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Posted by on Aug 19, 2010 in Market Conditions, North County Coastal, Thinking of Buying?, Thinking of Selling? | 21 comments | Print Print

McMansions In McTrouble

Hat tip to clearfund for sending this from cnbc -it mentions the TERI house in Bressi Ranch:

They’ve been called McMansions, Starter Castles, Garage Mahals and Faux Chateaus but here’s the latest thing you can call them — History.

In the past few years, there have been an increasing number of references made to the “McMansion glut” and the “McMansion backlash,” as more towns pass ordinances against garishly large homes, which are generally over 3,000 square feet and built very close together.

What sets a McMansion apart from a regular mansion, according to Wikipedia, are a few characteristics: They’re tacky, they lack a definitive style and they have a “displeasingly jumbled appearance.”  (Wiki says the word McMansion first appeared in the SD Union-Tribune in 1990)

Well, count 2010 as the year the last nail was hammered into the McCoffin: In its latest report on home-buying trends, real-estate site Trulia declares: “The McMansion Era Is Over.”

Just 9 percent of the people surveyed by Trulia said their ideal home size was over 3,200 square feet. Meanwhile, more than one-third said their ideal size was under 2,000 feet. 

“That’s something that would’ve been unbelievable just a few years back,” said Pete Flint, CEO and co-founder of Trulia. “Americans are moving away from McMansions.”

The comments echoed those made in June by Kermit Baker, the chief economist at the American Institute of Architects.

“We continue to move away from the McMansion chapter of residential design, with more demand for practicality throughout the home,” Baker said. “There has been a drop off in the popularity of upscale property enhancements such as formal landscaping, decorative water features, tennis courts, and gazebos.”

“McMansions just look and feel out of place today, given the more cautious environment everyone’s living in,” said Paul Bishop, vice president of research for the National Association of Realtors.  And homebuilders are heeding the call: In a survey of builders last year, nine out of 10 said they planned to build smaller or lower-priced homes.

For a little historical context, 1,200 square feet was the average home size in America in the 1960s. That grew to 1,710 square feet in the 1980s and 2,330 square feet in the 2000s.

What’s more, many think this trend of downsizing, or “right-sizing,” is here to stay.

“This is absolutely a long-term effect,” Flint said. “Think of families with small children who’ve been foreclosed upon … When these teenagers are in a position to buy a home, they won’t want to go through these experiences they saw their parents go through.”

Of course, the question becomes, what do we do with all these McMansions that have already been built?

Luckily, people are starting to get creative: A film collective in Seattle has taken over a 10,000-square foot McMansion there, using it for both living and work space. They turned a wine closet into an editing room and tossed a green screen in the garage. And in a suburb of San Diego, one couple turned a former McMansion into a home for autistic adults.

The demise of the McMansion has stirred a growing chorus of murmurs in the real-estate community about the possibility that it may force a dramatic redesign of the suburban McMansion tracts into mini-towns of their own, turning these icons of excess into more practical spaces like offices, banks, grocery stores and movie theaters.

Though, given some of the poor quality of materials and craftsmanship, it begs the question, would it be better to just tear them all down and start from scratch?


  1. My term of choice is Tract Mansion. And why the heck did it take so long for this backlash?

    I had a good friend who, when driving by a new development, would exclaim: The house-shitting machine came through!

  2. So if you were a home builder having to cut costs to meet the current economic environment what would to try to get the local media to say ???

  3. Well I have lived in a 1000 sqf L shaped shoe box and I have lived in a McMansion, with a court yard, deck off the master, and a big kitchen (granite etc..).

    I definitely like living in the McMansion better. but to each their own.

  4. Quality over quantity. My parents live in a community where their 2700 sqft house (still too big!) is one of the smallest. Visiting their neighbors, you see a retired couple rattling around in 4000+ sqft. $500/month utility bills…

    In the last couple of years, this has another effect when their kids get divorced or lose their jobs. If you build it, they will come.

    Hopefully, architects like Ross Chapin will become more common:

  5. Jojn I am with you.

    I started out in a 700 sq. foot place with my wife and through the real estate boom and bust we have lived in 4 places. 1 of them being a 750 sq. ft place in mission beach with no parking and a 3 year old and 1 year old.

    We now live in a 3500 sq. foot in Del Mar heights and I sure like it better than the 700 sq. foot place or the 1800 sq. ft place.

    What they need to do though is encourage denser zoning.

  6. If zoning allows the McMansions will be conveted into multiunit housing as was done to older houses over time in the inner cities. With some work you could get three or 4 units out of one. Of course now days zoning would get in the way which it did not in the past.

  7. Denser zoning? If Carmel “Crazy” Valley was any denser then they those McMansions would be considered townhomes. There’s something ridiculous about monster tract homes on postage stamp lots, regardless of amenities.

  8. Speaking of which, what’s the deal with Quail Pointe [sic], the new McMansions south of Quail Gardens?

    Heard through the grapevine the developer is in bankruptcy.

  9. You people are crasy I love mcmansions. know you may all be hating because u cant afford them.and its really up to the person that has the money to have a house like that. stop hating and let the people be.

