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McMansion makes a comeback

By Judy Martel ·
Friday, June 14, 2013
Posted: 4 pm ET

In the years leading up to the housing boom, the median size of the American home had been steadily increasing. Then came the crash in 2009, and the median square footage of newly built homes reverted to near-2003 levels, according to a Census Bureau report. Many industry experts predicted that smaller homes would remain a solid trend. Instead, the popular McMansion appears to be making a comeback.

In 2009, median home size dropped to 2,135 square feet, close to the 2003 median of 2,137 square feet. In 2010, according to the report, size began increasing again, and in 2012, square footage of the median home reached a record high of 2,306 square feet.

Rick Sharga, executive vice president of Carrington Mortgage Holdings in Santa Ana, Calif., says he sees a couple of reasons for the increasingly larger American home. When the housing market went from boom to bust, builders were stuck with tracts of undeveloped land, and the only way to compete in the depressed market was to build smaller homes and price them competitively, he says. Now that the market is recovering, builders are reverting to constructing larger homes again. "Once you own the land, it doesn't cost much more to build a bigger home, and you can charge more, so bigger will always be better for builders," he says.

Another reason, Sharga says, is that when homeowners want to move up to a nicer home, they almost always buy a larger one. He says that there are more of this kind of  homebuyer in the market now than first-time homebuyers, who traditionally start out with smaller properties, he says.

So how big is big enough? Although there will always be homeowners who view size as a symbol of success, Sharga is not convinced that everyone views the American dream with a "bigger is better" mindset. "I think we might be on the cusp of a countercyclical trend," he says, "as baby boomers start retiring and downsizing."

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The ghost who never lies
June 21, 2013 at 3:34 pm

As a residential appraiser, I have found a few other reasons why big homes sell. Basically, homes are selling that seem to be larger than appears rational because it is much easier for a builder to justify 1000 square feet of extra GLA than additional quality when they go to a bank for a loan. Banks like easy metrics; making a home that is 20% bigger can justify a larger loan than trying to explain the value of using high quality materials.
The other reason is a lack of any taste or knowledge to go along with the vast amount of money going the buyers of McMansions. The buyers tend to want to show off their new found riches. However, they seem to lack the barest of appreciation for architecture or design. They don't even have the ability to hire a creative person, God forbid they hire someone who has some sort of original idea; such a person might not elicit the expected response from their friends. Better to show your wealth by putting all the money into raw size; 12,000 sq. feet with 6 bedrooms and 9 bathrooms (what IS it with these homes where baths outnumber the bedrooms? Does it show what the owner is made of?)
Sorry to rant, but I look at homes from 0 to 300 years old every day. The wealthy have always used their homes to make a statement about themselves or their families, if not by their own originality, at least by the mentoring of those more talented. The result has been interesting schools of architecture that still are around to be appreciated and sometimes copied today. While originating with the rich, these styles have trickled down in our society such that they are adapted into all but the most utilitarian homes of each era and make a statement about what we think about ourselves.
But this all seems to have come to an end in the last two generations. The last widespread style that seemed to say anything about us, the modernism of the last century has been replace with a never ending sea of little homes designed for efficiency only and larger and larger editions of the same idea. Want to suggest some style from the past? Throw up a couple of cheap motifs and off you go.

Carla Meyer
June 21, 2013 at 3:12 pm

In buying or building a home, know how much your willing to spend
on that home. Then there is the cleaning of that home, the area of that home and how big or small you want in that home.
Don't get a "big" home if you can't afford it. Know how much you
can spend and how much you can't. Another thing, ask yourself this. Do you want to move? You'll be surprised how often this question is asked when it's too late.

June 21, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Who can qualify for these McMansions? The average person would have to live in one with family members. No one ever mentions the fact that these larger homes demand more money to maintain, and people don't have the time to even enjoy the space when they spend their waking hours trying to keep a job and I am talking professionals. The majority of Americans spend their time in a bathroom, kitchen and a place to watch TV, because they can't afford to go out.

June 21, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Got plenty of these where I live.....some left unsold and empty for does the construction and occupation of one of these edifices---by a family with the typical 1.6 children--square with ideals of environmental concern, not trashing the planet, etc??? Makes no sense.

June 21, 2013 at 8:33 am

It would be helpful if the "journalist" who wrote this actually listed some of the criteria for calling a residence a "McMansion".

Kyle McKenna
June 18, 2013 at 2:30 am

Author conflates 'McMansion' with 'large new house'

While it's true that many large new houses are of the McMansion variety, the epithet refers specifically toward the pretentious and ersatz builder boxes that proliferate in this country these past few decades--usually with stage-set facades and always with explicitly ungrammatical and amateurish architectural references. FWIW!