This is becoming a recurring headline: “McMansions are making a comeback“:
In 2010, homes starting growing again. By last year, the size of the median new single-family home hit a record high of 2,306 square feet, surpassing the peak of 2007. And new homes have been getting more expensive, too. The median price reached $279,300 in April this year, or about 6 percent higher than the pre-recession peak of $262,600, set in March 2007. The numbers are not adjusted for inflation.
Yet the economy remains weak. How can Americans keep buying bigger and more expensive homes? It turns out, of course, that not everyone can.
“It’s all about access to credit,” said Rose Quint, an economist at the National Association of Home Builders. “People who are less affluent and have less robust employment histories have been shut out of the new home market. As a result, the characteristics of new homes are being skewed to people who can obtain credit and put down large down payments, typically wealthier buyers.”
The data and conclusions are nothing new. But, the choice of story and the headline itself are interesting. What should the reader take away from such a narrative? I can’t help but think part of this is motivated by an interest in scaring people: “McMansions are back!” When the comeback stories are typically written, they are not from a positive point of view. Critics would argue McMansions are emblematic of a whole host of American problems from the 1980s through the mid-2000s: too much interest in consumption, too much debt, poorly designed goods that are more about impressing people than anything else, the continued spread of suburban sprawl, and the growing gap between the have and have-nots. There may be truth to all of this but there is a lot of negative baggage suggested by a return of McMansions.