Family Issues

Cool Ranch, Cooler McMansion

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ranch house

Tucked improbably in an article about the rise and fall of the ranch house is a handy "things are getting better all the time" metric:

McMansion

Housing has always been governed by a simple rule: As people become richer, they spend more money on their homes…. Spending more money has usually meant making the home bigger. This happened in Renaissance Italy, 17th-century Holland, and 19th-century England. It also happened in the prosperous second half of the 20th century in the United States. Some statistics: In 1950 the median size of a new house was 800 square feet; by 1970 this had increased to 1,300; 20 years later it had grown to 1,900; and in 2003 it stood at 2,100. More than one-third of new houses built today exceed 2,400 square feet.

For more in this vein, check out Cato's It's Getting Better All the Time.

Extra bonus update from the Reason vaults: For even more in this vein, check out this or especially this (which mentions increasing square footage of homes as a leading indicator that "the good old days are now.")

NEXT: A State of Imus Urgency

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  1. Yeah I know, markets are wonderful, everything’s getting better, McMansions make efficient use of plot space etc., etc.

    But holy crap they’re ugly.

  2. No one builds ranch houses or split-levels anymore.

    Bah.., the only things being built around this area are gad-dangged cookie-cutter raised ranches. A raised ranch and a split level are nearly indstinguishable. Except maybe for a rear grade entrance which is usually absent on a raised ranch.

    I’m currently in the market for a home, and am just hoping to find a two-storey in my price range. So far, except for one missed 2-storey opporuntity, its been nothing but raised-ranches, split-level, and overpriced bungallows (ranches).

    And maybe its just me but a two storey present a great opporunity for not having your bedroom full of ‘wonderful’ kitchen smells or not having to entertain the neighbours practically in your bedroom. Because thats usually how it works out in ranches and split-levels where the kitchen, dinnig/living-room and the bedroom are on the same floor next to each other.

  3. I’m thinking the ranch is going to make a comeback, given the aging boomers are going to want everything on the same level. At least I hope so.

  4. Isn’t the issue that the houses are getting bigger while the land is getting smaller? Forgive me, but I believe that land is still the value in this equation, not some steroid-shack a crooked GC throws up to impress the neighbors. I know that real estate includes the improvements, but people today seem to think the other way around.

  5. Of course, in many cases (I don’t know the exact percentages), housing sizes are MANDATED to be that large, due to zoning requirements.

  6. I want a Roman villa, with an atrium, impluvium, peristylium, etc. Everything faced in marble, too.

  7. The government has also taken several steps to subsidize home ownership, relative to other expenditures.

    We’re also doing more indoors now, which lends itself toward a bigger house and smaller yard.

  8. People love their new 4,000 sq.ft. house…until the heating bill arrives. Basically, I wouldn’t want one of those barns unless I had enough $$$ to hire other people to do all of the cleaning and maintenance, and didn’t have to look twice at the utility bills.

  9. “Liberate”?
    Is that the love child of Pro Libertate & Liberace?

  10. re: the pictures

    Can a house with a one car garage really be considered a McMansion?

    I have nothing against larger homes. It is crappily built homes w/ no sense of design whatsoever that make me sick. If the people buying these homes saw the crew of clowns they generally have building this dreck, housing prices would plummet to pre-WW2 levels.

  11. You can always discern a person’s political leanings by his use (or not) of terms like “McMansion” and “FrankenFood.” Personally, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass (libertarian? anarchist? nonbuttinski?) at how big a person’s house is. I’m more concerned with the sonic tidal wave of bass-heavy death metal coming out of it and whether there’s a basketball hoop (both bad).

  12. If you don’t like huge gaudy houses, don’t live in one.

    That said, I don’t understand the prevailing mentality when it comes to lot size. Everywhere I go, I see new three story houses with five stall garages being thrown up six to a cul-de-sac. I don’t get this at all. If I had the green, I’d buy me a big house and hire a flock (gaggle? herd? school?) of illegal aliens to keep it for me. But top on the list of features I’d be looking for, is some distance between me and my neighbors.

  13. This just in:
    HIGHNUMBER IS A SMARTY-POOPIE PANTS

    hrumph.

  14. VM,

    Here’s the poor man’s version of what I envision.

  15. I want a Roman villa, with an atrium, impluvium, peristylium, etc. Everything faced in marble, too.

    Just a modest Roman temple. With a volcano!

    …Name the book, sci-fi nerds.

  16. “I want a Roman villa, with an atrium, impluvium, peristylium, etc. Everything faced in marble, too.”

    You’re obviously an anti-life second-hander.

