Arnold Kling  

Home Building Trends

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One way to track the increased affluence in America is to look at the trends in new home construction. This research report from the National Association of Homebuilders is filled with interesting facts. For example,

Some of the features that average home buyers want today used to be considered optional and were standard only in upscale luxury homes. Today, the difference between average homes and upscale/luxury homes is that upscale homes are larger, with top-of-the-line equipment and materials.

Thanks to Bruce Bartlett for a pointer that led me to track down this article.

For Discussion. What characteristics of a standard middle-class home built around 1960 would be considered unacceptable in a standard middle-class home today?

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CATEGORIES: Growth: Consequences

COMMENTS (8 to date)
Brad Hutchings writes:

I'm thinking back on the home my grandparents used to live in. It was built in the early 60s -- typical middle class tract home in the San Fernando Valley. Actually, there's not a lot that ahandy home-owner couldn't fix in spare time over a couple years. The biggies are environmental things, like lead paint and asbestos ceiling popcorn. Inside the walls, you'd want to upgrade the wiring, convert to copper piping, maybe add cable, phone, and high speed ethernet. Replace air ducting if it's gotten moldy or whatever. When redecorating, it may be easier to strip the walls, install new sheetrock, use modern wall textures. When redoing flooring, inspect and replace subfloor as needed, although older homes tend to be a lot more solid that 80's counterparts. Swap out wood roof for composition or tile (need to hire a roofer though!). Vinyl-framed double-pane windows have become so inexpensive since Home Depot and Lowes arrived on the scene! Roll-up garage door... Fences, walls, and pools could be really expensive to fix up though.

It seems that now in SoCal, you pay for location and lot size. If you've got a little money to tie up, it's not inconceivable to buy an older home, tear it down, and have a new custom home buiilt on the land.

Cole Gustafson writes:

I live in a 60's house now that I have updated, but also am building a lake place myself. The question is what 1960's characteristics would be unacceptable today. I think there is a long list,but here is a start:

1) No A/c, homes in this northern region didn't have it

2) 15-am electrical circuits with only a few outlets in kitchen and 1-2 in other rooms

3) 4" walls with low insulating value

4) Sqeeky floors (modenn floors are nailed and glued)

5) Drywall nail pops (see above)

6) Just a single bathroom in house

7) Single car garage

8) Small lot

9) No microwave

10) Neighbors

jn writes:

Before 1960, a large fraction of 3 bedroom homes had only one bathroom.

A big difference since many homebuyers now demand at least one bathroom per bedroom. More expensive new homes today are often advertised as (for example) 4 BR, 5 bath.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Cole wrote:

Sqeeky floors (modenn floors are nailed and glued)

You can fix this!! I have a condo built in 1988 which has/had the same problem. When you are ready to refloor, strip things down to the subfloor, and secure the subfloor with 2" gold (just the color) screws. I pre-drill a 1/8" hole to set them and find that if I use 1 screw for every 3 nails that are there, most of the squeeking goes away. Then stamper around the floor to find remaining squeeks and set additional screws as needed. BTW, the squeeks are from the plywood moving up and down the nails. Nails stink.

Anyway, I have taken all the squeeks out of my lower floor as I've retiled. Upstairs is on the to-do list. I've used maybe $10 in screws.

Anita Campbell writes:

Obviously you need more comments from women, to talk about the REALLY important differences. Today no self-respecting woman would find a new house acceptable that has:

1. laundry room in the basement!
2. no dishwasher!
3. no deck or patio (or worse, just a cement slab outside the back door)!
4. no walk-in master closet!
5. no first-floor master bedroom!
6. no garage door openers
7. no garbage disposal

Come on fellas! Who cares about nail pops in the drywall when really important things like dishwashers are at stake.

Kudos to Cole for the microwave comment.

Yasser writes:

I think a more interesting question is: How have the middle-class come to afford such upscale accoutrements?

Certainly, it is through a combination of rising real incomes and perhaps enhanced productivity in the homebuilding and housewares industry. But to what extent has each played a role? And how do demographics and the influx of immigrants figure into this phenomenon?

Alex writes:

Actually, what should have been discussed --and should be at another time--is how the emphasis on housing as well as upscale accoutrements has not been good for the country (besides being another
fixed game in taxing schemes).

Brad Hutchings writes:

Anita, I think there is a division of labor dynamic going on here. At any rate, without double paned windows to keep the weather out, walk-in closets are superfluous. Haha.

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