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Mark Miller

FUTURE HOUSING TRENDS

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The American Dream: A spacious house in the suburbs, 2.5 kids, an SUV in the driveway and a big backyard. And a dog.

That was the intent, anyway. Far too often, though, the reality is segregated uses; wide, sidewalk-free streets; and oceans of mediocre and soulless -- albeit large -- drywall and plywood castles, built to last not much longer than their mortgages. Sporting vibrant coatings of beige, tan, fawn and ecru, they deliver the space at least -- plus sprawling expanses of backyard lawns brooded over by ledger boards bolted high on the exteriors like grim smiles, waiting for decks to someday be installed.

The above quote is from a very good and informative article that can be found at the following link:

http://www.tndtownpaper.com/Volume9/living_less_large.htm.

The article deals with the changing sentiment of people when they are building / buying new homes. One of the things people are looking for is quality over quantity, although I have not really experienced an overall change in quality in most new middle class construction these days, as the homes still mimic the above description and have really cheap hardware, poor detail, out of proportion living space (but it is big) and lots of beige. But maybe the tides are turning.

A love the quote from Thoreau:

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I don't see myself in a grand suburban house in 20 years.

I just moved from a rather large 1 br., 1 ba. apartment that had its own separate living room, kitchen and dining area to an efficiency. The kitchen is a bit smaller, the bathroom is larger and the living room/bedroom is the same size as my former living room.

I've made better use of my space. I keep items under the bed on rollers, my closet is organized to a high efficiency, and various other methods.

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I don't see myself in a grand suburban house in 20 years.

I just moved from a rather large 1 br., 1 ba. apartment that had its own separate living room, kitchen and dining area to an efficiency. The kitchen is a bit smaller, the bathroom is larger and the living room/bedroom is the same size as my former living room.

I've made better use of my space. I keep items under the bed on rollers, my closet is organized to a high efficiency, and various other methods.

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The principles are good but stylistically Sarah tends to lean toward craftsman. Which is great if you love craftsman. If you want a book that talks a lot about the ideas but transcends style look for one called Patterns of Home.

Then again, if you want to go to the source go read Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language. This is the book that all of these ideas are derived from. The info is great but there isn't a lot of graphics. Sarah and others graphically and pictorally explain these concepts.

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I live in a 1000 sq. ft mobile home (Yes you heard me. Mobile Home!). It as served my family and I very well for 18 years and counting. The beauty of it all is we are not slaves to a giant mortgage payment like we would be if we chose the McMansion and SUV lifestyle. That alone has freed us to go on trips when we want, even at the spur of the moment, make big ticket purchases and do several renovation projects without the use of a credit card or home loan, and a whole host of other niceties all of which done on the pittances of a modest income. Why would I give that up for a 2500+ sq ft monster to which I have no need? In essence, when McMansion people give me that "You live in a mobile home?" snear, I tell them "It's four walls and a roof. What more would I want?"

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There will always be tower cranes, and believe me, there will be more and more as living in the suburbs gets more and more expensive.

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It's interesting that you mention Christopher Alexander. His book The Timeless Way of Building is apparently a big influence on the author of a book I read last year...about design patterns in object-oriented programming.

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If energy is too expensive people won't be able to drive as far or heat as large of homes. It will make sense to live closer to everything else and in denser housing. Why do you think downtowns exist in the first place? It's the most efficient use of space. So, perhaps in some cases employees will choose to live near work that's outside of downtown, but that would be the exception, not the rule. You'd also see a corresponding increase in downtown office development, not just residential.

It will take a lot more than a spike in gas prices to $3/gallon to really get things moving, but it seems there has been a trend towards urban areas in recent years anyway that's not directly related to energy prices.

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If energy is too expensive people won't be able to drive as far or heat as large of homes. It will make sense to live closer to everything else and in denser housing. Why do you think downtowns exist in the first place? It's the most efficient use of space. So, perhaps in some cases employees will choose to live near work that's outside of downtown, but that would be the exception, not the rule. You'd also see a corresponding increase in downtown office development, not just residential.