  17. Pro,
    What do you mean “poor man’s version”? Those are perfectly good servants quarters on even the best estates.

  18. ProL:

    very nice! iz next. svimvear.

    very nice! iz next. day vear

  19. mediageek,

    Rand was an architectural moron. What would you rather live in–my villa of Roman pleasures or her aluminum box? Bah.

    Warren,

    Well, maybe for the servants’ servants. I guess. It’s vaguely opulent enough.

  20. When zoning regulations artificially limit the number of homes that can be built on a given piece of property, the developer maximizes his profit by making each home larger and more expensive. The effect is a double whammy for housing affordability – the number of units coming on line is artifically low, while those that do get built are clustered in the high end of the cost range.

  21. “In 1950 the median size of a new house was 800 square feet”

    Good God! I had no idea they were THAT small.

    Hell, I live alone and I have a 2700 sq ft townhouse.

  22. “What would you rather […]–my […] Roman pleasures or her aluminum box?”

    *quietly, slowly backs away from the innuendo. whistle whistle. nothing to see here. will. resist. temptation……

  23. Speaking of Ayn Rand, Howard Rourke’s vacation resort lays out perfectly the scheme behind post-war subidivisions, both physically and in terms of the mindset behind such a design.

    For someone who likes to use the term “anti-human,” Rand certainly did despise other humans.

  24. VM,

    Funny you should mention that. I just checked out Patton from the library and watched it with Coppola’s commentary. At the end, when some husky Russian woman was on screen, Coppola said, “What’s up with that? All the Eastern European women who I’ve seen have been babes.” One million buyers of Russian brides can’t be wrong, right? No one can criticize the CIA for this disinformation campaign, that’s for sure, because it worked. Without the CIA’s valiant efforts in protecting us from Eastern European wiles, we would’ve lost the Cold War in the 50s.

    joe,

    Which means that my villa will be subsidized in the near future? I may be less libertarian than I once thought. This developer-local government scheme has a certain marblely appeal, yes it does.

  25. No, Pro Lib, it just means you won’t be able to downsize in the same town when you see your first utility bill.

  26. …Name the book, sci-fi nerds.
    I think it was The System of the World, but it might have been The Confusion. (Not that either is really science fiction.) What do I win?

  27. For more in this vein

    Katherine, you misspelled “vain”.

  28. Don’t get sassy with me, VM, or my dancing girls won’t peel any grapes for you at the next Hit & Run party. A toga party, of course, because, well, what else would one wear in a Roman villa?

    joe,

    No kidding. The housing market is nuts in Tampa, even with the current move in the southerly direction. Upsizing isn’t looking so good, either. Really, if I can’t buy my villa, is there some political system that will supply me with one? See, that’s my price.

  29. That makes me wonder, though: the 1950s were fairly prosperous relative to earlier times. So what was the average new home size in say 1900? 100 square feet?

  30. Pro,

    Try Texas, you can build a mansion there for a quarter million (how bout that Mexican labor?).

    Of course, the downside is you have to live in Texas.

  31. Everything faced with marble?

    No way! What you want are frescoes — nice, graphic, hetero frescoes.

  32. Semi-rural midwest. 4000 total sq ft, 2800 finished floor space, 1+ acre, under $350k

  33. hrumph.

    /trods off. mutter mutter. peeled grape. mutter grumble.

  34. Alabama. 1950 sqft ranch, 5+/- acres, $75,000

    but again, you have to move to Alabama

  35. Well, paintings and statuary are par for the course, but I’ve got to have walls and stuff. Marble. From Carrera. Shipped to Florida by human-powered trireme. Trajan’s Column would look nice in the front yard. Or maybe an Egyptian obelisk? I can’t decide.

    Am I giving libertarianism a bad name?

  36. You know, the really amazing thing is that second extra bonus link is from 1995. The huge Wall Street bull run had just begun, DVDs had just been invented, there was no HDTV, and the Internet was still mostly a curiosity — why, we didn’t even have Google yet.

  37. TallDave,

    I don’t have numbers handy, but the average size of homes being built actually shrank from the late 1800s through the end of WW2.

    It had to do with homes being designed for nuclear, rather than extended, families.

  38. I have nothing against larger homes. It is crappily built homes w/ no sense of design whatsoever that make me sick. If the people buying these homes saw the crew of clowns they generally have building this dreck, housing prices would plummet to pre-WW2 levels.

    My sentiments exactly.

  39. Rand certainly did despise other humans

    Nah, just humans who choose not to think.

  40. joe,

    That makes sense. Tie that to the fact that we were largely agrarian before that time and that many people had the land and resources (and the larger families) to justify bigger homes. And no power bills!

