Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Home Show

A while back Mooselet challenged her readers to post GoogleEarth pictures of where they lived. Her house is tucked away in the forested Down Under. I couldn't compete with that so I didn't bother. Besides, those GoogleEarth pictures are so grainy. Then I discovered a website called Zillow. Since I haven’t been in the real estate market for several years, I was unaware how out of control the availability of web info was. They had all sorts of public document information on my domicile. They even had some really great close-up aerial photos. So here it is, Casa Yellojkt:

It’s a fairly non-descript townhouse with a one-car garage and a walk-out basement. Judging by the Zestimates™ (the website’s silly name for their computerized market value estimates) my house is in the middle of the pack for my neighbors. If you look in the backyard, you can see the picnic bench my neighbors drink at while their Golden Retreivers pee in my postage stamp backyard. I don't mind too much since I’m the only unit in our group without a deck. I’ve never felt I needed a three thousand dollar gas grille stand. Every year when we budget the choice between a vacation and a deck, the deck always loses.

Some people can afford anything they want for in a house. Thanks to the power of Zillow you can envy or pity these people as well. Take this palace where the owner took the idea of his house is his castle a little too literally:

When this house was built back in 1998 it made the news as being the most expensive house in Howard County not owned by the descendants of a Declaration of Independence signer. In an area where ginormous houses don't merit a second glance, this house stood out in a way that would make Thorstein Veblen blush. I can’t Google any of the original stories, but if I recall correctly, the original owners won a decent sized lottery and sunk over half of it into building their dream house. Here are the stats:

16 beds, 8.0 baths, 86 rooms, 27,450 sq ft; 5.54 acres
Sold 04/23/2001: $2,528,400
2007 Property Tax: $32,531
ZESTIMATE™: $3,502,030

Their first choice of neighborhoods rejected them for being too ostentatious. They found a more modest subdivision that was glad to take their money. Because here is the best part. This house is on a flag lot. There is an undeveloped lot between this mini-Versailles and the street.

I had never heard of flag lots before moving here, but they litter Howard County. On a flag lot, a driveway runs between two other houses to more houses behind the ones on the street. I’ve seen houses clustered in groups of six, two with driveways to the street and four more houses in the back on flag lots. I wouldn’t have a flag lot if you gave it to me (too much driveway to shovel), but clearly it was good enough for this massive erection.

Real estate is location, location, location, and this house is surrounded by homes one fifth its size and one third its value. Not a good choice for long term appreciation. When the owner’s only daughter went off to college, the couple put it on the market where it languished and eventually sold for about half what it cost to build. Fools and money are welcome clients of contractors and real estate agents.

My wife and I love to visit the Gilded Age mansions. One of the common themes is that the gaudy “cottages” the robber barons built themselves rarely stayed in the family for more than a generation or two. Between the upkeep and dwindling principal of the family fortune from spendthrift heirs, giant mansions quickly become hungry, hungry white elephants.

A McMansion is an oversized house on a rinky-dink lot surrounded by other monuments to middlebrow conspicuous consumption. By that definition, the Gaither Farm Road Folly is a McBiltmore.

If I ever have a fortune dropped in my lap, I hope I can keep my wants in line with my needs and stay away from a house where the window washing bill is more than my paycheck.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: How much house is too much?


Anonymous said...

"I wouldn’t have a flag lot if you gave it to me (too much driveway to shovel), but clearly it was good enough for this massive erection."

This is such a good sentence, in so many ways.

2000 sq. ft., $85000.

2fs said...

"How much house is too much?" Well, this one certainly is...unless 75 people are living there. The trend toward gigantohouses is destructive and useless in so many ways, particularly when communities enact laws mandating minimum property size, thereby effectively setting a rigid income barrier for residency (since such places often also severely limit rental properties).

yellojkt said...

Thanks, Dooley. I try.

Western Howard County (where this house is, barely) has minimum 3 acre lots because of no sewer or municipal water. Economic maximization calls for as big a house as possible. Meanwhile anything in the eastern half of the county you can turn a car around on gets carpeted with mini-McMansions. There should be a saner land use strategy, but there isn't.

Impetua said...

Our first house in Metropolis was about 1100sf, 2br, 1ba, one-car detached garage on a gravelly overgrown alley.

Five years later on kind of a whim we moved to Bedroom Community, across the river in another state, and bought much more house -- 1700sf, 3br, 2ba, 2-car attached garage on a modest loop -- for exactly what we sold the first house for.

I would love one more bedroom but the truth is that we'd just fill that one with crap too. A bigger house just means more to clean, so unless you have a ton of kids and/or a huge income (to afford maid service), I'd take a pass on it.

Malnurtured Snay said...

I remember reading about that house - I think it has a shooting range, too.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Someone built a house like that in Rostraver Twp (near Pittsburgh). I think it was someone in connection with Rolling Stone magazine. However he never lived there. It's gorgeous...but what's the point?

I wouldn't know what too much house is...but beyond 3 or 4 Bedrooms would probably be too much for me. I'm used to small.

yellojkt said...

I took a boat tour of Seattle and saw all the Microsoft and Starbucks mansions, and this pales in comparison, but for my are it is over the top.

I firmly believe that people buy a bigger house because their closets get filled.

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