Thursday, 20 September 2007

bigger, uglier and emptier?

Houses in Sydney are, on average, getting more expensive. Not because housing costs are greater (they are actually cheaper) but because houses are getting bigger. About a 50% increase in the last twenty years.

At the same time, the average household size has fallen, from about 3 people per household twenty years ago to about 2.5 now (16%). So the average person uses about 60% more space than they did two decades ago.

And some people who have studied these matters are worried:

  • If we were satisfied with smaller houses, we wouldn't always need two incomes to pay them off, allowing people more choice in having and raising families.
  • Some people are mortgaged to their eyeballs to purchase these large houses, and if interest rates rise (as they have recently), they can no longer meet the requirements, and they lose their house. Loan defaults have risen. In a new suburb near me, one street has four uncompleted houses, presumably because of this.
  • Bigger houses and smaller blocks mean very small backyards with nowhere for children to play outside, and people being isolated behind the wall of their "fortresses".
  • Bigger houses use more of the world's precious resources, especially energy.
  • It's just one more symptom of "affluenza", the disease of excessive materialism that makes no-one happy, and is built upon inequality that keeps so many people in the world in poverty.

And another thing. The new big "McMansions" seem to generally be less attractive, as people tend to maximise space at the expense of good design, and (I'm guessing) want their homes to be imposing rather than attractive. At least that's how it looks to my eyes. Here are a few examples.

Houses don't need to be like ugly boxes. They used to know how to build attractive houses.

And they still do.

So we have more space, but less beauty and utility. Affluenza and status extract a heavy price. And, sadly, we are often so desperate to build our self image that we are willing to pay the price. Truly we are sometimes like sheep without a shepherd!


  1. i guess i shouldn't say it's a world wide phenomenon, but we have the same problem here. a lot of cities like NYC, LA & San Francisco have dealt with outrageous housing markets for years. the area i live in, smack between washington DC and the state capitol, richmond, was a small town surrounded by miles of countryside when my parents moved here in the 70s. it started growing in the 80s with people moving here from DC and commuting to their jobs there. then in the past 15 years (i may have already told you this, i'm not sure) it blew up by something like 300% which sent the housing mkt through the roof. now the "bubble" has burst yet the price of homes will never be reasonable again. oh, and the income for those who work locally has not quite caught up either, leaving most of us out in the cold.

  2. those are big friggin houses. are you the ceo of a company? :)

  3. Fortunately (re the less attractive houses) or unfortunately (re the nice ones), none of them are mine. I was never a CEO, just a humble government employee, I am now retired, and my house is a little more ordinary, though still ample for our needs. And I don't live in those suburbs.

    I would guess the owners are business people, but probably not CEOs - more likely theyrun small businesses. These suburbs are not especially rich ones, people have just devoted so much of their income into these purchases.


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