land, commission, builder paid construction interest, etc. and they were LESS than just my structure. The other difference is those homes were being built in an "affordable" neighborhood in a "less desireable" area. But again, you can't count land as a factor becasue I already owned the lot.


    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 7:44AM
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I am SO late to this thread. I just wanted to add that I think it requires a certain maturity and comfort level with one's self to "choose" to live in a small home. It isn't what is expected. It isn't what everyone else is doing. It isn't what your kids' friends' parents are doing. It isn't what your coworkers are doing. It sure isn't what's featured on HGTV or in the majority of shelter magazines.

The average approval seeker is not going to take the path less traveled. And until he or she is comfortable enough in his or her own skin, I think the rebellion associated with a not-big, not-imposing home will be just too much to take on.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2008 at 5:43PM
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jakabedy--I fear you are right. My sons have many, many friends and not one of them lives in a house the size of mine. All the other homes are considerably larger. (A recently completed kitchen addition puts my house at just shy of 1700 square feet, not including the boys' playroom in the basement.)

I find my house to be quite comfortable for a family of four, but various folks I know in town often remark on how small it is. One friend of mine has a 30x34 familyroom, plus a livingroom, plus a den. For her family of four. And her house has single zone heat, so you can imagine her heating bills in the winter (we live in NE). She worries about recycling, while her house is consuming enough energy to heat a small country.

I hoped the energy crunch might help people to rethink their housing needs, but it's hard going against pack mentality when the pack says bigger is better!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 12:00PM
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Hi Chicken Man! I am still here, hanging out in Buying and Selling, Pets, and here. Reading the BAH forum reinforced the idea that I will never want to build. We ended up moving out of our house with the now over-improved kitchen a few years ago after my Fa-in-Law moved in. We are in a 1970s ranch in Sterling Heights with 1675 sq ft, poor insulation and leaky aluminum windows. The old house is in a rent-to-own situation and we are happy to be getting the rent.

I like the philosophy of smaller homes. Sometimes I do dream of a solarium with an indoor pool, but it is never attached to a big house and it is heated with solar panels!

    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 10:32PM
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Sterling Heights? We're in Lake Orion, hello neighbor! We moved here from California three years ago, bought a quaint colonial on .5 acre and love love love it!

    Bookmark   August 26, 2008 at 7:56AM
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Ah yes, Lake Orion. It used to be a weekend getaway place. We passed through it on the way to visit my Grandma in Detroit when we lived in the Thumb*. Back in the 1970s, it was a little town with a nice little lake. I think it had one street light. It is a beautifully hilly area, I am glad you love it here.

*For those who may not remember, Michigan is shaped like a left-hand mitten. We actually do call that area "the Thumb." I grew up in "The shopping center of The Thumb."

    Bookmark   August 26, 2008 at 8:26PM
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Hey Ashvilleian how did you live when you were a kid? We were broke. I started paying my med school loans while I was a resident living on mac and cheese. So it is interesting to me that your dad when fast towards consumption but you didn't. What did you see that scared you off of it?

I totally shock people when I talk about building some day (no need for now), a nice modular home. There is great chapter in The Millionaire Next Door that really illustrates the difference between income and net worth, it uses Dr. North and Dr. South.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 6:41PM
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I just read a thread in 'Building a Home' about someone whose price for windows went up $101K when they switched brands. A $101,000 INCREASE in the price of their windows- NOT the total cost of them! Our whole house should be less than that. I simply can't fathom a house that expensive- I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, I guess. This is America, so I don't begrudge them building a house that big/expensive, but- yikes!

    Bookmark   August 29, 2008 at 4:40PM
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Part of this issue is a reflection of the BIGGER IS BETTER American mindset, which applies to cars, homes, TV screens, and just about everything else. And many big homes are poorly designed, with room layouts that do not make sense and shoddy materials and workmanship. It goes without saying that for homes built in the last 40 years or so in the US, if it is built with "builder's equipment," it is guaranteed to be of poor quality. Hence the need for upgrades for just about anything. This is especially true of windows -- they usually put in the cheapest junk, and many homebuyers don't notice or don't care.

