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why build? aren’t there enough houses already?

Monday, April 26th, 2010 by

The “why build?” question is one that often comes up in semi-polite company, usually delivered in conjunction with a look that says “Aren’t they cute? They think they can actually do this without killing each other.”

Invariably, our potential house building discussion partner suddenly finds that he has to help the hostess vacuum the dog or put the sushi in the oven. I suppose it’s fair that the thought of building a house sends most people running for the (already fully-developed and subdivided) hills. The thought of designing, coordinating, managing, permitting, insuring, funding, financing, acquiring, and being held liable, responsible, inspectable, culpable, and certifiable—for some reason—seems to intimidate most people.

Houses for saleTherefore, in order to find a place to live the aforementioned “most people” generally gravitate to structures where others—anonymous builders and designers—have run the gauntlet described above, and have emerged with an inventory of houses placed into an inventory of subdivisions that conform nicely with other subdivisions approved by a county and governed by a State. Sadly—in my admittedly skewed opinion—what comes out the other side is a clusterclump of simulhouse-clones that are designed and constructed to look as if they are about to encounter the late 1800s. Hence the pseudo-shutters that are nailed—open, of course— to the side of the house, and the oh-so-handy faux hay-loft door perched above the modern three-car garage complete with a genuine reproduction wrought iron rooster wind-vane on its genuine reproduction cupola.

Well to put it simply, (and, after all, “Simply” is the first word that comes into your mind when characterizing my writing style, isn’t it? What can I say? It’s a gift.) we really didn’t want that type of house. Instead, we seem to want a house that popular culture/media wants us to want, but almost no-one actually has. You know, the one that you see in movies where everything just fits perfectly, and there are big windows from which to take in the vista. So, we’ll admit that we want the magazine house; we’re just not too keen on it actually being in a magazine, but we’ll cross that table of contents when we come to it.

We considered buying, if for no other reason than it’s significantly cheaper than building. (Watch this space for much more on that subject!)

Believe me, we looked. We saw quite a few houses, and some were quite “nice”. Unfortunately, they weren’t interesting, they weren’t smart, they really weren’t our definition of attractive, and they weren’t terribly well-built.

But, to their credit, they made up for all of those minor shortcomings by being… BIG.

Huge, actually. For example, we visited a ~6000+ square foot house in what appeared to be a normal middle-class neighborhood, albeit filled with houses with obvious pituitary problems. Its living room was beautifully staged in order to attract buyers, and due to its ridiculous size, it had five couches while somehow still managing to appear sparse and minimalist. The structure it most reminded me of was a racquetball court.

Well, that is if you took a gourmet kitchen and put it at the back wall of a racquetball court, and then put five couches in the middle of the court, but I think you get the general idea.

You may find it hard to believe, but we decided to take a pass on that one, even though it was actually a little under $100 a square foot. (At this point, I must apologize to any of my SF Bay Area friends, acquaintances and stalkers that may be reading this. That wasn’t a typo. I did not leave out an additional digit, and I am SO sorry. I have felt your pain. FWIW, there appears to be lots of room in North Carolina, and the house-part actually costs MORE than the land-part. Crazy, huh?)

Although we’re pretty far away from putting together an actual budget, let’s just say that I am absolutely confident, even at this early juncture, that Fred will cost more than $100 a square foot. In fact, it’s probably going to be a challenge to even bring in Fred’s garage at under $100 a square foot, but then I promised to cover that build/buy cost disparity in another post, didn’t I?

The bottom line is that we really aren’t that concerned about quantity of space. We are concerned about efficiency, sustainability, low operating and maintenance costs—I hate to even hazard a guess as to what it costs to cool the racquetball court and its 30 foot ceilings—and elegance. By elegance, I don’t mean the Waldorf Astoria lobby kind, but rather the most perfect fit for the way we live our lives today, and the way we think we may live them on into the future.

So that is why we are not adopting a needy, disadvantaged racquethouse.

Besides, I didn’t like the doorknobs. Some things one simply can’t compromise on!

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