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Are you a space hog?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 6, 2012 07:14 AM

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Let's face it, if you are middle class here in Greater Boston, lots of space is a luxury you probably can't afford.

No, it's not the same in many other parts of the country. One of my brothers bought a nice spacious colonial in a suburb of Chicago - a little dated but all cosmetic - for less than the $280,000 Karen and I shelled out for our Natick fixer-upper back in 2002.

If you want a big new house here in the Boston area, you are going to have to pay for it.

A new 2,500-square-foot home can easily put you back several hundred thousand within 495 - and well over a million if you have your heart set on one of Greater Boston's tonier suburbs.

And the fact that new home construction inside of 495 has struggled along at anemic levels now for decades has only served to further inflate the typical new-home premium.

Given that, if you are not already a fan of smaller homes, it pays to become one.

At the least, it pays to think a bit about whether you need that spare bedroom or that sprawling home office - Jim in Littleon has a great story on that!

Remember, you will pay dearly for all that space, so choose wisely.

Here's what some of you had to say the other day on the subject in response to my post about smaller European home sizes.

Jim in Littleton:

When we bought the girl was very adamant that she needed a home office so she could work from home. We found/bought a place that has a 500 sq/ft loft that serves the purpose. It's much bigger than what she'd ever need for a home office and, since moving in, she's only worked from home 2 days. At that rate we could have gone with a smaller house and she could have worked from the dining room table on the few days she does work from home.

Here's what mezb had to say:

I am madly in love with my small house. No space is wasted - not an inch, and yet there is still breathing room for my two kids and I, and plenty of open floor space so it doesn't feel cramped.

Most space is wasted on gigantic bedrooms, formal living rooms which are rarely used, large dining rooms which are also rarely used. And Mega spa-like master bathrooms.

What you need are an adequate amount of bedrooms with enough storage space for clothes, a proper multi-function family room. A non-eat-in kitchen with adjacent expandable dining area.

People buy mega houses in the same way they buy mega cars (SUV's) for the minority use case (for cars - it's the 6 snowy days a year, for houses, it's the 2 dinner parties a year).

All that space means wasted money decorating, heating and cooling rarely-used space.

When you have money to burn, great - go nuts! But most folks don't, thus a large chunk of their cash into houses that eat money for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And much of the new construction was not exactly built to last, with leaky roofs, failing A/C units, and paper thin walls.

And so much land is wasted on everyone having a fenway park sized yards. Trust me, while it may seem great to be middle class yet have your own personal Versailles, you are not, in fact, happier because of it. Humans need contact, and you've just succeeded in isolating yourself from your neighbors. Our modern sprawling suburbs are sinkholes of despair.

Believe it or not, new communities based on town/row houses, are far more pleasant places to grow up in now - or old-school neighborhoods with smaller lots. And that also is a better use of the land. it may seem like there's tons of it, but there isn't, and eventually, in a generation or two of continued rampant population growth, they're going to have to start building big-old towers to house people. Oh well.

As always, Bynxers had some great insights:

The open floor plan that is pushed so hard these days, even in Greenie Havens like Cambridge or Arlington- where walls are knocked down in favor of big wide open spaces are in fact one of LEAST energy efficient designs to heat or cool a home... Older designs that had many rooms meant individual rooms could be heated (no AC back in the 1800's and early 1900's after all) while the room was being used. Rooms not being used would be kept colder. Rather hard to do today in McMansions with "great rooms" and open kitchens OR in rennovated or newer condos with open design.

My point? Everyone squaking about being more green needs to realize current designs and trends really do squat, truthfully.

And for his part, DotDan999 was unsparing!

America is a country of excess. WE have such suburban and exurban sprawl that we've covered almost every square inch of land with some ugly McMansion. Part of the "American Dream" was born out of the pioneer, self-sufficiency school of thought - so that everyone's goal is to have at least, a 2,500 sq foot house on 2 acres with no neighbors close by. It's wasteful. It's also why we have bears and moose in the suburbs - the animals ave no place left to live! How much to we pay to keep all of that up? How much do we spend on gas (and time!) driving the huge distance between work and the exurb where we can afford that big beast? How much water do we waste on watering those massive lawns? We've become so isolated and insular in this country.

I think Europeans have it right. Density and living in smaller spaces is more conducive to a higher quality of life. To watch a footy game, most Europeans go to the nieghborhood pub, where everybody knows your name and neighbors actaully speak to and know one another. Here, we barricade ourselves in our McMansions and watch the game in our great room and miss out on the social interaction.

I've always been a champion of living below my means. I seem to be te exception, not the rule.

In Europe, when the toaster breaks, they get it fixed. Here, we throw it out and buy a new one. Over here, I doubt you could find anyone who still fixes toasters.



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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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