The McMansion menace

There have recently been signs that in the housing market, huge and very expensive homes are increasingly hard to sell.

In a commentary to her cartoon, Jen Sorensen quotes a newspaper report about one such case.

For their retirement in a suburb of Asheville, N.C., Ben and Valentina Bethell spent about $3.5 million in 2009 to build their dream home: a roughly 7,500-square-foot, European-style house with a commanding view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Bethells said they love the home but it now feels too big, especially since their adult son visits only about once a year.

So this couple felt they needed 7,500 square feet of space for their home? That they realized it was too big only when their son moved out?

What is the matter with these people?


  1. says

    Yeah, I fantasize about a floating home/houseboat*1. These tend to be smaller than houses on land, but not always. The floating homes can be quite large at times. But I’ve lived in a 1200 square foot home that I owned in Portland, and the whole downstairs 150-200 feet was entirely unnecessary. The money you spend upgrading to 7500 square feet seems like you could use to rent a hotel room for your kids every once in a while and still leave you quite a lot left over.

    But the point of all this is that when I feel like fantasizing about this and I look at the new ones being sold lately, they’ve come down in size -- they’re not getting bigger. The more expensive ones put money into insulation and kitchen and bathroom features (with the corresponding solar panel and water-filtering tech) making them more comfortable in inclement weather and easier to do everyday tasks that allow you to live in a space long term: they don’t put money into adding square feet.

    I think this is probably similar to what’s been going on in the real estate market, but I don’t ever go trawling through land-based home listings so I’m not sure. But what I can say is that it provides a general indicator consistent with the phenomenon the cartoon describes.

    *1: the distinction is that houseboats have an engine to move themselves, but traditionally they’ve been much less “homelike”. Lately (and finally) there are more people making things that fit in the middle. The ones I like best have a slow top speed, electric motors, and solar panels on a flat roof. It has to be homelike enough to be able to bake my own bread in an oven, and have a bathtub (not just a shower), but other than that it’s all good.

  2. dangerousbeans says

    7500ft^2? That’s 7 times the size of the apartment I lived in with my partner a few years back. Maybe twice the size of the 3 bedroom place i now share with 3 other people?
    i assume they had a maid to clean it all

  3. mnb0 says

    A bit disappointing that a theoretical physicist behaves like an American chauvinist and uses feet iso m^2, like the rest of the world. So no, I don’t really have an idea how big that house is.

  4. John Morales says

    So no, I don’t really have an idea how big that house is.

    Leaving aside the approximation of 3 and a bit feet per meter (around 10:1 when squared), it’s pretty easy to look up. Tsk.

    (Actually, I’m pretty sure that you could have looked it up faster than you could type that comment and submit it)

  5. Johnny Vector says

    I like Crip Dyke’s idea. Although I hope I mis-parsed it slightly and the place with the unnecessary downstairs was not one of the floating homes. Seems like a downstairs in one of them would be pretty damp.

    As it happens, I did build my dream house 2 years ago, and it’s 1/3 the size of that McMansion and yet is plenty large even while recording and shooting a webseries in it. I can’t imagine what one would do with 7500 square feet. Mine is also the smallest house in the neighborhood, but (owing to the land-based version of the insulation and solar panels Crip Dyke mentioned, along with the mini-split HVAC and high efficiency windows) certainly the most comfortable in unpleasant weather. Actual comfort is what I want, not gobs of space, or a 500 gallon tub that I would use once a year.

    Sounds like it’ll be well in demand if I have to sell. Or if all goes according to plan, my children eventually have to sell it.

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