Quick Review: One Big Home

A documentary involving McMansions on Martha’s Vineyard I blogged about earlierOne Big Home – has now been released. Here are some thoughts I had after reviewing the film:

  1. This is an engaging story. The promotional material says it was filmed over 12 years yet the time goes quickly as it puts together interviews, public meeting footage, and striking images of both natural and man-made settings from Martha’s Vineyard.
  2. The documentary does a nice job representing multiple points of view. While the filmmaker clearly dislikes these trophy homes – though there is a point where his public activism regarding the issue wavers after the birth of his first child – the film presents local workers, ranging from carpenters to architects to builders, and residents defending property rights and expressing concern about a community imposing regulations on construction.
  3. The filmmaker’s personal story also enriches the film. As he and his soon to be wife learn they are expecting a child, they see a need for more space and a more permanent home. They employ an architect and end up constructing a home around 2,500-3,000 square feet (depending on whether the lofts are used). The film displays some of his own personal quandaries regarding how much space they really need and whether it is worth it to have upgrades in the home. This leads to a basic question: when Americans do feel they need more space, how much space should they be able to acquire?
  4. If there are two parts of the film that could use a little expansion or more explanation, here is what I would vote for.
    1. At the end, the community debates a cap on the square footage for new homes. This is an important part of the entire process yet it goes by pretty quickly in the documentary. It feels like an epilogue when there is a lot of process that might be interesting to show. Ultimately, how exactly did the public conversation develop to lead to an overwhelming majority in the end? What were some of the successful and less successful steps in putting this cap in place?
    2. We see a lot about Chilmark but hear very little about the rest of Martha’s Vineyard. How does this small community interact with the other doings on the island? From the footage, this part of the island is more rural but there are likely some interesting comparisons to be made.

This is a well put together documentary that asks questions facing many American communities: what should be done regarding the construction of large homes? The future of many American communities and the residents affected therein will be affected by these choices.

“People want these larger homes”

I’m quoted in a recent Zillow story titled “Upsizing on the Upswing: The Big Decision More Homebuyers are Making“:

The data corresponds with what sociologists are seeing firsthand, says Brian Miller, an associate professor of sociology at Wheaton College, just outside Chicago. Miller, who studies cities, suburban migration and culture, argues that several factors could be impacting the shift in housing trends, including the strength of the national economy.

“I see a lot about tiny houses and micro apartments in Seattle, San Francisco, and New York — these cities who are really grappling with housing issues and trying to fast-track 200- or 400-square-foot apartments,” Miller says. “And yet the overall pattern across America is that people want these larger houses.

“The economy has gotten better over the last few years,” he continues, with a nod to cities like Dallas, one of the hottest housing markets in the country. “It seems it’s enabled people to [buy large houses] again.”

Popular culture may be influencing this decision as well, Miller adds, pointing to how homes are depicted on television, in both the reality and scripted genres.

“The typical home on TV is huge. Think about the ‘Friends’ apartments, which were impossibly large,” he says. “I’m thinking of HGTV shows I’ve seen over the past few years, where the dining room seats 10 or 12. I don’t have those parties, but if you’re watching HGTV, it just seems like everything is huge.”

I think the larger story goes like this: Americans tend to like large homes and even major financial issues, such as the bursting of the housing bubble, may not be enough to reverse that trend. This does not mean the desire for large homes will continue forever. Yet, major changes need to occur to the economic system and/or enduring values need to shift for Americans as a whole to embrace smaller homes.

Related topics:

McMansions are back.

There are a limited number of tiny houses in the United States.

To the Miami Herald: a 23,576 square foot home is not a McMansion

The Miami Herald features a 23,576 square foot home for auction. However, they err by calling it a McMansion:

If you need a house that stretches across east and west wings, a massive McMansion — said to be the largest home for sale in Broward — will be auctioned off on Dec. 8.

