McMansion envy spreads as Americans demand more bedrooms, baths
What is “McMansion envy”? The common sense interpretation seems clear: people see and desire McMansions. Yet, this gets complicated fairly quickly for a number of reasons.
The data then presented in the story does indeed tell a tale of Americans buying larger homes. But, not all large homes are McMansions.
There is no other mention of the term McMansion. While the term seems to be a stand-in for large homes in general, there are also references in the story to homes with more and flashier features (including more bedrooms and bathrooms as well as higher-end finishes, though this last part is difficult to defend with Census data).
McMansion is a pejorative term and few real estate listings or homeowners proudly use the term to describe their homes. Instead, the term typically refers to tacky or garish large homes (see McMansion Hell for an example).
The latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show newly-constructed homes in 2017 are 4 percent larger on average than a decade ago. And they come with a larger price tag — the average price of a new home jumped 23 percent from $313,600 in 2007 to $384,900 last year. Meanwhile, the average family size in the U.S. continues to shrink, from 3.33 persons in 1960, to 2.54 in 2017…
Below are some takeaways from the Survey of Construction data released in June. Based on the most common features, the most popular home built in 2017 was a two-story, two-garage home with more than four bedrooms and three bathrooms.
Several graphs highlight the proliferation of bedrooms and bathrooms in recent years:
-A lending industry that often requires relatively small down payments and repayments of a mortgage over three decades. Even if borrowers pay more in interest over time, they can afford a bigger home up front. Mortgages are socialized.
A research team affiliated with UCLA studied American families and where they spend most of their time while inside their homes. The results were fascinating, but really not all that surprising. Here’s one representative example:
As you can see, most square footage is wasted as people tend to gather around the kitchen and the television, while avoiding the dining room and porch.
However, while this study may have measured where people actually spend time in their homes, it does not necessarily mean that homeowners do not desire extra features. I can think of at four additional arguments homeowners might often make:
Even if the family or household members do end up in certain spaces more than others, this does not necessarily mean that they do not need separate spaces occasionally to have their own space away from each other.
Certain spaces may be highly specialized and helpful, such as a dining room that accommodates large family meals or a hobby room where a homeowner can pursue their interests or a quiet and comfortable space.
A larger home is a sign of success or tied to a particular lifestyle. For example, many homeowners may no longer use a porch but still prefer that look.
Supersize trend No. 1: Outdoorsy types need plenty of space
Supersize trend No. 2: Seeking space in the suburbs
Supersize trend No. 3: Southern cities are churning out jobs and big homes
Supersize trend No. 4: Big homes are all that’s left in tight Midwestern markets
Supersize trend No. 5: Tech hubs + deep pocked buyers = more McMansions available
And, like the McMansion definition, another important caveat:
And if it wasn’t for the fact that we limited our ranking to one housing market per state, Colorado and Utah would’ve had all five top metros.
And a third caveat: this is based on only homes that are on the market.
Even with these significant limitations, I wonder if an analysis could reveal some underlying patterns behind these noteworthy metropolitan areas:
They have a growing population and thus a growing stock of larger, new homes, particularly in suburbs.
They have relatively low housing prices paired with enough higher income jobs. (Seattle and Portland are the ones that stick out here but perhaps this is relative: those same buyers could find higher prices in the Bay Area, LA, Vancouver, etc.)
These places have looser zoning restrictions on the whole that allows for more and/or quick construction. (I imagine there is some variation in these top 10 places. Portland and Bridgeport, for example, likely have some tight restrictions compared to an Indianopolis or Provo.)
This could be worth pursuing though the data needs to provide a more complete picture of the housing stock.
We sifted through realtor.com listings to figure out which of the 150 largest metros had the highest percentage of homes on the market that are 3,000 square feet and above. (The average square footage of a new single family home is 2,627, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.) Sure, this includes some tasteful, large homes and legit mansions. But it was impossible to separate those from the McMansions—it’s rare to see the word “tacky” in a home listing.
The imposing, ostentatious structures looming over surprisingly wee plots of land. The crazily mismatched architectural styles. The hipped roofs, gabled roofs, and pyramidal roofs—all on the same house! The bank columns. The front yard Romanesque fountains. The puzzling profusion of window sizes and types. The gigantic, two-story front doors.
I can understand how the real estate listings do not easily allow for the easy categorization of homes as McMansions. Few, if any, homeowners and realtors want to advertise their homes using such a pejorative term. Yet, if you are going to use a headline involving McMansions and then talk about the poor architecture of McMansions, then your measure should take these features into account.
How might this be done? A few ideas:
Take random samples within each metropolitan area and look for specific features.
Do a survey of realtors, architects, and others who might be able to identify McMansions to get their sense of how many McMansions are in particular areas.
Train a computer program to scan thousands of images of homes for sale and determine whether the homes are McMansions or not. (The coding scheme would be very similar to the one used in #1.)
These approaches are not necessarily easy but would be essential for actually getting at which AMerican cities have teh most McMansions.
For a more complete definition of a McMansion – including but also beyond their size and architecture, see my summary here.
The recent deals demonstrate how perceptions of those buildings and others with ultrawide floor plates, such as the Merchandise Mart and the former Apparel Center next door, have evolved. Long considered inefficient albatrosses, with too many large columns and not enough natural light, the buildings today are coveted by employers such as technology and creative firms.
Wide floors allow firms to have hundreds, or even thousands, of employees together on one floor. Open layouts and abundant meeting areas are designed to promote collaboration.
As a result, seven of the 17 largest new office leases in downtown Chicago since 2012 have been in buildings with floors of at least 50,000 square feet, according to a study by Chicago office leasing broker Matt Ward of Newmark Knight Frank. Those deals of 200,000 square feet or more include relocations or large-scale expansions within a building.
“This thinking of different floor, different planet is finding its way into every boardroom,” Ward said. “The idea of us getting out of our offices and being together is seen as a necessity in today’s business.”
The trend continues toward open floor plans where employees can interact and discuss ideas beyond their immediate isolated tasks, both theoretically leading to an outpouring of creativity and cross-pollination. This evolution of office design is chronicled well in Cubed.
At the same time, I have read about enough feedback from workers in response to these open plans to know that this is not universally beloved. The open plans limit privacy and inhibit focus. Some of the organizations that went to radically open plans later had to scale back to once again provide some more private spaces.
It would be worth going back to some of these wide structures in a few years to see how firms have organized the large spaces differently.