In Europe, it's different. The houses are generally smaller, sometimes much smaller, but the quality of materials and workmanship is high. Windows that really work and last, and that insulate. Good, energy efficient appliances and heating/cooling systems. And the room designs are different from ours, reflecting a different life style--the dining rooms are usually much larger than the living rooms. But the whole culture is different -- people just don't move around as much as we do -- the average time in one home is much longer there than here.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 9:04AM
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I certainly agree that the room layouts in many newer, large homes are nonsensical--older homes were built to facilitate air flow through the rooms. Today, with central air, many people don't open their windows all year long. I think this contributes to the odd room placement in many homes of today--plus the fact that every builder thinks he's also an architect.

I've been in so many of these homes where the rooms feel choppy and disjointed. And, yes, the workmanship is not good. So much money has to go into the large square footage that there's none left over for workmanship. Most of these larger, newer homes will never make antiques.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 9:25AM
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I think that the reason houses got bigger is that land got more expensive, and is many places, scarce.

Since developers had to pay more for the land, they decided to maximize profit by making larger (and often shoddier) houses. In some ways modern houses are better -- I'm thinking of the technology -- but much of the finish material is plastic rather than natural material. Not to mention that the beautiful craftsmanship common in middle class houses before WWII is now reserved for the few people with both money and the interest to seek it out. It doesn't come automatically even in high end houses.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2008 at 11:26PM
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Depression era parents raising children to want more than they had that in turn raised children even more self-centered. Many builders near me can't unload these huge monsters. Taxes, energy costs and tight credit make the houses hard to sell or hard to hold until the economy picks up. My tiny home has served me just fine and there is absolutely NO envy for those living in huge homes they can't afford to heat, to clean or maintain.

I would rather have a tiny house on a few acres than a mansion on a postage stamp.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2008 at 2:29PM
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Unfortunately, most of Americana is too greedy and stupid to separate the good from the bad or better termed healthy from the unhealthy and they get lost in fantasy and wishful thinking.

We can see this sickness this very moment in our country.

Lets see...the little guy has created too much debt, has lived beyond his or her means and can't pay their bills. So we need the bailout, so the little guy can borrow more money, continue to live beyond their means and create more debt that they can't pay?

Sounds like the bailout, is more of a Ponzi scheme not meant to bailout the taxpayer, but instead reamout the taxpayer as it makes the rich...richer.

Would an alcoholic be fixed if he inherited a whiskey factory? Would a limitless supply of free alcohol cure what ails him? Or would it just increase the sickness?

We have learned nothing from our bailout mess. We can see this from the debate on how to water down the mark to market accounting standards. Instead of restoring high financial and accounting standards we are further relaxing them, in effect increasing the sickness that got us here. I would add that any accounting standard that discards mark to market accounting would be off my screen for investments.

Even with mark to market, we have all these accounting lies. Can you imagine how it will be when asset values can be assigned by the holders of those assets with no reckoning with what the 'actual market value' of those assists are?

I believe that many ads should contain disclaimers like cigs do. But, without 70% of the economy fueled by the consumer all our retirement funds would tank and there would be a riot. So the politicians do the best they can and hope the roof does not come crashing down during their watch. And to keep the rook from falling requires much adverting for us to keep consuming.

We have built a defective model for long term population support. We can only keep on keeping on as long as the crude is free flowing and affordable by the masses.

It would be one thing if we all reverted back to rural living, burning trees for fuel and housing and living within our comfortable means allotted to us by nature, as our ancestors did back in the day. But seven billion people can't burn the trees!

We must accept that we have built our world on unsustainable means - a means built artificially on fossil fuel.

And when we live out of balance with natures intended means there is a price to pay to come back in balance with nature. And the price usually extracts pain from us in the adjustment process.

It has been estimated that for the earth to sustainably support its population without fossil fuels a 90% dieoff must occur. I don't know if that is the right figure, but I do know humans could not live as they do unless it was funded by artificial means via fossil fuels.


The other day Discover card was promoting endless consumption 'as a good' and they wished to do us a favor by helping us spend money better as we create more debt we can't afford to pay.

