McMansion as a symbol of a lot of something and more

A ranking of every Weezer song includes using the term “McMansion” for the second-worst song on the list:

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204. “Beverly Hills,” Make Believe

To this day, Weezer’s highest charting single – which makes sense, as it’s about as close to the lowest common denominator as the band has ever sunk. A lumbering monument to the pursuit of wealth and luxury, “Beverly Hills” matches its vapidity of message with a McMansion’s worth of painful musical ideas: the clumsy half-rapping of the verses, the annoying “gimme, gimme” rejoinder of the chorus, the talkbox solo of the bridge. Even louder than the caveman thud of Pat Wilson’s opening drum salvo was the sound of dyed-in-the-wool diehards stampeding for the exit, finally ready to accept that the glorydays of Pinkerton weren’t coming back.

The most obvious use of the word here is to suggest the song has a lot of bad ideas. McMansions are criticized for their size and their poor architectural ideas.

But, there could be more here in this paragraph. A few quick ideas:

  1. Beverly Hills is a wealthy neighborhood with a lot of big houses. Are some of them McMansions? McMansions are connected to displays of wealth and excessive consumption.
  2. The reference to “the lowest common denominator” could be linked to the critique that McMansions are vapid and mass produced. They are not real mansions; they are attempts to mimic higher quality construction and more architecturally pure mansions.

All together, the use of the term McMansion here does not refer directly to the actual homes. Rather, it highlights how familiar the term is in order for its use in a music review to highlight abstract ideas.

“Jennifer Aniston leads fight against giga-mansions” in Beverly Hills

Even the wealthy don’t want “giga-mansions” in their neighborhood:

Her own $21 million (£13 million) Bel Air mansion covers a rather more modest 8500 square feet.

But it has been rapidly overtaken by a new trend for the giga-mansions. The ultra-wealthy are buying and bulldozing some of the area’s biggest villas, to build even bigger homes, filled with fountains, swimming pools and space for entertaining.

Opponents say they bring months of construction noise, threaten existing homes by destabilising the ground and that their huge size represents an invasion of privacy as they tower over neighbours.

Prince Abdul Aziz, a Saudi Arabian prince and deputy foreign minister of his country, is among the buyers to have angered neighbours. He bought a Spanish colonial residence from Jon Peters, the film producer behind Superman Returns and Man of steel, before promptly tearing it down and lodging plans for an 85,000-square-foot estate.

But the real fury is reserved for the 30,000-square-foot creation of Mohamed Hadid, a real estate developer and father of Gigi Hadid, the model.

Two quick thoughts:

1. These really are some large homes. They might work on larger pieces of property but not so well when neighbors are relatively close by. A 103 foot tall home is more like a 10 story skyscraper in a small size city than a welcomed member of a residential neighborhood.

2. This does invite questions about how large of a home is too large. A $21 million 8,500 square foot home in Beverly Hills is expensive and large by all measures. Presumably, the Los Angeles regulations allow for this size. But, how exactly does a municipality decide on the cut-off? The way around this in many communities that address teardowns is to insist on certain guidelines and styles that effectively limit the square footage.

The wealthy “walking away from the McMansions”

One commentator suggests the number of wealthy homeowners walking away from their large mortgages is on the rise:

Nationwide, foreclosures on loans over $1 million are up nearly 600 percent since 2008…

Walking away has even become something of a boast among the more-or-less wealthy – a solution with few downside risks that also marks the walker as a smart player.

That’s because California is one of a small number of “non-recourse” states. Here, the mortgage lender cannot recover the full value of the loan if the homeowner defaults; the lender can only recover the house, not the owner’s other assets.

The effect is producing a death spiral for loaded McMansions in some upscale neighborhoods. When owners default, they expand the inventory of over-priced houses, undercutting the value of similar homes in the neighborhood, lowering their resale value and prompting a new round of “strategic defaults” by other owners.

I wonder how lenders are responding to this issue. Would they move more or less quickly since these homes are worth more and the bank could make more money (though they might lose more on the mortgage)?

Another issue: how much does walking away from a large mortgage hurt someone who was able to get such a large loan in the first place? While foreclosures for “average homeowners” are often portrayed as huge problems (looking for somewhere to live, a hit to their credit rating), is this as much of an issue for those with bigger mortgages? According to this look at Beverly Hills, this decision is being made by some who can pay the mortgage but don’t want to deal with the decreased value of their homes:

Many are walking away not because they can’t pay, but because they judge it would be foolish to keep doing so…

She said she had seen in Beverly Hills a big increase in “strategic defaults,” in which owners who can still afford to make their monthly mortgage payment choose not to because the property is now worth so much less than the giant loan used to buy it during the housing bubble…

Bremner said she helped a client buy a Beverly Hills mansion last year that the prior owner had bought for over $4 million. He decided to stop paying his $3 million mortgage – even though he could easily afford it – when the value of the property had dropped to $2.5 million.

“They were able to comfortably cover the loan,” Bremner said. “They were just no longer willing to see the value of the property drop.”

If more wealthier homeowners are walking away from their mortgages, is there anything that should be done? Should they have harsher penalties if they have other assets to cover the mortgage? Should we be concerned that the Beverly Hills housing market is having difficulties, i.e. does this effect other housing markets or is it simply an issue between wealthy players?

It would be nice to have some exact numbers on how much this is happening across the country…