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Why McMansions were doomed investments from the start


mcmansion annotated 2The term "McMansion" is not usually used as a compliment.

Loosely defined as a cookie-cutter suburban home of between 3,000 and 5,000 square feet, the McMansion was considered the ultimate sign of affluence in the late 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, before the crash of the housing market in 2008.

A recent report from Bloomberg and Trulia claimed that these homes turned out to be terrible investments — though the assumption was that McMansions would cost more to construct and sell for more than a typical starter home, it turned out that just wasn't true. Bloomberg cited data from Trulia that showed that the premiums paid for McMansions have declined significantly in 85 of the country's 100 biggest cities.

One feasible explanation for this decline in value is purely aesthetic: McMansions are just ugly.

In the era of speculative homebuilding before the recession, bigger was considered better, and buyers sought homes with the same general list of features: five or more bedrooms, a three-car garage, and cathedral ceilings in the master bedroom or living room, for example.

But according to the anonymous author of McMansionHell, that emphasis on a laundry list of features led to some poor architectural choices: mismatched window styles, disproportional dormers projecting from the roof, and garish, unnecessary columns. 

"When homebuilding is influenced by trends, the houses become, well, trendy. A house was no longer tailored to the needs of a family, but to their wants, becoming a check-off list of features considered desirable for 'resale,' something that was previously in the very back of one's mind when buying or building a home, but never the forefront," the author recently told Business Insider.

"People used to buy a home under the assumption that they would be living there until the end of a long, nebulous concept of time. A house was for life, a marriage of sorts. The McMansion was never designed to last forever, we see this in the McMansions of the eighties, which have aged badly already."

mcmansion annotated

The author explained that the move toward the McMansion began in the 1980s, when the home became valued less as a place to live and more as a statement of luxury.

"The McMansion was built cheaply in order to get maximum items checked off the check-off list for the lowest cost. The designing of houses from the inside out caused the rooflines to be massive and complex in order to accommodate the cathedral ceilings in the upstairs master bedroom, etc.," she said. "These roofs are nearing their time of needing to be redone and maintained at extraordinary cost due to their complexity. As the era of repair draws near, I suspect many homeowners are quietly trying to walk away from their bad decision."

She added that she hopes her work — which, though critical, should be taken as satire — will bring a revival of architecture as beauty rather than status.

"I started McMansionHell with the goal of educating people about architecture and making them aware of the flaws of these houses (both architectural and sociological) through a combination of humor and easily digestible information in a way people who wouldn't otherwise care about architecture can get engaged with," she said.

"If my work can stop just one person from bulldozing a forest to build an oversized house that's a blight on the environment, then I would call McMansionHell a very successful project."

SEE ALSO: The American McMansion is dying for good

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