No, Ikea does not sell a prefabricated home

Two months ago, I noted a story about a prefab home whose interior was outfitted by Ikea. Apparently, lots of people thought Ikea was providing the whole home:

The story went nuts. Literally within an hour, we were getting emails from the Phillippines to South America to Australia to Iceland — it seemed to be real big in Iceland. We heard right away from Greece and Italy — people who were interested in knowing more about an “Ikea house.” We got 2 million Web hits.

It got mentioned on the “Tonight Show” and “Today.” The Huffington Post picked it up but later issued a correction.

We got 4,000 emails in just the first few days after the erroneous story broke. We tried to do our best to respond right away, explaining to people what we do and that the Aktiv house just contains some Ikea products.

Ikea put out a corporate press release explaining things, saying that despite erroneous reports, it is not selling prefabricated homes in the United States. We were told that people were walking into Ikea stores around the world and asking about getting a house.

As I noted two months ago, you can still get a prefabricated home from Menards!

Based on the popularity of this idea, I wonder if Ikea is looking into providing prefabricated houses. I’m sure there would be some issues of economies of scale and getting into home development but I imagine Ikea could tackle these issues if they wanted to.

Another question: are there are other brands that people would buy prefab houses from? What if Pottery Barn got into this?

My recent work on McMansions is discussed in The Atlantic Cities

Read this story on The Atlantic Cities to get a summary of my recent publication on McMansions. While the article in the Journal of Urban History is not yet in print, it is available online. Here is the abstract:

The single-family home is a critical part of the American Dream, and there has been a long conversation about what houses mean and symbolize. As American homes have grown larger, some of these newer homes have been called McMansions. This study examines the use of this term in the New York Times and Dallas Morning News between 2000 and 2009 and shows that McMansion is a complex term with four distinct meanings: a large house, a relatively large house, a home flawed in architecture or design, and a symbol for more complex issues including sprawl and excessive consumption. The author argues that the usage and meaning of the term differs by metropolitan context, suggesting there may not be a singular national process of “mansionization,” and provides three suggestions for the future study of McMansions.

I’ve posted a lot about McMansions on this blog and many of these thoughts are based on this analysis.

Customizing your luxury home too much might make it harder to sell

Arguing against McMansions and mass-produced homes, architects (like Sarah Susanka), environmental psychologists, and other argue that homes should be more customized for individual homeowners and residents. But could this customization make the home harder to sell? The New York Times investigates:

That, at least, has been Mr. Rooney’s experience, as potential buyers seem to find amenities he lovingly included in his dream home “more of a disadvantage,” he said. In fact, they try to use the custom extras as “a negotiation weapon,” claiming no use, for instance, for his personal salon or sports court…

Peggy Moriarty, an associate broker with Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, says that when it comes to high-end properties with lots of amenities, golf courses and the like “get beaten up by the weather” after the first year, and homeowners “get bored.”…

Similarly, home theaters are attractive, fun and “an added plus,” but often tucked down in a basement corner. “People like to hang out near the kitchen and watch TV in the family room,” she said. Except for teenagers or “basement dwellers,” even the most magnificent theater “after the initial creation doesn’t get used that much.” The lesson here, according to Ms. Moriarty: “The toys aren’t selling the house.”

Not all brokers agree. Mr. Elliott, a broker who owns his own firm, says there is demand for amenity-laden properties among foreign buyers. “When you get to houses over a certain level,” he said, “the more amenities, the better.”

Here is the trade-off: if you customize the home while living in it, some would argue that the home becomes more personal and relaxing while the best is utilized more effectively. On the other hand, certain customizations can limit your market or can lead the seller to have to make concessions.

Three other things strike me:

1. I assume that the people who buy these larger luxury homes also theoretically have the money available to convert the space they aren’t thrilled with into something they would rather have. Does this suggest that the wealthy don’t want to undergo many home renovations? In other words, are the wealthy more or less likely to want move in ready homes?

2. I would argue that the homes mentioned in this article, a $4.25 million home, a $14 dollar home, a $1.789 million home, and a $9.475 million home (and check out the luxury details of these homes such as a par-3 golf course or a 33-foot ballroom), are clearly mansions. Early on in the article, here is how these features and homes were summed up: “idiosyncratic extravagances that supersized homes in the McMansion era just had to have.” These homes may have been built in the McMansion era but not are not McMansions; these kinds of features are ones only the truly wealthy could afford.

3. How much does staging matter when selling one of these luxury homes and how much does it cost? There is a lot of space to cover…

Exploring the Gen Y home

The International Builders Show that recently concluded featured a Gen Y home. Here is what it involved:

The so-called Gen Y House, one of a trio of Builder Concept Homes constructed for the show, also departs from housing’s (and the trade show’s) long-running obsession with the baby boom generation.

