Size Matters

The main reason people move to the outer suburbs is for larger homes, says a small study conducted by Ohio State University.

Hazel Morrow-Jones is a professor of city and regional planning at Ohio State University. She conducted the study with a student, surveying residents of the outer reaches of Columbus.

Jim Wieker writes, "Crime, school quality and traffic matter but not as much as one might think.

"People have told us they were not leaving the central city because of the schools; the rating they gave the schools is largely the same that suburban households give when they leave," [Morrow-Jones] said.

But in both cases they do leave, and, through time, the pattern is clear: Homeowners leave the central city for the suburbs, and they leave the inner suburbs for the outer ones."

Full Story: Sprawl has spread deep into our minds



Big houses are cheaper in outer suburbs

Yes, Americans are leaving the inner suburbs for "nice big homes" in the outer suburbs. One important factor in the equation too often is that the new big homes are cheaper in the outer suburbs then they are in the inner suburbs.

I know one couple who looked at preexisting bigger homes in the inner ring suburbs for years, and ultimately purchased a brand new one in an outer suburb subdivision (typical tract McMansion) because they felt they were "getting more for their money." A house of equal size in the inner suburbs they looked at would have cost a lot more.

They also preferred the 1 acre lot of their new outer suburb home to the 1/2 acre and 1/4 acre lots of the inner suburbs.

So, what we have to fix is the fact that it shouldn't be so cheap for large builders to construct their mass produced homes in outer suburbs.

We also have to nix the mass-produced tract subdivision model in general.

Need to raise awareness of the real cost of McMansions

This is also why we need to make people aware of the real cost of these "cheap" houses, i.e. the biggest being huge amount of money spent annually on automobile transportation (I think the claim is that it's the equivalent of having another $100,000 mortgage?), as well as the value of time that is lost stuck in traffic and driving longer distances to get anywhere, the additional yard/landscaping costs, etc. etc. And they should need to bear the burden of impact fees. Love those impact fees.

Builders charged impact fees

Builders can bear the burden of impact fees in communities that require them. School impact fees are being considered in some states, as they should be.

Impact Fees

Builders do not "bear" impact fees... they are passed onto the home buyer via increased prices.

they're split...

Basic economics - the fees are split between the sellers and the buyers.

How the split in the additional cost is actually shared between buyers and sellers will depend on market conditions and the negotiating skill of each party.

I'd disagree

Despite the theory, in the real world any developer worth his salt is passing on the full costs of the fees to the homebuyer via increased prices, lower quality work, less amenities, less square footage or some other mechanism. Granted, the developer does have to pay up front and recoup upon sale, so there is a danger of losing money there. If impact fees lower profitability to the point where the development doesn't make enough money to be worth the time/effort/cost, the marginal developments will simply not get built (i.e. the more affordbale homes.... which is also why we only ever see "luxury condos").

It's the old rule that only people pay taxes, not companies/businesses.

it's not theory

There is no conceivable way a developer can force potential home buyers to pay more for a home than they are willing to pay.

In the real world, developers are already negotiating the highest payments they can from potential purchasers. The fact it cost the developer more money to construct the house does not make the buyers any more inclined to exceed their budgets.

You are right that the impact fees would lower the quantity of units produced. (Buyers unable to exceed their budgets will drop out of the market.) What you seem to be missing is that among those units that are still constructed and sold, there is a loss in BOTH the consumer AND the producer surplus.

That is to say - for the houses that continue to be built and sold, the buyers pay more (they are willing to pay this higher amount, but would have gotten the house for cheaper had the fees not been in place) AND the sellers collect less (they are willing to sell for this lower profit, but would have collected more had the fees not been in place).

A study like this says a lot

A study like this says a lot without saying anything conclusive. The real interesting question is why there are no big houses in the inner and core city, and why there are no small houses in the outer suburbs.

It's that the only way the city adapts to people's lives is by sprawling out. Why do people move to a better home instead of a better home moving to them?

Michael Lewyn's picture

Big homes in inner suburbs

The reason big new homes are harder to find in inner suburbs is that since they are already "built out", to build a new house you have to pay to raze the old one and build a new one on your now-vacant lot. By contrast, in an undeveloped area, developers can build big houses out of cornfields and then sell them.

Interestingly, in healthier central cities and inner suburbs people will pay for "tear downs"- but those tear downs are quite controversial, and neighborhood NIMBYs often try to stop them.

Resisting select tear downs

Well, there can be good reasons for citizens to oppose certain tear downs. In many communities, good older homes are being torn down to build mansions that are often totally out of scale and character with the existing neighborhoods. For example, modest and well built 1950's Cape Cods and ranchers are being torn down in some regions to build poor quality McMansions of the style seen in most subdivisions.

The real interesting question is indeed a 'why'

The real interesting question is why there are no big houses in the inner and core city, and why there are no small houses in the outer suburbs.

It's that the only way the city adapts to people's lives is by sprawling out. Why do people move to a better home instead of a better home moving to them? [emphasis added]

Why do some think that "bigger" = "better"? The move to bigger is a function of cheap energy, limited investment options, and our consumer culture. Take these away and the erroneous frame of "bigger" = "better" goes away. And houses get smaller.




I agree.

There is apparently a greater demand for smaller houses too- let's just make sure that doesn't mean we accept the proliferation of tract homes simply because they're smaller.

Couple of points on house size

First, there appears to be some misinterpretation. Jones clearly states that it's newer and bigger and emphasis on newer. She even states the ideal is a newer home in an older neighborhood without old wiring, etc. This seems intuitive. Most newer homes are better designed for modern layouts and creature comforts and have modern plumbing and electrical. But, there are lots of benefits to the older neighborhoods - mature trees, parks, proximity. I do wonder what her geographic set is - there are lots of large homes in central cities across America. There are very few NEWER, large homes in central areas unless they are scrapers.

A second point is that a professor of city planning pretty simply stated that in her work, people said they preferred car-centric suburban, newer and larger homes. I thought the planning mantra was that people hate sprawl, but are forced to live in it? Perhaps like everything else, people just prefer to avoid any trade-offs and have it all if possible.

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