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average home and you see something large and intimidating in the distance- something that doesn’t belong- something that you may see destroying your community, they are called McMansions. McMansions are expensive (but cheaply made) homes that are often thousands of square feet, have lavish features, cause a host of environmental problems, and often are out of place in both in style and size in their communities (Grabmeier). Pre-World War II, most Americans lived in apartments, small homes, or farm houses, usually with lots of children, with little space per person. These homes were often built of very high quality materials that were made to last and would last nearly forever if given very basic maintenance, as you can see by driving around older neighborhoods. Soon, World War II began and ended and people began starting families, however there were not enough homes in the current market for them. People began to flee to the suburbs and small (983 square feet [Solomon], highly functional single level, affordable homes began to be built in neighborhoods. The average price was $44,600.00 adjusted to the year 2000 inflation [US Census Bureau]). These homes were often built of good quality and most are still around today. In these homes, it was often assumed children would share a bedroom and that many of the rooms would share purposes, such as single bathroom for all the bedrooms, and combined living and dining rooms. These homes
Clark 2 were built until the mid-late sixties, however, American’s desire for more space in homes continued to grow. In the seventies, Americans continued to increase the size of their homes despite the stagnant economic environment (Carr and Conte). Many homes were built in a “split level” style, which is a basement that is finished and slightly raised above ground with the main part of the home being built on top of the lower level; this effectively doubled the size of many homes. However, the seventies was also a time of an energy crisis and was a wake up to America to build more efficient homes with many energy saving technologies. The eighties began to introduce a few new styles, and some amenities with the growth of the economy and the return of cheap energy (Weiss, Charles, et.al.). Common features were an overall increase in house size and the beginning of a strong demand for two story homes, often still with basements. This now could be triple the size of the homes from the fifties, and almost double the size of the seventies (Adler). Two common features of eighties homes included the demand for two or more car garages, and the adding of more rooms with specialty purposes, such as laundry rooms and a separate formal dining room. The increase of the features increased the cost, and to remain competitively priced, often built with carpeting instead of hardwood floors, Linoleum instead of tile, and fiberboard instead of hardwood cabinets. In the nineties, many of these themes from the eighties continued and the housing market bubble continued to grow. The nineties were a time when economic prosperity was very high (Carr and Conte), so many builders began to build even more expensive homes, with features such as “multiple fireplaces, white oak floors, double staircases,
Clark 3 swimming pools, elevators, wine cellars, and three-car garages”(Roland 11), along with granite countertops, hardwood floors, and an increase in overall size. The two thousands were when many people began to truly notice the revolution in housing when the average home size had swelled to a 2,349 square feet (Adler). I recently went to a neighborhood that had these homes that were built during this decade and many were enormous and had huge fountains in front along with circle drivesways, many even looked like castles with lots of cast iron fencing and large stone siding. I was in shocked by the sheer size of the homes. Looking at the flyer of the many homes for sale, although many claimed a price drop, many were still in the millions. I just cannot forget that home prices were $44,600 with inflation (US Census Bureau) when many of our parents and grandparents bought their first homes. Many people feel that there are negative aspects to McMansions. An example is that their size caused a scarcity of materials such as drywall. Due to this shortage many builders began to use Chinese drywall, which today is causing a host of problems. According to the Center for Disease Control, homeowners in 24 states and the District of Colombia now have severe health issues related to the dangerous gases, such as carbon disulfide, that these homes are now giving off by this drywall. Symptoms of exposure for just hours in these homes can include eye irritation, sore throat, stuffy nose, cough, shortness of breath, nausea, and headaches. If exposed for days or months symptoms such as fatigue, irritability poor memory, dizziness, and insomnia can occur. Considering that many families who bought McMansion have young children, who are especially at risk, this is alarming. Many found out about these symptoms through a black dust appearing on copper through their home, along with a strong smell resembling rotten eggs or