Its 2,163 square feet marry indoors with outdoors: One all-glass exterior wall literally disappears, folding away to open the home to the patio and pool. The party-hearty vibe is hard to miss…

It’s a wide-open floor plan that emphasizes flexibility and gives a nod to the fact that, being in Florida, relatives and friends are likely to show up to visit: There’s a separate studio apartment with kitchenette just off the front courtyard. That courtyard provides a roomy alternative to the traditional notion of a front yard. Out back, there’s that pool and hot tub; a separate entrance from the master bedroom leading to the pool practically screams “midnight swim.”

The architect said that homes have to have contemporary styling for this age group.

One architect quoted in the story suggests that Generation Y “can lead out of this [down housing] market.” Thus, it sounds like builders and others think there is a lot of money in designing homes for the younger generation.

Four thoughts about this home:

1. Does it work outside of Florida? This home seems to take advantage of its setting but it might look a little different for a Gen Yer in Minneapolis.

2. This goes along with a larger industry theme that smaller might be better today. Again, however, this home is not short on features and has a price tag of $300,000. This is not exactly affordable housing though it appears that people want to make clear it is not a McMansion.

3. Would this home stand the test of time? What I mean here is whether this home would look dated in 15 to 20 years or if it is so geared to a particular group that it would have little appeal for the larger market. Styles and accoutrements do change over time but I assume builders don’t want to limit who would purchase these homes.

4. This home seems to emphasize fun and entertainment. Would these homes encourage sociability in the long run or reinforce a lack of attachments to civil society a la Bowling Alone?

When only bad people live in McMansions

I doubt I will see the movie Wanderlust but this quick description of the film caught my eye:

Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston star in “Wanderlust,” the raucous new comedy from director David Wain and producer Judd Apatow about a harried couple who leave the pressures of the big city and join a freewheeling community where the only rule is to be yourself. When overextended, overstressed Manhattanites, George (Rudd) and Linda (Aniston), pack up their lives and head south to move in with George’s McMansion-living jerk of a brother, Rick (Ken Marino), they stumble upon Elysium, an idyllic community populated by colorful characters including the commune’s alpha male, Seth (Justin Theroux), the sexually adventurous Eva (Malin Akerman), and the troupe’s drop-out founder, Carvin (Alan Alda).

This reinforces an idea I have seen hinted at in many other places: the people who live in McMansions are jerks or bad people. McMansion owners don’t care about the environment, love to consume, have little taste, and don’t want to interact with people unlike them. The converse would look like this: smart or nice or enlightened people would not live in the homes. This is a great example of drawing moral boundaries by attaching character traits to certain home choices. This could be tied to the idea that living in a large home is viewed as morally wrong by some.

I would love to get my hands on sociological data to examine this claim. Of course, this would require first determining whether someone lives in a McMansion and this itself would require work. But then you could examine some different factors: do McMansion owners interact with their neighbors more? Are they involved with more civic organizations? Do they give more money to charity? Do they help people in need more often? Do they have a stronger prosocial orientation? If there were not significant differences, how might people respond…

The negative attention that building a big home can draw

While reading an article about some big homes that are still being built in the United States (are there enough wealthy people doing this to counteract data?), there is an interesting part about the negative attention these homes can draw.

One obvious drawback of building big: unwanted attention. Neighbors sometimes chafe at the idea of an edifice down the street the size of the White House. Reacting to McMansions that went up in the housing boom, some communities, like Chevy Chase, Md., passed rules that regulate more strictly how big houses can grow, says John McIlwain, a senior resident fellow specializing in housing issues at the Urban Land Institute.

Near where Mr. Pritzker’s home is under construction, neighbors are up in arms over another of Mr. McCoy’s projects, a roughly 70,000-square-foot compound (downsized from 85,000 square feet) awaiting permitting for Prince Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz Al Saud, son of the king of Saudi Arabia. The compound is on three lots and would include a main home of 42,000 square feet—part of it underground—a guest house, pool cabana, gate house and another residence of up to 20,000 square feet. The prince’s lawyer, Benjamin Reznik, notes other residences in the neighborhood are super-sized and says opposition has been “fomented” by neighbor Martha Karsh, the wife of Oaktree Capital Management founder Bruce Karsh. Ms. Karsh has hired publicists to attract attention to the project, he adds. “Newt Gingrich wishes he had that campaign going,” says Mr. Reznik.

George Mihlsten, a lawyer for a community coalition and Ms. Karsh, says the coalition hired his firm and that Mr. Reznik has hired outside help too, including a community-relations firm (Mr. Reznik says that was in response to Ms. Karsh’s campaign). “He likes to focus on Martha, but the truth is he and his client have created the controversy by proposing an outlandish plan and going behind the backs of the community to try to get it built,” Mr. Mihlsten says in an email, likening the scope of the project to a small community shopping center. More than 1,500 residents of Benedict Canyon signed a petition expressing their opposition to the project as it was originally proposed, according to a representative of the coalition.

