One of our Blog friends has recently been home hunting and in her struggle to find what she's after, it has been mentioned that there was a low supply of Nice Small Homes. Putting myself in her shoes, always a dangerous endeavor, got me thinking about the difficulty she's experiencing and what I consider to possibly be broader implications.
In very general terms, during the go-go years of real estate and new construction, we've associated Nice with Large. I know there are exceptions; the Architectural and Home Building magazines will often feature small homes that are efficient, space saving and designed to feel comfortable with smaller footprints, built with and for efficient design. The problem is that we don't, or weren't, building that way and most of us only wanted to see these homes in magazines, not next door.
While we were building our own home, the first and then, often last question was "how many square feet?" as if nothing else really mattered. Three thousand was definitely better than two thousand and then one thousand.....well....that's the place where you park ONE car. My numerical answer, full of hope, excitement and anticipation often was the shortest path to the conversation's end. We wanted only a few 'special' things, not extravagant in any way, and were basically told that adding those types of things in our home's price range were not feasible, meaning that no one was going to help us build (or loan us money for) a 1500 sq. ft. house that would cost what a 2000 sq. ft one would. We built our own.
There is a regional component to this; different areas of the country I'm sure are in and have passed through different phases. Of course the socioeconomic conditions of an area or region play into practices and whatever may be called standards. My comments are aimed toward the southern areas of Wisconsin, an area, again very generally, for the most part quite well off and affluent.
All I've got is anecdotal; I spend a lot of time visiting (riding through) southern Wisconsin, the area in which our home-hunting friend has been shopping for something at least in many ways, is similar to the home which she recently sold. Thankfully I've not shopped for or been in any way associated with the hunt for real estate in 25 years. Most of the areas I visit our rural, with those homes that are new, normally quite large, my guess is serving as bedroom 'communities' for larger towns and even cities within what those fortunate enough, consider to be commutable distances. The area is heavily and primarily populated by farms area-wise and their homes are a different category all together.
Whatever the supply is, there hasn't been a real demand for small, from those that could afford "nice". Sure, around small targeted areas there may be exceptions, possibly near University towns, a rare tourist area here and there where there was a special reason a builder might build something that didn't look big from the street or road "out front". In general, our part of the Midwest is spacious and historically there's been no justifiable reason to build small when big is what most of us have thought we want, need or should have. Even when the home isn't big inside, it's been designed to look that way from the curb. Small is almost always old or very soon will be.
There are so many metrics involved; the potential of payback for improvements made to an older home, current energy prices vs. payback, the idea that energy efficiency can more easily be put "into" a new home that's selling for $300K than in one selling for $150K, the challenges of upgrading an existing home for existing homeowners in today's market, etc. Is someone more likely to pay $70/sq. ft. for 1000 or $60/sq. ft. for 2000? Who is currently living in the small home, an elderly couple or widow/widower and how much would or should anyone spend to enhance it?
Closing my eyes and from memory, I can see dozens of rural locations, large paved driveways, and through the exposed winter woods if not visible in mid-summer, a 'nice' 3 story home, pole barn, other various out buildings, often a horse or two; a vision that was common 5 years ago. Over the last couple of years, those same driveways might very well have the Kubota w/loader and mower, a motorhome, a boat and snowmobile trailer w/sleds, all out in front with For Sale signs.
It seems inevitable that things will change. I wouldn't even call it pessimism, maybe more accurately a blend of pragmatism, but I doubt very much that our kids will find themselves in the type of homes that there seem to be so many of. So what does that mean?
I make no pretense as to being aware of or of closely following current trends or to know anything about modern home design. I am only slightly aware of and often find European styling (and size) to be appealing in so many ways and think there are plenty of proven examples of what may be ahead as our new home construction evolves.
I jokingly thought to myself when reading our friend's blog about her difficulties that it was too bad we couldn't start chopping up some of the big homes that are or might soon be available and making two or three from one. Appreciating that big doesn't always mean well-built or energy efficient, those things do for the most part go together with new construction it seems.
Housing, beyond keeping us warm and dry, is a very personal thing and we come at it and gravitate toward its core in so many different ways. My attitude, now that I've owned and lived in a few, has evolved as well and that goes beyond just the current state of market conditions. My expectations, wants and needs are different than they've been in the past; sometimes it takes a bit of poking, a look around and stepping away to look back inside in order to appreciate that.
A real hodge-podge mix of thoughts here, all part of thought threads that have been running through me since the discussion of Nice and Small first came up.
In general, I'd say our friend's timing is not in sync with conditions.....she's early and part of a trend she doesn't necessarily want to lead.
Your thoughts very welcome.....