Clark 4 fireworks. The sad fact is that the Center for Disease Control recommends these houses be gutted of drywall, and have all furniture, plumbing, and appliances replaced. This was not the only problem McMansions caused, however. A housing bubble was created by the demand for homes, especially large expensive homes which required lots of materials. Many people wanted large houses(many believe for status symbols) and banks had recently created something called a subprime mortgage. A subprime mortgage is a loan that would not normally be given out to someone with low credit, no credit, or someone whose income is not sufficient for the loan being given. Banks were giving these loans out to just about anyone. Lew Sichelman, in The Orlando Sentential wrote back in 1997: No cash for a down payment? No problem, at least not with a bold new experimental loan now being tested in four markets. Under the so-called "Flex Mortgage" that is being tried by Fannie Mae in Seattle, Dallas, and statewide in Minnesota and Iowa, home buyers with impeccable credit don't need any of their own money for a down payment. Borrowers still need to have a minimum of 3 percent of the loan amount in cash, but the entire amount can come from practically any source. You can even borrow it--or charge it to a credit card. Later in the article he quotes the Angelo Mozilo, the chairman of Countrywide Home Loans, the largest loan provider in America, as saying “(I am) all for no down payments" and “many people don't have 5 percent, but everybody's got zero.” These banks and mortgage providers were making enormous profits from closing costs and people being able to spend their savings to pay off the loans, however, people began to run out of money or their adjustable rate mortgage spiked to where they could
Clark 5 not continue to pay their mortgage. Banks began to foreclose on the homes and try to sell them. This lead to a huge surplus of McMansions on the market that few could afford and thus not worth what the bank paid for them. Banks and businesses that held many of the loans began to go under and major bank’s stock prices fell dramatically. This caused a snowball effect of people panicking and selling off all of their stock, which led to the finical crisis of 2008. That brings us to today, in 2010, where we have thousands of McMansions with absolutely no one in them. Many people have proposed ideas of what to with them, in the recent article in Time Magazine article “Reinventing the McMansion” by Barbra Kiviat, she looks at some of the proposals of what we can do with these supersized homes. One of the current uses for a McMansion in San Diego, California, is a home for young Autistic adults. The home has a large bedroom that a caretaker can live in, private bedrooms (with bathrooms) for the residents, and pool for therapy. A similar idea is being proposed in Idaho for use as a group home for kids aging out of foster care. Yet another idea is to simply split one into two separate houses, or even make them into green houses. The possibilities for their uses seem endless and many groups and individuals have begun to find uses for them. Families and people who have lost their McMansions have begun to get creative for places to live, one of the ideas is something called “minihomes.” Minihomes are houses that are often less than 200 square feet and are made to fit couples or singles, but they are often also modular so rooms can be added as a family grows. They can often be made for under $15,000 and utilities are often under $15.00 a month. This is appealing to families because the initial investment is extremely low, near free utilities, and is expandable to any size (Gutierrez, Tamura).
Clark 6 Today, in 2010, people are beginning to see that having McMansions is not always the best choice. People that have been foreclosed on are beginning to understand that no one needs a 5,000 square foot house for a normal sized family, and that living within our means like our parents and grandparents is not always a bad thing.
Sources Cited Adler, Margot. "Behind the Ever-Expanding American Dream House." National Public Radio. National Public Radio, 4 Jan. 2006. Web. 1 May 2010. Carr, and Conte. "Outline of the U.S. Economy." About.com. United States Department of State. Web. 1 May 2010.
Clark 7 Gutierrez, Thelma, and Traci Tamura. "Downsizing to 100 Square Feet of Bliss." CNN.com. CNN, 22 Oct. 2008. Web. 1 May 2010. Kiviat, Barbara. “Reinventing the McMansion.” Time. Time, 12 Sept. 2009. Web. 20 April 2009. "Historical Census of Housing Tables Home Values." Cenus.gov. U.S. Census Bureau, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, 02 Dec. 2004. Web. 1 May 2010 Roland, Amy. "Smile When You Call Them McMansions." The New York Times 7 June 2009, RE sec.: 11. Print. Sichelman, Lew. "Cash Poor? A House Is Still in Reach." Orlando Sentinel 7 Feb. 1997: D1-D2. Print. Solomon, Christopher. "The Swelling McMansion Backlash." MSN Real Estate. MSN. Web. 06 May 2010. United States. Department of Health and Human Services. Center for Disease Control. Imported Drywall and Health - A Guide for Healthcare Providers. Sept. 2009. Web. 1 May 2010. Weiss, Charles, and William Bonvillian. Structuring an Energy Technology Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2009. Print.
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