The scope of these projects makes them extremely complex to construct. Finding or assembling the property can take several years, and the design and construction of a super-size project can take up to five years or more, builders say. (These days, lower labor costs in some areas can mean quicker turnaround times or better value.) Just finding parking for the 100 to 200 tradespeople that can be on-site for a big job, compared with the eight to 20 people typically working on a 4,000-square-foot home, can require planning; commandeering church parking lots is one standby.

If you have enough money, can’t you just budget some resources for dealing with the neighbors and/or going to court to make sure your home is built? But if your neighbors are also wealthy, perhaps you are in trouble…

The article hints at the regulations that many municipalities have put in place in order to limit these large homes. This leads me to several thoughts. First, are there communities that have intentionally left no or few regulations in place in order to make it easier for the construction of bigger homes? Another way to think about this would be to look at communities that have had public discussions about regulations for larger homes but then decided to do nothing. Are there communities that actually want these larger homes? Second, are these extra-large homes extremely concentrated in a few communities that have more relaxed regulations? Third, has someone ever looked into whether the level of opposition to a proposed big house is proportionally related to the size? For example, a house that is 500 square feet larger than the surrounding homes might receive one-quarter of the NIMBY attention of a proposed house 2000 square feet larger.

Gisele Bunchen defends her eco-friendly, 22,000 square foot home

I’ve wondered this before: can you have a truly large house that is really eco-friendly? Gisele Bundchen tries to make such a case for their new home:

While Giants fans have been rabble-rousing Tom Brady over the upcoming Super Bowl XLVI, environmentalists are giving the Patriots quarterback and his supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen the stink eye for a different reason – their brand new, 22,000 sq. ft. mega mansion in Brentwood, CA. The celebrity couple recently moved into the $20 million home with their young son, and one has to ask why a two and a half person family needs such a ginormous space (if you do the calculations, that’s about 7,333 sq. ft. per person). Bundchen, who is known for her eco-activism, rebutted people who questioned how such a McMansion could be called eco by touting its sustainable features such as solar panels on the roof and rainwater recovery systems, but we wonder if that’s enough to call the ginormous home green.

The eight bedroom mansion has a six-car garage, a lagoon-like swimming pool, a spa, a gym, a nursery, a butler’s room, an elevator and a wine cellar. Apparently, Bundchen and Brady purchased the land in 2008 and had an original plan for the house, but ended up adding to it because they felt it was too small. To give you more of an idea of how sprawling the home is, the two wings are connected by a bridge.

While the vast size of the manse has many environmentalists raising their eyebrows, Bundchen is reported to have explained that the home is actually quite sustainable with solar panels installed on the roof, rainwater recovery systems, waste reduction and recycling programs, energy-efficient lighting and appliances and eco-friendly building materials. She also made the case that while the Brady clan is only three people, with all of their relatives constantly visiting, they need more space.

Perhaps it is more sustainable than the typical 22,000 square foot home (how many of those are there in the United States?) but this probably isn’t the right metric to use. Is it as sustainable as a 10,000 square foot house or even a 5,000 square foot house? Perhaps. What we need to happen is for a big star to have a huge home like this but then have it be LEED certified – would it be green enough?

Beyond the eco question, I think a typical person might ask what one even does with that much space. That must be one big family to host…but this is related to another issue: the size of a home itself and the land it requires could itself be seen as wasteful beyond the actual energy the home requires.

“The 2012 New American Home”

Each year, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) puts together a “New American Home” featuring the latest and greatest for single-family homes. Here are the features of the 2012 New American Home:

Phil Kean of Winter Park, Fla., the architect and builder of the 2012 home, seeks to honor the architecture of the past while taking advantage of current technologies and design trends. Kean is focusing on functional and transitional spaces and attention to detail instead of square footage and the design uses space efficiently to create a calm and serene living environment.

The latest green building products and methods are factored into every aspect of the home’s design. Kean designed the home to achieve “emerald” status under the green building certification process administered by the NAHB Research Center and based on principles set forth in the ICC 700-2008 National Green Building Standard™ certified by ANSI – “Emerald” is the highest of the four levels of achievement a home can attain…

Kean has designed The New American Home 2012 to take maximum advantage of Florida’s friendly climate. Walls of movable glass panels and motorized screens provide a seamless flow from the indoor to the outdoor spaces.

At 4,181 square feet, the home will be the smallest in The New American Home series in many years. It will be displayed as a two-bedroom floor plan that will appeal to empty nesters, and will have four additional rooms that could be converted to bedrooms if needed.

