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I’ve just finished reading “Is the McMansion Dead?” by Jenny Sullivan in the current issue of Builder. There has been much written and broadcast in the media recently about the plight of the McMansion and I can’t help but sense some animosity in the tone of many of the stories. I have sensed that some people show a little pleasure in seeing those, perceived as being more affluent, now suffering and losing their homes. Some may feel that the death of the McMansion is reprise for the flamboyant or pretentious lifestyles of their owners.  While I generally agree with much that has been said, I can’t help but think that the consumers’ desires for “newer”, “bigger”, “better”, have managed to put bread on our table for many years now.

All that said, my response has more to do with what wasn’t mentioned in Jenny’s story.  Here in Central Florida where we are suffering from one of the worst new home markets in the nation, Cost-per-Square-Foot continues to be the overwhelming guideline used by consumers and most real estate professionals, to compare the value of homes for sale. This Cost-per-Square-Foot mentality fueled the boom market with big, boxy, generic floorplans and a cafeteria buffet line approach to design and amenities. With my own unsold masterpiece, twice I’ve lost sales to other homes that were actually more expensive than mine but offered a lower cost-per-square-foot. One of the buyers told me they preferred my home but felt the larger one was a better value. They actually spent more and purchased a home that is bigger than they need because of this brainwashing. In addition, my home is green and will cost much less to run and maintain, which wasn’t even a factor in their decision process. If this rationale carried over to our automotive purchases we would all be driving gas-guzzling SUV’s and be willing to spend more for them than a practical, efficient vehicle. Oh wait a minute…

This past spring, our local HBA Parade of Homes featured the seven most-expensive new homes in the southwest quadrant of Metro-Orlando. They were built by seven different builders but were all basically the same floorplan. As builders and designers we must accept our share of blame for part of the problem. If we persist in building big, glitzy drywall barns with no real discernable differences, then the public will continue to treat housing like a commodity. The solution may be better design. In addition to creative style, our homes should be designed and built to provide low environmental impact, accessibility, adaptability, sustainability and ease of maintenance. Smart design should create a timeless appeal and lasting value, and there isn’t any reason they can’t be exciting and glamorous as well. Think about it. Keith L Groninger - January 2010.

Hi Keith ,
We don’t know one another, but I wanted to comment on your response to the Mcmansion article in Builder Magazine.  It was well said and on the money.  Consumer demand drives what/how we build (or in my case what/how I remodel) as is the case for any manufacturer.  The problem is that Consumer demand has become perverted somehow to the substitution of substance and real value.  This is a cultural matter that extends to all aspects of the American life - what we eat, what we wear, where we live.  The pain caused by this recession is causing the Consumer reevaluate “value”.  My hope is that substance will again become something people are willing to pay for so you and I can continue to thrive.
Gary Krause
Krause Construction
www.krauseconstruction.com
      
303-514-2670

Keith:
I could have written your McMansions vs Smart Design column.  It is driving me and every other builder I know absolutely nuts with "real estate professionals"(your term) doing the "one price fit all", and "all homes are alike" thing with their prospects.  I am also a broker, and have become something of a pariah to Realtors as I openly admonish them for not learning the products they show. I've been is biz since 1977, and have always offered to be at a showing of one of my homes to better familiarize prospects with features. Arithmetic will tell you that's 33 years, and in all of that 33 years I've not had 1(one) "real estate professional" take me up on that.  We only have 1 paper now in Denver, and a writer I know tells me that Realtors pretty much tell them what tone to deliver in their real estate writing, and can get away with it as Realtors are one of the few large sources of advertising revenue for the paper.   Another big source of confusion for buyers here is realtors are including finished basements is S.F. prices on a public web page.  As a broker I'm formulating a complaint and rule making request to the regulatory agency about this.  There's a couple of web site links below my signature on this if you want to learn about me.
Stephen Holben
Holben Building Corp.
2765 S. Colorado Blvd., #102
Denver, Co. 80222

As an interior designer and NAHB CGP, I couldn't agree more about the importance of smart design, and predict, that as consumers become more educated and particular in an increasingly competitive market, houses that do provide intelligent design will have the upper hand in terms of providing better saleability. Also, I believe the qualities of creative design and style, which are so hard to define, will continue to be the qualities that will make or break a sale, as they are the items that usually provide the emotional impetus to the purchase of a home. As a designer, I have been fortunate to find that all of my homes have sold easily, and at the asking price (including a decent ROI) because they have looked beautiful.
Good luck Keith with the sale of your masterpiece!
Victoria Lyon

Keith, 
My jaw dropped when I read your piece in the recent Builder Magazine. In a word, it was PERFECT.  You are 100% right on all counts.  I am so glad you had it published in a magazine with such a wide reach and a vast audience. 
Your points on McMansions are dead on.  There are those out there who love to see people with any measure of success, fail. Despite the glee people find in the distress of others,  I think the death knell for McMansions is premature.  I don’t see their demise at all.  There is a downturn in the market in general, and large homes are no exception, but they are not dead.
I would also like to point out that McMansions are known by another, less pejorative  term to those who live in them – home!
Also, you comments about cookie-cutter floor plans were absolutely correct.  Troy and I have had this conversation for almost a decade  but it is a point that a had to be delivered to builders by a builder. Thank you for doing so.  In fact, we are so tired of standard Arthur Rutenburg rip-off floor plan in multi-million dollar homes that when we renovated our own home (aka McMansion), we purposefully left our 1950’s floor plan as is.
Thank you for writing such a great letter to Builder Mag. I hope it makes a lot of waves! 
Stephanie Henley

Beasley & Henley Interior Design
Atlanta  *  Winter Park *  Naples 
407-629-7756 Winter Park

Keith, 
Ditto…..what Stephanie said. 
I could go on for days about this topic………as you know, we (designers) like to be challenged, and we also like to see and work on projects that reflect quality and imagination…….which standard floor plans accomplish neither. They are the lazy way out! 
Custom should mean just that…..”custom”, to each individual clients needs, and desires, which rest on our (builders, architects, designers, landscape designers), shoulders………… 
I am always trying to get our clients to spend the dollars, to hire the right team, to create their future residence, and as Stephanie stated, their “home” 
We have three children, and have built our residence to reflect our “wants” and yes, we had a budget, but…….we made it happen, with a lot of thought, and care. This concept applies to a 2000 square foot residence, or a 30,000 foot residence. It’s all the same, minus the dollar difference. 
Whatever the size…….just do it right. 
Enough said, except…….thank you for voicing your opinion, …………..as Stephanie said, as a builder. 
Best regards,
Troy Beasley

Kieth -
    Bob Hartford here, Silverwood Inc, North Carolina. http://www.silverwood-inc.com . Check out the "Bingham Ridge" tab . As in your Builder Mag comments, these are truly better homes, but sales have been pulled into the dumper along with every other project in the state. What does it take to deal with the square footage as value issue ? NC and FLA are the worst for this syndrome. In NJ and NY square footage is not required to list a property. Price is tied to the property characteristics  and its location only. 

    If you have any thoughts regarding methods for marketing better homes at higher value with S.F. not being the main factor, let me know. Perhaps an internet posting of some kind with comments from multiple custom type builders ? The media is everything, and I am not so good at getting it on my side. Perhaps you will hear from others after builder has posted your comments.
Bob Hartford, Silverwood, Inc.