  41. Actually, Rand’s idiosyncratic views on architecture are particularly relevant here.

    McMansions don’t really have to be ugly. They’re handicapped usually by the layout of the entire development, and by the nakedness of lots that are newly landscaped – but they’re also severely handicapped by the fact that people demand familiar designs executed with modern materials and with the interior layout altered to provide larger rooms, cathedral ceilings, etc. And when you use modern materials and modern floor plans [particularly the two-car garage floorplan] for your average historical style, it looks malformed. That’s why most McMansions are visually just a bit “off”.

    Designers know that if they came up with a design that actually suited the materials being used and complemented the floor plan, no one would buy it and they’d have to go work in a quarry. Hence, the McMansion.

  42. joe, is there any data suggesting we are moving back in the other direction, back toward extended families? I tell ya, with two kids, the ‘ol job, and grad school, I’d let my mother-in-law move in if she wanted to in a heartbeat.

  43. joe,

    That’s interesting. I suppose pessimists might even argue that the reverse is happening now.

    I guess a better measure might be square feet per capita.

  44. Put me in the “who cares?” camp.

    The home trend that DOES piss me off is ponds. For all the goddamned tax money we pay for mosquito abatement, (that’s abatement, not elimination) why the fuck do people put mosquito farms in their yards?

  45. PL-

    I was being sarcastic.

    Really.

    Can I get a peeled grape from one of the dancing girls?

  46. mediageek,

    I pardon you.

  47. Warren- You’re missing the point of those huge homes. They’re status objects, and there’s no fun in a status object unless everyone else can see it. In other words, a big house in the country just wouldn’t be much fun for most people.

    Joe- Rand’s point was that humans, or her kind of humans, need their own space and time away from the herd. And her favorite term of opprobrium was not “anti-human,” but “anti-life.”

  48. Media – I’d gladly share with you, but I’m not allowed to have one.

    /hrumph.

  49. C’mon Now,

    Well, there are more people taking in their elderly parents, but that’s not really the same thing. It also doesn’t even begin to account for the growth of homes.

    Fluffy, good point. There are 3000, 4000 and 6000 square foot houses in neighborhoods all over my city, from the 1800s-1920s, and they aren’t nearly as ugly as the McMansions being built.

    Your typical McMansion has no grace behind its design, just brute force. It’s a blown-up version of a 2000 square foot house.

    ed, have you ever read the passage I’m referring to in The Fountainhead? The disgust at humanity and the sense of sweet, sweet escape from having to encounter them, were quite pronounced.

  50. Yes, Number 6, “the Herd.” Other human beings are something to be tolerated and escaped from, like large, smelly ruminants. I think you’ve captured it exactly.

    Most of the book was set in an urban context. Can anyone think of even a single passage that expressed joie de vivre at being in the middle of the action?

  51. Give me a damn break, Joe. The desire for some solitude, especially to do creative work (the purpose of that resort) does not equate to misanthropy, and you’re more than smart enough to realize that.

  52. I want a Roman villa, with an atrium, impluvium, peristylium, etc.

    When in Rome … a puketorium is a must.

  53. As for the single passage- any of the references to enjoying looking over the city and the achievement it represented will do.

    Oh, and before you assign me to the Randroid camp, understand that I am not an objectivist. But you’re misrepresenting her thinking.

  54. 6, introverts are all just a bunch of haters. Everybody knows that.

    /sarc

  55. “Other human beings are something to be tolerated and escaped from, like large, smelly ruminants.”

    Obviously doesn’t apply to the Nordic variety. Must be from Rein’s side of the family.

    [keed keed]

  56. MG-Yeah, this is a nice illustration of what I was talking about in that other place.

  57. joe,

    Where would I be without the hoi polloi? Someone has to work the mines and the fields and pick the olives for me, after all [insert evil grin].

    Rand had some interesting viewpoints, but you won’t catch me saying that she wasn’t a bit crazy, either.

    VM,

    Oh, okay, you’re pardoned, too; provided that, however, you shall provide dancing entertainment for the Hit & Run women–Jennifer, smacky, Karen, and whoever else is left. Where’s linguist, anyway? Am I dating myself?

    Happy Jack,

    Puketorium? What the hell is that? Something like a vomitorium–i.e., an entry way for a stadium or theater?

  58. Number 6,

    “The desire for some solitude, especially to do creative work (the purpose of that resort) does not equate to misanthropy…”

    No it doesn’t,; or at least, it need not. I go off and seek solitude like everyone else.

