The disadvantages and advantages to living on a major suburban road

I regularly drive by a single-family home that is located on a busy four lane road. Decades ago, this was a two lane road and traffic was lighter. Now, it is a road with a 50 MPH speed limit and many cars zooming daily between suburbs. In the morning, the school bus stops on the busy road to pick up kids from one house. Most of the housing in this area is located on streets that branch off this main road; this is common in suburban areas as residential neighborhood traffic is routed to arterial roads.

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When looking for housing years ago, I remember seeing homes located on such roads. What might be the advantages and disadvantages of such properties?

Advantages:

-Quick access to a major road. Suburban subdivisions can be big and the roads winding. It can take minutes just to leave the neighborhood.

-A reduced price. If the road is busy and noisy, this may mean the property is cheaper than comparable houses and lots.

-A location along a known road.

Disadvantages:

-Noise. The sound of cars and trucks is constant.

-Safety. Many suburbanites might wonder whether kids can safely play.

-Lower property values in comparison to similar properties.

-Less parking. If you have lots of people over, is the driveway big enough for everyone?

I would guess many suburbanites would choose not to live on or even near such a major road if they can help it. At the same time, plenty of suburbs have houses located along busy and fast roads.

The steps to moving a house

Need to move a house? Here is one description of the process:

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First, engineers must assess if the house is structurally sound to move. Once that’s determined, Mr. Davis said, “then physically we come in and typically excavate around the house and clean the perimeter of the house.”

Following the excavation, the next step is to “jackhammer or cut holes in the foundation and slip a grid of steel under the house,” he added. “I have to design the length and weight of the steel to hold the structure without failure. I need to work out weight of structure before I start to position the jacking and lifting points and give my best estimation of what’s necessary to hold the house safely when it’s under my control.”

If the home isn’t undergoing renovations, it can be lifted or moved with household goods, including furniture in place, because that weight is a small fraction of the total weight, which can be many tons. (The furniture does not have to be secured, Mr. Davis said, but he does suggest taking pictures and mirrors down, along with other fragile items.)…

The home must also be disconnected from utilities before the relocation has begun; gas and sewer lines must be cut and capped as well. Once it’s in its new position, they are reconnected.

I have wondered how many houses have been moved in such a way as it would be very difficult to tell after the fact if a home had been moved to the spot.

Many people who have moved might love to hear that this method does not require moving household goods. You can just move your house instead! But, I imagine the cost plus the process – needing to find land, obtaining permits, etc. – make this an unrealistic way to avoid packing.

If the cost of house moving could be reduced, it would be interesting to consider mixing more houses in different locations. In the United States, many residential neighborhoods contain homes roughly constructed at the same time. But, if houses could be more easily moved, there could be more styles and sizes interspersed through residential areas.

“Top 10 Cities with the Largest Homes for Sale”

Analysis of available properties at Realtor.com leads to this:

Why these places and not others?

“The places that boast the country’s largest average homes tend to be clustered in higher-priced communities either near bigger economic centers or in outdoors destinations,” says George Ratiu, senior economist and manager of economic research for Realtor.com. “On the flip side of the coin, cities [with] average home sizes [that] skew toward the smaller end are located in geographically constrained locations, where natural boundaries meet high-density development.”

But that’s not all that goes into the equation. Many older communities, such as in the Northeast, that were developed for blue-collar workers tend to be filled with smaller homes. Meanwhile, newer developments geared toward white-collar commuters often offer abodes with more square footage and amenities like open kitchens, which were not popular in the 1950s. You’re more likely to find McMansions in these areas.

In other words, larger homes are in wealthier and more sprawling communities.

I imagine zoning might also play a part in this; what kind of single-family homes are possible and/or encouraged? This is tied to historical patterns and policy decisions.

How do land and housing prices factor into this? Most of the communities listed above are not in the most expensive housing markets.

Fashion in roof colors vs. what is best for cooling

Here is an update on fashion in residential roofs:

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Hagen sees a persistent “undertow of people wanting contrast, a dark roof with light siding”—the prevailing fashion. I suspect we can blame anxiety over property values; call it Zillow syndrome. With inflated home prices composing larger shares of owners’ net worth, who wants to take a chance? This is the sort of thinking that has supported water-sucking green lawns in places like Arizona, not to mention racist exclusionary covenants across the country.

The roofing industry itself encourages it. The website of Apple Roofing, which has offices from Florida to South Dakota, credited dark shades with “significantly improving curb appeal.” (Sometime after I spoke with an executive there, this reference was removed.) Its blog argues that the choice between dark and light shingles “should really be about your color preference and curb-appeal over cooling costs … You can rest easy knowing proper ventilation and insulation will ensure the color has no effect on heating costs!” For roofers and manufacturers, such reassurances represent the path of least resistance—or, less graciously, pandering to consumers. And, because light shingles generally cost more to produce (the rock granules embedded in the asphalt base need an extra kiln-fired coating), dark shingles let companies charge higher margins or offer customers lower prices.

