How much home is too much?

Mood of the Market

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 20, 2010

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Mood of the Market

Tara-Nicholle Nelson
Inman News

Of the big, wide, wonderful world of real estate, lately I've been watching one key element, a specific spectrum on which consumer preferences seem to be crawling out to the extremes. The bell curve seems to be flipping upside down when it comes to housing customization.

For instance, last week, I read a story about a filmmaker who recently closed escrow on an $8 million house -- with plans to tear it down and build a $20 million home in its place!

I'm guessing that the rationale is that the lot is that desirable, although that seems like a big old stretch in logic when you draw it to its logical conclusion that no other lot in America priced at below $8 million would do.

Granted, the house currently onsite is what one of my favorite clients would call "ongepotchket"; Yiddish for gaudy or excessive in decoration.

The look and feel of the decor is what I call Liberace-esque: gold fixtures, hundreds of pounds of burgundy damask silk strung up at every window. Not so cute, and certainly not so 21st century. But this teardown of a house is also brand spanking new!

It's his money. And I respect his right to spend it how he would like. But is it wise, or even reasonable? The common-sense, increasingly frugal cultural critic in me cannot help but question this decision-making.

Really? Are you truly that sensitive and in need of a house built precisely to the contours of your personal wants and needs that, on a $30 million budget, you simply could not find any other house anywhere, or remodel that one if you needed to change the floor plan or add square feet?

And, forgive me for being lowbrow -- you couldn't just redecorate? Get outta here.

It makes me wonder: How much square footage does a person's body really need to inhabit to be happy -- even live really, really well?

I wonder this often when looking at homes like Candy Spelling's, which was recently placed on the market for $150 million. Is whoever eventually buys it making the statement that he/she absolutely could not have been happy in, say, a $5 million house?

Is the luxury of the lifestyle you can live in a $150 million home in fact 30 times greater than the life you could live in a $5 million mansion in its own right?

I recently read an adage to the effect that once we are living above the level of basic subsistence, our happiness is determined more by our attitude than by our possessions.

These extreme examples of personal real estate standards make me wonder if some of us aren't a bit too sensitive for our own good. If you can't be happy in a $5 million house, or an $8 million house, will you ever?

But I also see the other end of the spectrum, which, of course, is more relatable to most of us. IKEA, the Swedish design emporium chain that offers flat-packed/self-assembly home furnishings known for their clean design aesthetic, also sells -- you guessed it -- flat-packed homes!

The BoKlok (Swedish for "live smart") homes have actually been manufactured, assembled and sold by IKEA in various European housing developments for nearly 15 years now.

While these homes are prefabricated, they are done so with IKEA's usual mastery of nearly universally agreeable design and efficiency, which makes them able to be resold at very affordable pricing. A number of the BoKlok developments have sold out with lotteries and long waiting lists, due to their desirability and affordability.

I couldn't find any news of BoKlok developments coming to the U.S., but I think there's an increasing case for this sort of fabulous prefab ingenuity stateside.

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