The 23,576-square-foot, custom-built home on 10 acres features seven bedrooms, eight full baths and two half baths. It boasts inlaid Italian marble and cathedral-style ceilings, and comes with a guest house, four-car garage, and statues and objects of art from all over the world.

“The finish work on the inside is the most amazing, with 30-foot high ceilings, chandeliers. It’s just magnificent,” said Jim Gall, president of Auction Company of America, hired to auction off the home, which was listed a year ago for $10 million…

Gall said he plans to start the bidding on the house at $5 million.

Homeowner Ray Moses said he and his wife, Pam, spent five years building the mansion after buying the property, which was formerly used as a horse boarding facility. Broward County property records show they paid $2,225,000 for the acreage in 2003.

Here are four reasons it is not a McMansion (with the most important reason at the top):

1. This home is far beyond the size of a McMansion. This kind of square footage is way beyond a McMansion.

2. Because of its size, luxury, and land, it is also out of the price range of a typical, particularly in Florida. The price might make sense if it was a big house in New York City.

3. This is not a big house on a postage-stamp lot; there are ten acres of land.

4. The home is custom-built, not part of a suburban neighborhood where the houses all look at the same.

By size alone, this home is not a McMansion but the other factors matter as well.

Interestingly, the report on the auction starts with the term McMansion and later uses mansion. Does this suggest the terms are interchangeable? Again, I would argue they are distinct categories.

Bankrate.com asks “What is a McMansion?”

Bankrate.com defines financial terms and recently look at the term McMansion:

The Bankrate.com financial term of the day is: “McMansion”

“McMansion” is a disparaging term used to describe homes that are oversized and opulent, but also without a whole lot of uniqueness. McMansions are loosely defined as houses between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet with soaring, grandiose entryways and multicar garages, often shoehorned onto relatively small lots.

McMansions are giant homes that have sprouted up in the suburbs the way fast-food restaurants have — hence the name.

Three features of this definition stand out: (1) marking the term as a disparaging one – it is rarely used positively and can be used effectively when criticizing others; (2) it highlights their mass-produced nature (not very unique, sprouted up); and (3) sets some square footage limits so that McMansions are larger than most American homes but don’t run into mansion territory. Several other parts of the definition, including common design features and small lots, may be common but are not part of all McMansions. However, the video is disappointing. I was hoping for some classic images of McMansions…

I also wonder if this is Bankrate’s definition of a McMansion as Americans see them or as a financial publisher? Here is a little bit about Bankrate.com:

We at Bankrate, Inc. have over three decades’ experience in financial publishing. Bankrate was born in 1976 as “Bank Rate Monitor,” a print publisher for the banking industry…

Today, Bankrate, Inc. is the Web’s leading aggregator of financial rate information, offering an unparalleled depth and breadth of rate data and financial content. Bankrate continually surveys approximately 4,800 financial institutions in all 50 states in order to provide clear, objective, and unbiased rates to consumers. Our flagship Web site, Bankrate.com, provides free rate information to consumers on more than 300 financial products, including mortgages, credit cards, new and used automobile loans, money market accounts, certificates of deposit, checking and ATM fees, home equity loans and online banking fees.

In addition to rate data, we publish original and objective personal finance stories to help consumers make informed financial decisions.

What exactly does Bankrate think about McMansions?

 

Teardowns McMansions responsible for the big American homes of today?

A story about a family who has downsized links teardown McMansions to the big American homes of today:

At a time when smaller, older homes are routinely torn down to build sprawling new “McMansions” — the median American home size has soared 250 percent from 1,000 square feet in 1950 to 2,500 in 2008 — Lindsay and Sue took the opposite approach when they remodeled their 1920 Arts and Crafts style bungalow in 2011. They actually lost square footage, about 40 square feet.

Just how indicative are teardowns of bigger American homes? They can be viewed as a symptom of longer and larger trends, particularly when looking back to 1950. Over the course of 60 years, the average new American home expanded by a factor of 2.5. This is significant as it led Americans to have the largest average new homes in the world. And all of this has happened as the average American household shrunk – perhaps suggesting Americans like even more space and more stuff in that space. Across the board, Americans now consume more than their counterparts in the 1950s – and this includes houses.