    In Rand’s book, however, it does equate to misanthropy. Go back and read the passage, and tell me it isn’t dripping with loathing.

    “As for the single passage- any of the references to enjoying looking over the city and the achievement it represented will do.” No, it will not. Her descriptions of urban landscapes read like predictions of the neutron bomb – the buildings are all there, but “the Herd” is distinctly absent. Any urban scenes populated by actual human beings – except for the protagonists – are scenes of squalor, misery, and fear.

    VM,

    Not you. You’re one of the good ones. It’s like you’re not even a quadroped at all!

  59. ProL:

    Mrs. Moose and I had the pleasure of supping with Linguist and Mr. Linguist last Fri. They’re doing great!

    “Someone has to … pick the olives for me, after all”

    but… by your suggested method, they could only pluck them one at a time… hmmmm.

    *ducks

  60. VM,

    I didn’t know that she was married–is that a relatively recent event? Good for her, if so. Did she already tell you to dance, Monkey Boy, dance? If so, you only have to dance for the other women.

    My wedding to Mrs. Libertate is Saturday (as I’ve mentioned in previous threads). She’s all for the Roman villa and will look damned good in a toga.

  61. ProLib – I was thinking of an old SNL skit.

  62. Joe- I don’t agree with your reading of the resort scene at all. While it’s been years since I read it, I do not recall the level of hatred you do. That said, Rand certainly was mistrustful of the herd-and perhaps rightly so. Mobs can be scary, whether the mob in question is at a football game or organizing a lynching.

    But some level of misanthropy and elitism is certainly a part of her work. After all, she worshiped the extraordinary individual, and presumed that great minds must always struggle against mediocre ones. While she overstated her case (and infuriatingly denied any connection between her heroes and Nietzsche’s overmen), she was not entirely wrong.

    You may be right about her descriptions of cities. It’s been long enough that I really don’t recall them, and your neutron bomb comment does seem to have the ring of truth.

    Again, though, dislike of herds does not equal misanthropy. We could argue all day about the specific scene, but since neither of us have the text at hand, or have it memorized, there’s not much point in continuing in the yes she did/no she didn’t vein.

  63. Happy Jack,

    Oh, yeah, I remember that one.

  64. Holy crap!
    THIS Saturday?
    Run, man, run!
    Do you want to hide out in my basement? It’s only mostly musty.

    Have a great wedding!

  65. ProL:

    still b/f.

    WOO HOO about the wedding! (*blush* had forgotten that it was Sat. sorry)

    YEAAA! NUPTIALS!!!!!!!!!!!

    (you’ve probably heard this from everyone – take a second during the event to hit *pause* in your mind. It’s over so quickly. hrumph)

    much fun much fun! and best wishes!!!!!!!

    And, yes, as long as you fill out the public health department forms allowing me to boogie, I’ll get on the monkey boy suit (with codpiece of righteousness, of course) and to the lambada with the noam chomsky blow up doll.

    ewww. on second thought…

    *takes swig of liquid comet toilet cleaner (it helps the paint chips go down smoother)

  66. It should be fun. We’re doing it at a place on the water, and the weather looks like it will cooperate (we’re outside for the ceremony). Maybe I’ll liveblog the event on Hit & Run 🙂

  67. Isn’t it kind of beside the point to discuss whether this or that style of architecture is “beautiful”? The Market has spoken, and the Market is Good. (Beauty is, of course, a necessary complement of the Good.) Ranch architecture used to be the most beautiful style of house, but then the Market decided that McMansions are more beautiful. There’s nothing else really that need be said about the matter.

  68. Yes, if only there were a Committee for Aesthetical Purity. Then I could take it over and mandate giant, marble Roman villas for everyone!

  69. My McMansion is a 6 year old POS. I keep telling hubby that I want to move to the woods.

    The home trend that DOES piss me off is ponds. For all the goddamned tax money we pay for mosquito abatement, (that’s abatement, not elimination) why the fuck do people put mosquito farms in their yards?

  70. oops meant to add that my pos has a pond and my portion of the cost is $850 a year.

  71. Joe, that’s not true.

    Read her description of the street children observing the conversion of the temple into a children’s home. There’s obvious affection there.

    I think you’re identifying a dislike of crowds with a dislike of people. You’re essentially offering Toohey’s lawsuit testimony in a slightly different form. It was precisely because Rand believed in people as individuals that she asserted that the landscape Roark had designed would have value. It was because it was designed for people who did not need the continuous affirmation from others that a mass popular resort would ordinarily provide.

