Online discussion of how to avoid selling a home to someone who will build a teardown McMansion

I ran into an interesting online discussion originating out of the North Center neighborhood in Chicago: how can a seller keep their home from becoming a teardown McMansion? Here is the discussion starter:

To my wonderful North Center Neighbors,

My partner & I will be selling our late, well built, 2 bedrm late 1800’s home in a few months( through Baird Warner-realtors need not contact me). We have lived here for 20 yrs, and love North Center with all of it’s old homes & history, which seems to be on the endangered list, becoming prey to developers of McMansions. So…my question is this; Is there a way to ensure(legally) we don’t sell to a developer, or sell to someone who would want to do a tear down? I am a firm believer in preserving & protecting our well built old homes, which also serves to lessen the impact on the environment.

Thank you in advance for any insight.

Here are a few of the responses (separate responses in each paragraph):

No, unless it’s a landmarked property, people can do whatever they want. The good news is, many people WANT a sweet old house with a yard and will not McMansion a home if it’s a solid, well-functioning property. Good luck with your sale!

You could do a restrictive covenant. A restrictive covenant is a type of real covenant, a legal obligation imposed in a deed by the seller upon the buyer of real estate to do or not to do something. Such restrictions frequently “run with the land” and are enforceable on subsequent buyers of the property.

Yes, restrictive covenant is an option but it will decrease your ability to sell. As said, the covenant runs with the land so not only does it restrict next owner but it will also restrict future owners as well. So this will significantly bring down the sales price. I’ve actually not heard of this being done in a sale situation, just through estates and gifts of land. My guess is that your lawyer will recommend against it. However, you could discuss putting conditions in the real estate contract (which only run to the next owner). Talk to the lawyer you intend to use for the sale.

Another solution is mentioned by another commentator: blocks or neighborhoods could enact or argue for particular zoning rules that could limit what kind of teardown home could be built. Of course, it takes more work to get a lot of neighbors to agree and then have the powers-that-be put the new restrictions into practice.

I suppose another option would be to rent the current home and purchase elsewhere. Thus, the current owner still retains some control over the property even though they would then have to manage it.

Thinking more broadly, I wonder how many Americans would go the extra step to try to preserve their existing house. I suspect most Americans tend to see their homes more as temporary housing solutions rather than structures they really care about and would want to preserve for future generations. This could be a function of having suburban neighborhoods where homes may be somewhat interchangeable, an American interest in mobility, or a rise in disposable consumerism where more goods are seen as temporary.

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