But, there might be some merit to linking teardowns to a larger average house size. Teardowns are still relatively rare. They occur most frequently in wealthier or gentrifying neighborhoods where there is money to spend on buying a home, destroying it, and constructing a whole new home. Yet, the average new house size might continue to be pulled up by the luxury housing market that may not have been hit as hard during the economic crisis. Look at the distributions of new homes by square feet from 1999 to 2012: 34% of new American homes in 1999 were over 2,400 square feet (17% over 3,000) compared to 45% over 2,400 square feet in 2012 (26% over 3,000).

On one hand, McMansions are often the whipping boys of the early 21st century American consumer culture. On the other hand, their presence may have helped keep the average new house size high even as the lower end of the housing market has had more difficulty recovering.

“The Queen of Versailles” super mansion back on track and on TV

The couple at the heart of the documentary The Queen of Versailles is back in their big house and headed back to television:

David and Jackie Siegel, last seen in the Documentary “The Queen of Versailles,” are the first guests in a new CNBC program, “Secret Lives of the Super Rich,” premiering September 25 at 9 p.m.

Even in a show dedicated to conspicuous consumption, the Siegels are special. When last seen, the Siegel empire was in disarray and their Orlando-area mansion — designed to resemble Versailles — was in foreclosure.

But at least the Siegel economy has rebounded. David Siegel’s Westgate Resorts time share company is recording record profits, he says. Now he’s repurchased the manse from the bank and has resumed construction.

How big is the place? It has 13 bedrooms, 30 bathrooms, 11 kitchens and a 20-car garage. It is so big that at one point in the tour, Jackie Siegel gets lost and doesn’t know what room she’s in.

It will be interesting to get an update on the state of the home. Though it is quite unnecessary, it is quite a building.

My biggest complaint about this article: the title suggests the home is a McMansion. It may share some features such as harkening back to older architectural styles and owners who seem interested in space as well as impressing people. But, this is way beyond a McMansion in terms of size and even way beyond a “normal” mansion. There is a reason a documentary was made about the house: it is one of the largest houses in the United States. This house cannot be mass produced nor is it within buying range of the middle-class or upper middle-class.

The winner of NYC’s micro-apartment contest

With more cities interested in micro-apartments, the announcement of a winner of the New York City micro-apartment contest may be influential:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the winner of the city’s adAPT micro-apartment competition yesterday, a contest to design a 250- to 370-square-foot living space that launched last July. The winner, chosen from 33 applicants, is a collaborative effort between Monadnock Construction, the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation, and nARCHITECTS called My Mirco NY, which will have its design implemented in a 55-unit building scheduled for completion in 2015…

Like many others, the winning design incorporates high ceilings and dual-use furniture to make the space seem larger. Although the press release called the winning proposal “fresh”, “striking”, and “innovative”, the long, narrow floor plan is similar to comparable projects like San Francisco’s SmartSpace, with fold-up furniture, micro kitchen, floor-to-ceiling storage, and loft space.

The mayor’s office had to waive some zoning regulations to make My Mirco NY legal, but it did not release any information about the competition’s runners-up or what their designs were like…

nARCHITECTS designed the building around prefabricating the units and stacking them on a foundation, then adding a brick facade. It will be the first multi-unit prefab building in Manhattan.

It will be interesting to see how people living in the units as well as people in the neighborhood respond. It is one thing to win a design competition, another to put it into practice and achieve the desired results.

It is also worth noting that the city had to bend some zoning rules. If communities are serious about micro-apartments and other similar smaller housing units, they have to find room in zoning regulations. This could be a more difficult task as zoning changes can draw the attention of neighbors and others in addition to stirring up political discussions involving elected officials, city employees, and builders and architects.