Kean is building The New American Home 2012 on an infill site in an older neighborhood close to downtown Winter Park. Amenities within walking distance include shops, restaurants and a public library.

See videos of the home here. A quick discussion of some of these themes:

1. While the Wall Street Journal suggests this home provides evidence that “the love affair with supersized McMansions is waning,” the home is still 4,181 square feet, significantly larger than the average new house size of about 2,400 square feet.

2. There is a continued push to go green. I didn’t even know there was an emerald level…

3. This sounds like a New Urbanist type of setting: it is a new home but is in an old neighborhood so residents could walk to a historic downtown. I wonder what the neighbors think of the new home; while it isn’t a teardown, I imagine it might be different than some other nearby homes?

4. The design and furnishing of this home seems modern, following in the footsteps of “Le Corbusier and Richard Meier.” Perhaps this works better in Florida but I wonder if the average wealthy homebuyer would be interested.

5. And how much would this particular house cost in its current setting or transplanted or built elsewhere? There appear to be some cool features such as a suspended staircase, an art gallery, and a waterfall table on the back patio but I’m sure those things add up.

How small is too small for a new house? Debating minimum sizes (along with race and class)

There are plenty of people who would like to see Americans live in smaller homes but some communities have minimum square footage requirements for new homes, leading to this question: how small is too small for a new house?

Chris Jaussi, owner of Zip Kit Homes in Mount Pleasant, manufactures homes as small as 400 square feet and would like to sell the micro dwellings in the county. But dwellings that small are prohibited by a 1980s ordinance that mandates the minimum size [800 square feet] of a residence…

He believes the current ordinance is “discriminatory” against lower-income people who can’t afford a conventional “stick-built home” in the county…

County officials said the existing policy was adopted to limit mobile and double-wide manufactured homes to specified zoned areas and keep them from springing up randomly in the county…

“I have a lot of sympathy for those who can’t afford their own homes — the poor of Sanpete County. But I don’t want to make housing so cheap we import the poor from other cities,” said Stewart [vice chair of the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission], according to the newspaper. “We get someone who can’t afford to build a bigger home, so they buy this one and fill up the rest of the [5-acre county lot] with junk cars …we don’t want people to come to Sanpete County for that reason.”

This is fascinating for a couple of reasons:

1. Many residents may not think about minimum or maximum home sizes – can’t you build what you want on your own property? However, zoning laws are often quite clear about this.

2. I don’t think minimum home sizes are that unusual. It sounds like this was enacted in this particular county to limit manufactured homes but I also have read about a similar battle in Naperville. Levitt and Sons, the same builders who built the famous Levittowns in the Northeast, proposed building smaller homes of about 1,000 square feet in the early 1980s. However, residents of nearby newer subdivisions complained that the much lower prices of these “downsized” homes would reduce their own property values. Naperville thought about enacting a minimum size ordinance but decided not to after finding that similar regulations in other Chicago suburbs had been struck down in court.

3. Let’s be honest here: this is all about property values and of course, property values also coincide with issues of race and class. More expensive homes, which on average are more likely to attract middle- to upper-class residents who are more likely to be white, are seen by many communities as a boon while smaller homes which attract the lower classes and minorities are seen as less worthwhile. Look at the associations cited here in this story: allowing smaller homes will automatically attract lower-income residents who will live in mobile homes and/or keep junked cars in their yards. The suburbs have a long history of formal and informal ways of restricting access to the poor and a minimum house size or lot size (usually associated with exclusionary zoning) can accomplish this. I do wonder though if these smaller homes will necessarily attract low-income residents – if these smaller homes are about being green (and perhaps also about quality rather than quantity), might they also be marketed to more educated, higher-class residents?

Unusual 60,000 square foot house in northern Ohio

Big houses tend to draw attention but particularly eccentric big houses. Here are some of the features of an unusual 60,000 square foot home in northern Ohio:

A wealthy inventor conceived of a home with whimsical, underground ‘streets’ built to scale and inspired by those he’d seen in Georgetown, Paris and Savannah. Above ground, it featured a private beach and marina sculpted into the shores of Lake Erie. And a helicopter pad…

“It takes four-and-a-half hours to show this property,” said Scott Street of Sotheby’s, the listing agent for the Waterwood Estate, which is now listed on the Vermilion real estate market for $19.5 million.

The property sits on 160 acres, boasts three-quarter miles of frontage on Lake Erie and contains a series of “pods” connected by glass corridors that were navigated by scooters and golf carts…

Jacobsen used his trademark “pod” style design to give the design more flexibility and allow it to evolve as Brown wanted other things added. The entire home is a series of 20 castle-like concrete buildings connected by glass corridors and each structure is topped with a slate pyramid.

Perhaps one could argue that any 60,000 square foot home is unusual but this has many intriguing traits.

Why build this property on Lake Erie?