The ads for pills seldom offer help for the underlying cause of the disease, just quick fixes that cost lots of money. I especially like the ad that is targeted to women that are 'too busy' to take one pill every week. They just have to take their bone builder pill once a month.

Wake up ladies...if you are too busy to take a pill once a week how are you going to live a healthy life?

Healthy living requires much more work, such as exercising and preparing and eating healthy foods, than just taking a pill once a week?

We live in a sick, greed driven world that poisons for profit. Just look at all the unhealthy food sold to us all for the sake of making a buck.

I just say NO to the bastards that try to injure me with their demands to run me into debt and the endless phone calls and offers to fleece me of my money and clutter up my life with useless things.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 11:41AM
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Well said, allenwrench!

    Bookmark   October 10, 2008 at 5:09PM
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We are getting a bit off topic here and probably in danger of having the post removed because they aren't supposed to get personal or political. But, while we have it, we may as well use it.

I agree with much of what allenwrench says but can't help but point out that most of the moves our government has taken over the past month with regard to the "bailout" is out and out socialism. I don't want to live in a socialist society. Once again we have to choose between two lousy choices this year. However, in my mind, it's not about choosing between two individuals, it's really a choice between tiptoeing towards socialism or jumping on the bullet train headed there.

Before anyone pulls the lever this year I wish they would read Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged. Parts are too detailed and hard to get through and there is some science fiction thrown in but the concepts are important to consider and very timely.

Also, on the fossil fuel topic. Based on current technology, what is our alternative? I picked up a Greenpeace magazine a few years back and they had arguments against everything including all fossil fuels, geo thermal, hydroelectric and nuclear. Solar and wind alone can't replace fossil fuels yet. Last I checked, Ironman was the only person who had his own littel magic power generater that didn't seem to consume anything or create any waste. China and India are about to suck the oil reserves dry over the next two decades without any regard to greenhouse gasses.

I think we come to this site because we are choosing to live a lighter, more sustainable lifestyle but we have to recognize that we are a very small minority and are not going to influence the masses. The best we can do is set the example and hope others notice.


    Bookmark   October 11, 2008 at 2:31PM
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I'd agree that 'bigger' was probably sought after, but of course, builders supplied it. It's a symbiotic relationship. C'mon; if you get 10% (as an example), off of a home build, and a small home costs 100K, and a large home costs 150K, which 10% would you want?

It's just like the supersizing of anything else; TV sets, cars, SUVs, property sizes. And with our drive to move most stuff overseas, the profit is in the sale of size, not quality, so of course, bigger makes more sense for both parties. Well....at least it did.....back when the sky was the limit!

    Bookmark   October 11, 2008 at 7:46PM
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I don't know if any of you read a bout "show me your house" on another forum here, but when I saw those houses, I had to wonder....how in the heck do they expect to ever pay for them....and most of them were "show and tell"...each bragging about being bigger and better than the others. I just felt kinda sick seeing them....wondering if both had to hold down full-time jobs to make payments, while the children suffered from quality time with their parents.

Where have we gone wrong?...why do we have that attitude that we "have to keep up with the Joneses" just to feel personal worth? I find this very sad and disturbing that we have become a nation of "want-a-bees". Does anyone else feel the way I do?

We do have a large house and now I am diabled and can not wait until we can sell it and build (or buy) a much smaller one. My DH is an architect/contractor and when we built this one, it all seemed "necessary", but now that I can not even go to the basement, it is just unused space.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 9:56PM
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In thinking back to the town I grew up in, I realized that people from all different walks of life and careers all lived together in similar housing. Just on our street, we had a mailman, a doctor, a lawyer, a school teacher, a salesman, and a factory worker. Those different occupations would never live in the same neighborhood anymore. And mothers rarely worked, unless the husband had died. People also rarely worked late- it seemed like everyone got home about 5 PM. Now I see people coming home from office jobs as late as 8 PM. All of those changes are an effort to have more and impress others with what you have. When I was a kid, nobody seemed to play that game, or at least not on the scale they do today. And society has suffered for it.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 12:20PM
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