But, this prevailing fashion comes with downsides:

All this despite the fact that light shingles tend to last longer than dark ones; they stretch, contract, and crack less in the heat. Factor in energy costs and they’re a bargain: A study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that white roofs cost considerably less over their lifetime than both black and sustainability-flaunting grassy “green roofs,” which have other environmental benefits but cost more to install and, contrary to popular belief, don’t do much to counter global warming. Researchers at Australia’s University of New South Wales, another hotbed of cool-roof research, determined that such roofs reduced indoor temperatures by up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit.

This can save lives as well as pocketbooks: Researchers found that living on the top floor under a black roof was “a major risk factor in mortality” in Chicago’s July 1995 heat wave. Cooler roofs and whiter walls may explain why fewer people die in heat waves in Greece and North Africa than in France, Russia, and other countries to the north; all that whitewash isn’t just for scenic effect.

Where are the home roofing influencers who can tilt roofing fashion in a different direction? I say this partly in jest, but the piece goes on to briefly discuss the limited involvement of governments in regulating cool roofs for residences.

The fashion for roofs will probably change at some point; home styles come and go based on a variety of factors. If it can be tilted in a direction that helps limit energy bills, limits indoor overheating, and generally is positive for the environment, this could be helpful.

The trick here might be to link cooling roofing to property values. Homeowners are very interested in increasing their property values. Having the correct style helps but style is not everything. Do cooler roofing options provide a better return on investment in the long-run? Wouldn’t not replacing a roof as often be a good thing? When do green options for homes become a very important factor in deciding property values?

Paying California property owners to tear up their grass lawns

A good number of property owners in California can receive money to remove grass:

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The largest district in the state, the Metropolitan Water District serving 19 million people in Southern California, is paying $2 per square foot of grass pulled out. Water district customer cities and agencies can add more…

The Metropolitan Water District told CNN the number of requests for grass removal rebates jumped four times in July, to 1,172 applications…

The horrific drought led Larry Romanoff to combat climate change by ripping out his grass and replacing it with cactuses and decorative stones. Romanoff will collect $10,500, a whopping $6 per square foot of lawn removed from his desert home…

The Coachella Valley Water District and its customer, the city of Rancho Mirage, are each paying Romanoff $3 per square foot of lawn torn out…

The Public Policy Institute of California’s Water Policy Center estimated for CNN nearly 50% of the 409 water agencies in California are offering some sort of turf removal rebate, both residential and commercial.

Paying property owners now will presumably pay off in the long run as it reduces water use.

Given the water shortages facing California and other Western states, how much money will be allocated to such programs and how many homeowners will go for this? Getting rid of the grass lawn may lead to fewer maintenance needs. But, the grass lawn is such a key part of both the image and the mystique of the single-family home. It might be harder for many to envision a property of rocks and cacti or more native and drought-resistance plants.

Linking “newness” in a home with particular materials, styles

The impression of “newness” in a home is connected to particular updates and items:

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But not simply any new floors and counters will create the desired effect. The feeling of newness is largely relative, and the only real key to creating it is banishing the things that people expect to see in a dwelling built decades ago—“landlord beige” walls, all-white appliances, dingy carpet, laminate counters, wood so warm-toned it’s practically orange. Gray floors and all of their comorbid design phenomena are cool and crisp and modern by comparison, even if they’re also crushingly boring and totally character-free and really limit a space’s potential capacity to feel warm and alive and like a home.

And the purpose of these changes is to sell properties:

In theory, the things that make up the interior of your home should be either beautiful or useful; if you’re lucky, they’ll be both. And surely some people do lose their mind for gray laminate or subway tile or barn doors, and not just because there’s no accounting for taste. Once a particular design element becomes a shorthand for newness and freshness and successful domesticity, people come around to it precisely because they want their home to reflect those qualities. But that’s a different phenomenon than appreciation for the thing itself—for how nice it is to look at, or how much more functional it makes a space. In the hands of flippers and landlords, these choices are generally made not by people who want to fill the world with the best, safest, most comfortable homes possible but by those looking for a return on the bets they’ve made on the place where you’ll start your family or play with your future grandkids. They’ve chosen these things just as much for what they aren’t as for what they are—inoffensive, inexpensive, innocuous. These houses aren’t necessarily designed to be lived in. They’re designed to go into contract.

I wonder if this process mirrors that of the fashion industry and other culture industries. The production, sale, and popularity of created works and objects moves in waves and trends. Not too long ago, homes featured granite countertops and stainless steel appliances; now it is subway tile and grey floors; shortly it will be something else. Or, formal living rooms were a thing to open concept to providing smaller spaces to enable working from home. The key for those who want to make and sell properties is to appear on trend or close to it.

