[ALL photos and respective rights were taken from Kate via McMansion Hell]
This Martin Luther King Monday is our official, guilt-free, lay around the house like a lazy cat day. For the few golden hours of waiting for our laundry to finish, my husband and I sat on our used sofa aimlessly browsing our smartphones and news feeds. I was reading the new posts of a popular blogger that goes by Kate Wagner over at the humorous and snarky, McMansion Hell. She critiques drunk architecture and design. Either field in which I have experience in yet it has never prevented me from giggling non-stop at her commentary.
After the laughter stopped, it got me thinking about the finances of owning a McMansion…
What is a ‘McMansion?’
It is the supersized McDonald meal equivalent of a traditional house. A McMansion is an emblem for Americans who like everything supersized, like a certain fast food giant that we all know. McMansions show no concern for build quality and they’re often finished quickly for as cheap as possible.
McMansion usually have 4 or more bedrooms, multiple baths, high ceilings and several garages. The usual McMansions are ostentatious in size, ranging from at least 2,500 square feet and beyond depending on the mass builder’s budget. Given how many MLS listings I’ve browsed and stalked through over the years, I can say they average McMansion hovers around 3,300 square foot.
McMansions ignores the fundamentals of sound build & design. McMansions & McModerns are the fast fashion of the real estate world. Most famously McMansions feature mismatched windows, cheap foam details, sticky tacky designs, stucco sidings, fake balconies that lead to nowhere…and columns for pretentious aesthetics rather than…holding up proper weight.
The McMansion History
‘It’ came from California. Mystery solved. It was built for the stuff obsessed Baby Boomers during the 90s leading all the way up to until the housing market fell out in 2008.
The most famous McMansion in America is called ‘The Versailles House‘. It is a 90,000 square foot “single family home” in Orlando, Florida. “The Queen of Versailles (trailer)” is one of my favorite documentaries and it’s on Netflix, it’s excellent, watch it and thank me later everybody! Now despite the name, it has very little to do with French history. But it was entertaining to peep into a realm of thought so different from the rest of us that read personal finance.
‘Queen of Versailles’ was a big hit at Sundance due to the timing of filming that began in the mid-2000s and ended at the start of the 2008 housing crisis. I’ll write a more in-depth review of the documentary someday but if you have a few hours to spare, I highly recommend everyone to watch it for amusement. The film and interviews really do grow on you. The wife was a former beauty queen and the man made his fortunes selling timeshares in Vegas to…people who thinks it’s a good idea to buy timeshares in Vegas.
Safe to say nobody in personal finance should be interested in timeshares or McMansions so let’s move on.
“Foreclosed McMansions are the eeriest reminders of how fleeting paper wealth can be.”1 I couldn’t have said that better myself. Here is my financial breakdown of living and owning a McMansion using statistics of these giant structures of gaudy facade.
Builders love to build McMansions because they fetch a higher price and give them a bigger return on investments. There are molds builders can generate that will produce several McMansions with similar aesthetics for greater returns. But the savings are rarely passed onto the consumer. Due to the McMansion size, they tend to be on the higher end of any market despite the lack of quality. Due to the sheer size, unknowing home shoppers step into the “this is a great price per square footage” excuse.
Next thing you know, hello jumbo mortgage loan with a side order of PMI.
McMansions are too young to know their future as investments but spidey senses tell me this will not end well. McMansion values dropped considerably during the 2008 housing crisis in comparison to traditional single-family homes that were taking similar (but less steep) stumbles. McMansions are not made to endure inevitable economic downturns and they are the farthest thing from liquidity.
A McMansion owner is limiting themselves to a certain demographic that is very narrow in the first place with the sheer size of the structure. McMansions are also often built away from prized land and popular zones because of their size.
McMansions are huge. They were built in the 90s during the era of looser building codes. There was not much homage to basic design or material. This will eventually cause pricey problems down the road. Once again, McMansions are too young to know their own futures as things get inevitably older but I’m betting my money the foam and sticky toppers glued onto the house won’t last past a decade.
OH, and the roofs – the roofs are massive. You need to replace those one day – unless you move – but you might have trouble dumping it on the next guy.
A good house has strong bones to survive a century if you so cared to pass it down to the next generation. They are uniform and adhere to the principles of design which are timeless in beauty.
Unless you have 8 children and both sets of grandparents, most people with families will not find 100% efficient use for a home that sizes in at over 3,000 square feet. That’s too bad but the add-on value and land lots are still taxed the same by local and state government. Whip out those wallets, it’s the house that keeps on taking.
Law of Averages
The great real estate advice that I’ve ever heard (and regrettably didn’t take myself) was to “buy the worst house in the best neighborhood you can afford.” Besides the location, location, location mantra – that is probably the best real estate advice one can give. Time and time again, I’ve observed this to be true. Logically, every neighborhood has a price average – like a spectrum within a band that it lands in. The biggest home on the block (the McMansion) will be weighed down by the law of the price average since the most of the other older, smaller properties will be pulled up by the average in a given neighborhood.
Utility costs vary depending on location but on average, a 4,000 square foot house for a family will be hit with a $400+ monthly bill for gas & electricity only. Water, heater, etc. data not included. Those massive window holes, in case the mortgage interest wasn’t enough, you can also try to heat & cool one of those house bloodsuckers. Try not to go bankrupt.
Perhaps, if they like to be half a Siberia away from their family and having to walk 10 minutes to the other end of their house to ask a question, then yes they will do just fine.
Let’s not forget the utter wastefulness of materials and wealth to build that monster just for a family of 4 to live in pseudo, overproduced luxury.
The McMansion does not make financial sense. It doesn’t even make architectural sense. Many Americans are pretty terrible with their finances and this is another hallmark representation of that. We like the hamburger but we don’t want to see how it’s made. My biggest issue is the actual square footage issue. The square footage issue launches a bunch of other issues related to the hefty ongoing cost of owning a McMansion in the first place. McMansions are pricey, hard to sell, harder to heat, harder to maintain and create a bigger tax bill for less efficiency.
Plus, your direct neighbors will hate your ostentatious snobbery. Chances are you have blocked their natural light and views with that monster structure of yours. I believe this McMansion & McModern epidemic is happening because not everyone is aware of the massive downsides associated with the thoughtless monster wallet eater.
Is anyone feelin’ me? Is the boastful size of a McMansion the future of real estate? Any financial downsides I should add to the list? Anyone with a McMansion care to share a cost breakdown (genuinely curious.)