McMansions are Back. And They Have Their Place.

Roughly three years after Trulia declared McMansions dead, the New York Times announced that they were back and bigger than ever. I never cared for the term McMansion for two reasons: (1) I really don’t understand what it means and (2) the term wreaks of elitist snobbery. After all, why go right for the pejorative?

Let’s consider some possible definitions. Perhaps a McMansion is a home that sticks out, one that is over sized and inconsistent with the neighborhood. In real estate appraisal, this is called functional obsolescence in the form of over improvement. In order to value an overbuilt home, an appraiser must depreciate the replacement cost more than the physical age of the structure would suggest. Why? Because there is an upside limit to what people are willing to pay in a given neighborhood. The owners of these homes are often bewildered and even angered when confronted with this reality.

A McMansion is certainly not to be mistaken for a real mansion. What would Newport Rhode Island, Beverly Hills California, Alpine New Jersey and Greenwich Connecticut be without them? In most cases in these cities and communities like them the homes are large (sometimes huge) and expensive, but they fit the setting quite nicely. Large lots and rolling topography, privacy and pleasant views are the hallmarks of this pricy real estate. Yes, many of these homes are excessive, but in this Prophet’s opinion, they are examples of ambition, craft and elegance that is more often seen in the realm of art than in real estate.

Sometimes larger homes in new subdivisions are considered McMansions. I am not personally attracted to the look, but I understand why people buy these homes: they are getting a lot of house (albeit not much land) for their money. These are the same people who buy Sport Utility Vehicles: the comfort, style, safety and convenience offered by these larger car-trucks often outweighs the cost of the gasoline. And who are buying these homes? People with budding careers and growing families. Your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters, your friends. Real ‘Mericans.

We need a new term that moves us past the condescension. How about Aspirational Homes, or New American Homes, or American Dream Homes?

– Bob Gagliano

Suburban Street

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