  10. Wait a minute. Isn’t Carmel Valley entirely made up of McMansions? And aren’t they selling like crazy?

  11. 4000 square foot plus single story homes rule, if you can afford them! It isn’t the home size but the lot size that make Mc Mansions miserable.

  12. For our family of 4; 2200sf is percect

  13. One of the side effects of McMansions is oversized furniture. Everything is wider, deeper, more overstuffed. Unfortunately, if you live in a home built pre-90’s the furniture doesn’t work as well. We live in a very comfortable 2000sf 1960’s house. We could not find a dining room table that had chairs that weren’t super wide- which prohibited putting a group of 8-10 around the table. We ended up using hand me downs from my in-laws…

    McMansions also tend to have a lot of wasted space… big foyers, grand staircases, halls that are wide enough to be spacious – but not wide enough to be usable space. It’s a style, a look… but also expensive to heat/cool/pay taxes on.

  14. Someone once told me that “you adapt to your space”. I had never thought of it before. You expand to fit your space. You can live comfortable in a small-ish space, but once given more room, you accumulate more worthless junk to fill it.

    I’m looking forward to buying a smaller home (1500-2000 sqft) so it will curtail my Costco binges.

  15. This is hardly a new development. McMansions are the new Ranch.

    Some rich man came and raped the land
    And nobody caught him
    Put up a bunch of ugly boxes
    and Jesus, people bought ’em.

    – The Last Resort, Eagles 1978(?)

    When you’re flying over them, they can even look kind of pretty:
    Check out the ones in the lower left corner. Starter Castles indeed.

    The latest design that is spreading like kudzu is what I call the Lighthouse: garage on the first level, kitchen and living room on the 2nd, bedrooms on the 3rd, and sometimes a master suite on the 4th level. Who needs a Stairmaster(tm)?

  16. The photo shows a lifestyle I wouldn’t want, regardless of price — and these are pricey monsters.

  17. 4000 square foot plus single story homes rule, if you can afford them! It isn’t the home size but the lot size that make Mc Mansions miserable.

    doughboy | August 20th, 2010 at 7:49 am

    Amen. It’s not the houses that are so bad (though I’m not fond of them), it’s the lot sizes and the HOAs.

    I would love to see the day when people can buy their own decent-sized lots and build their own custom homes again. It’s sad to see how the big developers have ruined much of the country with their overpriced, stuck-together pieces of cheap stucco sameness.

  18. Little houses, on the hillside, little houses full of ticky tacky…

    Carmel Valley’s theme song?

  19. Sorry, try this one. It’s funnier with the video (opening scene from TV show “Weeds”).

  20. Oh my goodness, such snobbery. Once again, the delicate sensibilities of the We Say So crowd have declared an entire swath of home communities to be uninhabitable due to such dreadful aesthetic burdens. A displeasingly jumbled appearance? Horrors! Lots not big enough? Oh, no. Or was the problem all the sprawl caused by lots being too big? Oh, never mind, it’s wherever people who are too affluent to be poor and not affluent enough to be rich that we must attack; clearly, upper-middle class America needs to be brought down a notch.

    Why the recent hostility toward those who are living comfortably in a home that is spacious yet lacking in high-priced architectural rigor? Does a brick front on a vinyl box really merit such aesthetic angst? Do mixing quoins, palladian windows, and faux shutters really undermine a homeowner’s enjoyment of their house? And in an era where every kitchen — no matter how dumpy or out-of-date — gets granite countertops slapped in before the house goes on the market, do high-end materials really equate high-end quality or design?

    Now, go interview some 22-year-olds about what they want in a house. I’m sure they have a very good idea about what will make a suitable home in 20 years from now when they’re married with kids & pets.

  21. Interestingly enough, the overhead photo at the beginning is from Markham, Ontario, Canada. I am from the town of Georgina (About 40 Minutes North of Markham) on the shires of lake Simcoe. It is an odd town, as about 40% of houses are small, former cottages with siding, broken roofs, etc. gravel driveways and no garage, occupied by the characteristically Georginian low income, third hand car families. Another 15% that popped up over a decade ago was the short lived fad of the 1 car, paved driveway bungalow, occupied by generally those who are more typical for the very farm-filled area of upper-southern ontario and the surrounding, rural-ish area. And while there are other types of homes such as the mansions of eastbourne and roches point, and the farm houses of the majority of the town (which operates as a township), A new phenomenon appeared just after the mid-level bungalow: The Tract home. Most of the Town’s largest community (keswick) was engulfed in 2,500 square foot 2 car Beasts, leaving behind a Lifetime of mortgage. Sutton (one of 2 other major communities), now, as of February 2014, has a similar project with 3,000+ square foot “McMansions” dominating the small village. The appeal of the massive lake, located in southern ontario near toronto, has been enough to attract buyers, and the Extension of a major 400-series highway (similar to a medium capacity interstate), will just add to it. Georgina is now part of toronto’s urban sprawl. And while I Personally enjoy these homes, many people, do not.


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