Saturday, November 28, 2009

We're NOT all in this together according to Steve Brown

Dicey economy hasn't kept consumers from craving bigger homes

12:00 AM CST on Friday, November 27, 2009
A few weeks ago, I took a drive through the neighborhood surrounding Bent Tree Country Club.
Back in the 1980s, it was considered one of Dallas' most desired residential areas. It looks even nicer today, since the big trees lining the streets have grown and greened up an area that started out as recycled cotton fields.
But what really caught my eye was the number of huge new houses replacing the ones first built in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Most of the homes being knocked down are big, more than 5,000 square feet in some cases. But the '80s suburban spreads are being supplanted by even larger mini manses that mimic European styles.
The Bent Tree makeover seems to fly in the face of the theory that Americans are on a downsizing binge.
To hear some media pundits talk, we're fast returning to an era of Little House on the Prairie, sitting in sod huts while we sew our clothes and raise vegetables out back. They say the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog will soon be full of his-and-hers plows and apple peelers.
This supposed frugalism is what some analysts believe is a logical response to the current hard times facing the nation.
I say that's all baloney. Just because the country is mired in an economic downturn doesn't mean consumers will abandon their taste for fine living.
(Even during the Great Depression, the most popular movies at the cinema portrayed the kind of luxury living few folks could longer afford.)
To be sure, luxury home sales are down.
In North Texas, sales of million-dollar-plus houses are off more than 40 percent from a year ago. But that has more to do with problems in the mortgage markets and jitters over Wall Street than it does a change in people's appetites for expensive real estate.
As soon as there is a hint of blue sky in the economy, bottom fishers will be pouncing to make bargain buys.
Even during this downturn, Americans have been moving up to buy bigger digs.
The desire for a larger home was the top motivation recent buyers cited in a National Association of Realtors housing survey. Only 5 percent of buyers surveyed listed "desire for a smaller home."
So much for downsizing.
And also for the idea that we are all going to live in shacks and hide our money in mattresses.
That doesn't mean you can live beyond your means and use your home like an ATM machine to finance that luxe lifestyle.
That's not so much being frugal as just good sense.

The anti-sustainability movement both has it and flaunts it. Let's hope they're trying to conserve some energy in these death star class homes.