A related argument: homeowners and sellers exhibit their investment, emotional and economically, in a property by updating it to more recent trends. They show that they care about the home fitting in a new era rather than being left behind. It can suit a new family just as well as it did its original occupants.

Would it be possible to signal newness in different ways? A particular smell? How the occupants use the space? Altered infrastructure (ranging from new furnaces or electrical systems to greener options)? Integrating the Internet, screens, and sounds?

Rising property values and “passive income, which is the real American dream”

Why do so many homeowners care about protecting their property values? While recently reading about social class and Hollywood, I found this observation:

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That passive income, which is the real American dream, is no longer something that the actual artists—not just actors but writers and directors and everyone else who ever made a dime off of residuals—involved in the entertainment business get to enjoy.

The context here involves the actors and others involved with long-popular television shows that could reap the financial benefits for decades.

Isn’t this passive income also what American homeowners in the early 21st century expect when they purchase a residence? Scholars have noted the shift to Americans viewing their homes as a positive investment. Instead of needing a home for shelter and enjoying that residence while there, homes and residences are now supposed to make money for their owners. In this arrangement, property owners are not expected to be completely passive; they should maintain their property or possibly even improve it. In return, their property values go up and they can cash out in the future. A loss is very undesirable and even staying roughly at the same value over time is not much help given expenses. A nice profit requires a decent uptick in value. Such a profit can help owners climb the economic ladder, have a comfortable retirement, and pass along wealth and advantages to children and family.

This can help explain why so many homeowners fight against perceived threats to their property values. People want to change the use of land or alter the neighborhood in ways that might limit the rise of property values. It is a threat to passive income. (Whether those changes to the neighborhood and/or community actually lower property values is another story.)

Is it about the home or the location of the home?

I recently saw this:

I think this is promoting living in the country as the person making the statement would be okay with a cabin rather than a mansion. The cabin looks like it is in decent shape, but it is no mansion.

However, this gets at a question I wonder about a lot: what exactly is it that motivates many people to select where they live? Here are several of the major factors:

-How many resources they have? What can they afford?

-What kind of neighborhood or community do they want to live in?

-Proximity to work.

-Quality of schools.

-Proximity to family.

-Preferences for kind and style of residence.

If you choose to live in a cabin in the country, you are elevating some of these factors as more important than others. But, is the choice primarily about the country and nature, the relative lack of people, the different kind of house, or something else? Reducing it to a binary choice of cabin/country versus city/mansion is simple but the decision might be much more complicated.

54% of my block flew an American flag today and what this means

On a quick walk on this July 4th morning, I counted the number of residences on our block with an American flag on display. In roughly a quarter-mile of houses, 22 of 41 residences had a flag. What might this all mean? Several ideas:

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  1. The July 4th holiday tends to bring out the flags to symbolize the United States of America. Yet, is the number of homes with a flag displayed different than displays for other holidays? I would guess the numbers are not that different on this block regarding those who put something up for Christmas or for Halloween, the two primary holidays for decorations. I do not know if some people are celebrating all of the holidays or if different people are celebrating different holidays but this number of flags does not seem out of the ordinary.
  2. I have read online in multiple places that Americans are enthusiastic in displaying their flag compared to residents of other countries. Connected to #1 above, perhaps the real test of this is to see how many residents display flags when there is not a patriotic holiday? (At the same time, they might be frequenting other places that have a flag including schools, civic buildings, and churches.)
  3. YouGov recently released data on how Americans regard flags. Even with declining patriotism and less regard for the flag from younger Americans, 77% had a “very positive” or “somewhat positive” view of the American flag. This is quite a bit higher than any other flag asked about. The more popular a flag is, the more likely it is for homeowners to display it?

The use of flags in suburban settings and among single-family homes with their connection to the American Dream could make for a fascinating study, if it has not been done already.

Roots versus mobility: living a whole life in one suburban house

Offered money for her suburban home for a new industrial project, an 86-year-old woman responded this way:

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“She said, ‘Where will I go?’ How do you start your life again when you’ve lived your whole life in one house?” Kristie Purner said.

What I found interesting in this comment is comparing it to the more regular mobility of Americans in the suburban era. The US government has tracked this since 1947. For several decades after World War Two, the percent of Americans who moved each year hovered around 20%. During mass suburbanization and relatively prosperity, more people moved regularly. Many metropolitan regions, including the Chicago area, boomed during this time. Some of this suburbanization and prosperity was present before the Great Depression as well.

Given all of this, how many Americans can say they lived same place for decades? How many suburbanites stayed in one home? My guess is that it is a relatively small number of people.

Perhaps this might change in the coming decades with decreased levels of mobility among Americans. At the same time, it is hard to imagine a suburbia that is marked by permanence rather than continued growth and change.