Thursday, May 24, 2007

I got an average house, with a nice hardwood floor...

Sometimes I think I'm too arrogant about my house.

I take great pride in my diminutive abode, particularly in its diminutiveness. Yes, in this day of concern for expanding ecological footprints, sharing an 850 square foot house with Abbzug and the Mutt leaves me feeling, at times, faintly superior. Other times, it leaves me feeling a little cramped, but that's my fault, not the house's.

I'm just living the (ecologically-responsible) dream, I say.

But I get the sense that too much of this patting myself on the back tends to grate. Which may have been the source of some of my writing troubles yesterday, as I tried to balance a self-congratulatory tone with a bit of real, defensible outrage.

When I read stories proclaiming that Maryland is home to the second-highest concentration of McMansions in the country, regardless of my own living situation, I see things that are genuinely silly. Like this:

"We truly just grew out of it," Rich Arena, 45, said of the Columbia house where the family had lived for 13 years. Arena, who sells high-performance computers, said he and his wife moved primarily so their 8-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son could attend highly regarded western Howard schools.

There was nothing really wrong with the old house, Arena said, but there was no more land to add onto it. The new home is similar in layout, but each of the four main bedrooms has its own bath. At 5,600 square feet, not counting the finished basement, it's more than twice the size of their old home.
That's 1,400 square feet per person, not counting the finished basement. Yowser.

And here's the story's kicker:
"Affordability is a big issue in Maryland and just about everywhere in the country," Rachuba says, so his firm is building three-bedroom townhouses with a more modest 1,700 square feet of living space.

"We're not doing burnished nickel faucets anymore," he says. "We're going back to the basics of chrome and strip lighting." Granite countertops are out; Formica is back.

Asking prices start around $160,000, Rachuba says, and two units have sold, even before the model opens next month.

The location? Chambersburg, Pa.
You see, the surprise is supposed to be that the house is in a state where few people would willingly choose to live (I kid). But to me, the real surprise is that a 1,700 square foot townhouse is considered "modest."

OK, so I've tried and I've found I'm not really able to write about this without sounding like a total jerk. Sorry if I've offended you. Maybe I'm just upset that I don't have a house big enough to set aside rooms for very specific purposes (Here's the dog's room, and here's the room where I clip my toenails...).

Let me note, however, that I'm enough of a believer in capitalism and free markets to respect others' personal decisions and to not impose my beliefs on them. That said, I think more people would choose to "live smaller" if only the market provided them more options. But for many reasons related to the building industry, inefficiencies, unaccounted-for externalities of resource use, zoning and politics, it doesn't. Which is unfortunate.

Small houses are good for more than just the environment. They can help us address affordability issues, too. One wonders how many more families we could provide affordable homes to if we trimmed a few square feet from each.

(The post's title refers to me, not you or anyone else, big house or small.)


Jessie Newburn said...

You make me feel sane, Hayduke. I love the way you frame situations, think, write, infuse yourself into your writing and show The World (those reading your blog, that is) a perspective through a very human and genuine voice.

My heart warms, my brain tingles and I feel happy to know you. And happier yet that you are an active blogger, speaking your mind, sharing your perspective and inviting others to comment and add their perspectives to the conversation you've started.

Robin Abello said...

Hayduke, did you ever read the Not so Big House book of Sarah Susanka?

Young at Heart said...

Great post, Hayduke. I had many of the same thoughts as I read that article.

I love "The Not So Big House" book. After reading it, we decided to rethink our use of space rather than adding on to our house. It was a good decision. After some creative thinking and relatively minor renovations, our house is still small, but it meets our needs much better.

Anonymous said...

Ok, enough with the gushing. The post was well-written.

A change in tone:

Small houses are monumentally practical. Who's fainting over BGE bills? Not me.

And then there's the time I was silenced by confusion when the volunteer fire dept showed up at my door asking for double the normal donation because they had to purchase expensive equipment to get to the top of those gargantuan houses when a fire occurs. I looked at him, and looked at my small house, then back to him (this is where I was speechless).

Hey, also, did you know that when we pay back the BGE deferral, we pay by a percentage of what we're using at the time? We're not deferring a dollar amount at all. People moving into the area will be paying for someone else's deferral. Those who move away don't owe anything. Ask Jay Hancock at the sunpapers.

Hayduke said...

Robin, I haven't read it, but I think I will now. Thanks for the tip!

Anonymous said...

Good point. Another reason why rising housing costs are not just indicative of the benefits of real estate investment.

Housing prices are rising in part because houses are getting bigger. This trend will not continue indefinitely, meaning housing prices will not continue to rise at historic rates.

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