It will take a lot more than a spike in gas prices to $3/gallon to really get things moving, but it seems there has been a trend towards urban areas in recent years anyway that's not directly related to energy prices.

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If energy is too expensive people won't be able to drive as far or heat as large of homes. It will make sense to live closer to everything else and in denser housing. Why do you think downtowns exist in the first place? It's the most efficient use of space. So, perhaps in some cases employees will choose to live near work that's outside of downtown, but that would be the exception, not the rule. You'd also see a corresponding increase in downtown office development, not just residential.

It will take a lot more than a spike in gas prices to $3/gallon to really get things moving, but it seems there has been a trend towards urban areas in recent years anyway that's not directly related to energy prices.

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The problem with that theory, as far as downtown housing goes, is that prices are going to have to come way down from $180 - $300/sf before you'll see a mass influx of people downtown. Plus, $.25 - $35/sf in association dues on top of that pretty much rules out most of the working class.

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The problem with that theory, as far as downtown housing goes, is that prices are going to have to come way down from $180 - $300/sf before you'll see a mass influx of people downtown. Plus, $.25 - $35/sf in association dues on top of that pretty much rules out most of the working class.

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But how much is your time worth? Do you like to shovel snow, or mow the lawn etc. There are some that have the time and like to do that and there are others that would rather have someone else do it so they can have more time with their family and friends. It all depends on the type of person you are I guess.

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Or energy costs will have to go up to make suburban living (read: driving) just too expensive for the average family. I don't see downtown prices decreasing substantially because the cost of construction is so high, and will be even higher if energy prices rise again. Also, not everything needs to be downtown, but at least near transit routes. You'll definitely see mass transit play a significant role in city development if driving doesn't remain cheap. I'm glad Grand Rapids is thinking ahead on this issue.

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In a world of super high gas prices, density would increase along the corridors where mass transit routes would likely run. As for expence, of living in the city if gas was too high to make driving a car affordable, then public transit would be a family's only mode of transportation. In that scenerio they would not own an automobile. Thus the increase in housing pirces would be nullified to an extent by not having a car loan payment ($200-$500/ mo.), insurance ($150-$300/ mo.), price of fuel ($10.00-$15.00 a gallon would knock people in the head most effectively), and maintainance ($100/mo.). In all, that's hundreds of dollar a month it costs to have the freedom of driving vs. just $30 to $50 for a monthly pass on a mass transit system. The savings really adds up if you factor in that many house holds currently have two or more cars. So yeah. Living in the city would be more expensive. But take away the cost of driving and that expencive would be nullified.

Or energy costs will have to go up to make suburban living (read: driving) just too expensive for the average family. I don't see downtown prices decreasing substantially because the cost of construction is so high, and will be even higher if energy prices rise again. Also, not everything needs to be downtown, but at least near transit routes. You'll definitely see mass transit play a significant role in city development if driving doesn't remain cheap. I'm glad Grand Rapids is thinking ahead on this issue.

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But the business-owners' homes, their businesses, their grocery stores, their book stores, their gas stations and even their employees all live in Kentwood, why would there be any incentive to live or work downtown?

Don't get me wrong, I wish that higher gas costs would cause this, but I just don't see it.

Now, your argument that higher gas costs would drive mass transit and encourage higher density development? That's another matter entirely. I just don't see why that development would be more likely to occur in a downtown that doesn't have residential density or the lion's share of jobs.

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In a world of super high gas prices, density would increase along the corridors where mass transit routes would likely run. As for expence, of living in the city if gas was too high to make driving a car affordable, then public transit would be a family's only mode of transportation. In that scenerio they would not own an automobile. Thus the increase in housing pirces would be nullified to an extent by not having a car loan payment ($200-$500/ mo.), insurance ($150-$300/ mo.), price of fuel ($10.00-$15.00 a gallon would knock people in the head most effectively), and maintainance ($100/mo.). In all, that's hundreds of dollar a month it costs to have the freedom of driving vs. just $30 to $50 for a monthly pass on a mass transit system. The savings really adds up if you factor in that many house holds currently have two or more cars. So yeah. Living in the city would be more expensive. But take away the cost of driving and that expencive would be nullified.

