America has had an interesting housing eruption since World War II. Sixty years ago, the American home had less than 1000 sq ft within its walls, and those four walls housed on average over four people. Today, even with the housing recession in full high-dudgeon, the average new home built in America today is near record high in size – almost 2400 sq ft – and houses the fewest number of people in American history – about 2.5 souls per house.
This comes at a time when approximately 30% of all American homes are worth less than what is owed upon them – definitionally “underwater.” The average indebtedness beyond worth of those who are underwater is upwards of $50,000 per house.
More children are moving back later in life for longer periods of time into the family home, more people are commuting greater distances to earn a living away from the homes they can’t sell.
Truth be told, the macroeconomics that creates micro-domestic realities, and at present in America, our immediate past reality of “Great Rooms” and “McMansions” are now the subject of ridicule and mockery where once they were points of pride for millions of American families.
Inevitably, bubbles burst. The tulip bubble of 17th century Holland made a perennial flower into a windfall for some people. Just like the American home in the pre-crash bubble, the cost of those speculative tulips far outstripped what they were really worth once the value of the plant became connected to how many plants there were and how many people actually wanted them. The glut of American homes is so great that the fewest number of new homes since World War II were built last year – an annual level of 300,000 new homes, where five years ago America was flirting with building 3 million homes per year.
Recent trends that include “New Urbanism,” “Historic Preservation,” “Sustainability,” and the growing perception that retirement is no longer an option for many of us reveal that our “homes” are not movable feasts – they are not stage sets that we can abandon for the next greater, bigger background for our life’s adventures.Our homes are not simply the pedestal upon which we set the totems of our lives’ achievements nor are they just the walls upon which we hang mirrors that reflect our pride in ourselves.
Before World War II, our homes were (and are beginning to become again) an integral part of the fabric that weaves families together. The physical reality of the American home is becoming linked to who we are in ways that are deep, resonant and probably destined to change the future of the way everyone perceives all their homes. When the present building bust booms again as it inevitably will, we will not have the fungible home as the “norm.”
Just like the first spat between young lovers breaks the buzz of romance, this grinding building recession has definitely been a buzz kill to those who thought that the onward and upward march of home value was a great get rich quick scheme.
It is time for us to homestead again. It is time for us to realize that staying put is not house arrest, it is actually finding a place where we can base the rest of our lives. Home is a place where we can move forward while staying put gives us a sense of connection and groundedness that the last few generations may have forgotten could even be possible.