  72. Eugene –

    We don’t have anything even remotely resembling a free market in housing. [Or a free market in transportation, which would be necessary for a truly free market in housing.] So we don’t really know if the market has spoken or not.

  73. has anyone else noticed (i’m sure they have) that rand’s books are remarkably devoid of children? fountainhead and AS, at least.

  74. “The Market has spoken, and the Market is Good.”

    The problem is that buildings last way, way, way, way longer than the market trends that resulted in a certain, um, “architectural style.” The market speaks about today, but the buildings will still be there in 100 years. Ahh, who am I kidding? Most of these McMansions will be torn down in 50-100 years because (1) they will begin to devalue the land (see my previous post) and (2) many aren’t built to high standards (as a “luxury” home should be). Shortsightedness in the market generally makes money. In the property market, shortsightedness makes…..blight.

  75. has anyone else noticed (i’m sure they have) that rand’s books are remarkably devoid of children? fountainhead and AS, at least.

    Her only book about and for children, Mervin Schmerkle Is a Collectivist Second-Hander Peepee-Head, was never published.

  76. I grew up in a ranch home (and after that, lived in modest apartments), but I’ve always wanted to live in a two-story or even a three-story house. Even a little one. Because stairs are cool*, and I like being up high.**

    *Unless I’m moving furniture up/down them.

    **In non-precarious circumstances.

  77. Stevo Darkly, that Rand joke….too funny.

  78. has anyone else noticed (i’m sure they have) that rand’s books are remarkably devoid of children? fountainhead and AS, at least.

    You forget the sub-normal children.

  79. “Shortsightedness in the market generally makes money. In the property market, shortsightedness makes…..blight.”

    Lamar, don’t you see, that creates a valuable opportunities in the blight demolition market! If we designed houses according to some abstract, elitist ideas of beauty, efficiency or utility, we’d be depriving demolition workers of an honest living.

  80. We are very mchappy
    in our mctrailer
    even though it is kind of a mcshithole

  81. Anyone, what does ‘second-hander’ mean?

  82. A second hander referred to people who never thought for themselves; all their opinions and ideas were derived from other people.

  83. that Rand joke….too funny

    Yeah, “peepee-head” is a rib-buster among the four- to seven-year-old crowd.

    joe, when quoting Rand it would be helpful if you actually, um, quoted Rand.

  84. Here you go:

    There were small houses on the ledges of the hill before him, flowing down to the bottom. He knew that the ledges had not been touched, that no artifice had altered the unplanned beauty of the graded steps. Yet some power had known how to build on these ledges in such a way that the houses became inevitable, and one could no longer imagine the hills as beautiful without them – as if the centuries and the series of chances that produced these ledges in the struggle of great blind forces had waited for their final expression, had been only a road to a goal – and the goal was these buildings, part of the hills, shaped by the hills, yet ruling them by giving them meaning.

    The houses were plain field stone – like the rocks jutting from the green hillsides – and of glass, great sheets of glass used as if the sun were invited to complete the structures, sunlight becoming part of the masonry. There were many houses, they were small, they were cut off from one another, and no two of them were alike. But they were like the variations on a single theme, like a symphony played by an inexhaustible imagination, and one could still hear the laughter of the force that had been let loose on them, as if that force had run, unrestrained, challenging itself to be spent, but had never reached its end. Music, he thought, the promise of the music he had invoked, the sense of it made real – there it was before his eyes – he did not see it – he heard it in chords – he thought that there was a common language of thought, sight and sound – was it mathematics? – the discipline of reason – music was mathematics – and architecture was music in stone – he knew he was dizzy because this place below him could not be real.

    This is joe’s idea of misanthropy.

  85. Yeah, “peepee-head” is a rib-buster among the four- to seven-year-old crowd. . .joe, when quoting Rand it would be helpful if you actually, um, quoted Rand.

    Not to stick up for Joe here, but when castigating Joe, it would be helpful if you didn’t castigate him for something that, um, Stevo Darkly actually said.

  86. Thank you, Ed. Since I lent out (apparently forever) both of my copies of The Fountainhead, I wasn’t able to look up the passage. As I recall, though, it goes on to say that the resort was used by artists, writers, and other folks who pursue solitary intellectual work. I also remember that Rand stipulated that there were gathering places where people could gather and talk, or not, as they say fit. That’s not misanthropy, or anything like it.

  87. “Mackie | April 18, 2007, 11:01pm | #
    Anyone, what does ‘second-hander’ mean?”

    It’s a popular BATIN technique.

  88. ed:

    [adult voice in background]: go on, go on.

    [Lamar looking at shoes]: Mr. ed. I’m sorry I laughed at peepee.

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