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In theory, yes, but in reality, I can't see that many people totally getting rid of their automobiles in Grand Rapids. My point is that with the current construction and land costs, or the manner in which homes are designed and built, is not sustainable in the long run, IMO. Even though the median home price is around $130K in this area, new housing, even in the suburbs, is closer to $200,000 - $220,000. You really can't find a new home for less than $160 - $170K, and that's way out in Cedar Springs or Sparta. And a growing metro area requires new housing.

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Twoshort - I would recommend starting with Alexander's Pattern Language, as Nitro indicated, much of the other stuff is derived from that.

It is kind of interesting how this has morphed into talking about energy and the potential higher costs of energy. It would appear that many here correctly believe that future housing trends will be dramatically impacted by energy costs. I share your sentiment. I heartily agree that as these costs go up, people will return to the building patterns that prevailed prior to the large scale influx of cheap energy - patterns similar to those that existed in the 1880's to early 1900's. Compact, walk-able, dense, smaller homes, mixed-use, smaller scale everything.

I believe that while the society has morphed into what it is today over several generations, that the return to saner living patterns will not take that long, as the energy market will not allow it. Whether you believe that peak oil has been reached, or whether it will occur 30 years from now, it will inevitably happen. In addition, the oil in the ground will be harder to get because it is in places that hate us and because it is the 1/2 of the finite amount that is deeper and lower in quality and thus harder to get out of the ground and refine. Even our President sees this and discussed it last night, saying that we need to cut our usage by 20% over the next 10 years - I suspect that will happen irregardless of what we "want".

As far as the home prices close to the city being too expensive for most median income families - I just don't buy that. Sure, the core housing is out of reach and Heritage Hill is probably 90% out of reach, but there is a ton of reasonably priced real estate "close" to downtown (depending on what is meant by close). Fairmount Square and Cherry Hill are still fairly reasonble and have smaller homes than HH. Midtown and the Brikyaat neighborhood have extremely reasonable priced homes and are still within close proximaty to DT, not to mention being close to alot of other ammenities. The neighborhoods immediately to the East and South of the southern portion of Heritage Hill have reasonable home prices and are in great need of revitalization. Sure, many of these places are not in "move-in" condition, but they can be rehabilitated for a fraction of the cost of new construction. There is more cheap housing in the city than expensive housing, that in itself is opportunity.

What I had found interesting about the article was the discussion of the demographic types that are driving some of the smaller home construction and their desires for what a home should be. This certainly can provide a lot of potential for new housing construction, as I do not believe that this market segment is being engaged at all here in GR. Maybe Ted's new townhouses begin to address it, but they need to be built at a much larger scale (more of them ganged together) and maybe offered a bit cheaper, while still meeting quality design.

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And a growing metro area requires new housing. AND we're considered an affordable housing market. Something has got to give.

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I believe that while the society has morphed into what it is today over several generations, that the return to saner living patterns will not take that long, as the energy market will not allow it. Whether you believe that peak oil has been reached, or whether it will occur 30 years from now, it will inevitably happen. In addition, the oil in the ground will be harder to get because it is in places that hate us and because it is the 1/2 of the finite amount that is deeper and lower in quality and thus harder to get out of the ground and refine. Even our President sees this and discussed it last night, saying that we need to cut our usage by 20% over the next 10 years - I suspect that will happen irregardless of what we "want".

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I generally agree with you, except I'm not sure peak oil will be as dramatic as some people believe. As oil becomes more expensive alternatives become relatively economical. But using alternatives will decrease demand for oil and help limit price increases. Yes, I see energy becoming more expensive, but nothing seems to be more effective at getting people to change than economic forces.

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