“Big-Box Houses” the successors to McMansions?

Builder has an article about a new kind of home: “big-box houses.”

Even as average new-home sizes have fallen slightly across the country, builders in some markets are finding a profitable and underserved niche of buyers who need or want a house as big as a mansion with the price tag of a cottage. While some buyers are in true need of the space, others, awed by the per-square-foot value of so much elbow room that cheap land and efficient box-like floor plans make possible, can’t resist the buy…

Lennar, for example, recently rolled out its 4,054-square-foot Himalayan model in the Tampa, Fla., market for $270,990. D.R. Horton has The Surrey, a 4,600-square-foot home in Lakeland, Fla., starting at $223,990. M/I Homes is selling the 5,249-square-foot Gran Vista in Orlando starting at $336,460. And KB Home has a 5,211-square-foot model it is selling in Austin, Texas, for $422,950…

Another housing executive says the big-box home trend was born as a way to compete with resales because it is rare to find large homes among resales and foreclosures, making their plus-size a product differentiator. Also, the larger homes can often pass muster with appraisers more easily, because the bigger the house, the smaller the square-foot price, and the higher-priced portions of the home, kitchens and bathrooms, are amortized over a larger number of square feet. The lower price per square foot helps the homes compete with the lower per-square-foot cost of distressed home sales.

Still, the formula of building such homes at a profit is tricky. It requires that land in the right neighborhoods be bought at fire-sale prices and that the home itself be value-engineered for cost efficiencies as well. The box on top of a box model is a less expensive way to build than a single-level house or one with more complicated shapes and roof pitches.

Quick summary: there is still a part of the housing market for big, cheap homes, particularly among those with larger families.

My question would be how these homes differ from McMansions. It seems to be that the big-box homes are budget big homes with no frills. McMansions came to be known for their luxuriousness, whether this was reflected in the large windows in the front, the stone mailbox or wrought iron fence, the stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, or the voluminous great room. These big-box homes are big because their owners want to use all the space, not because they want to impress people. I wonder what this means for the quality of the construction: McMansions were often regarded as being shoddy and the builders quoted in this story admit that these homes have thin profit margins.

Also: the name is intriguing. McMansion came to be a generally negative term. “Big box” is usually used derisively to refer to retailers like Walmart or Home Depot who have huge stores and low prices. Additionally, there are a lot of connotations about big parking lots, environmental concerns, and sprawl. If I were a builder, I wouldn’t want my homes to be known by this term. If this term sticks, will these homes become reviled in the same way as McMansions?

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