McMansions Take a Hit
People who track America’s booming exurbs have been predicting for some time that they’ll begin to decline as more people feel pinched by the the high commuting and energy costs associated with living in big houses in far-flung communities. In a story today, Bloomberg says rising gas costs already are hitting McMansion neighborhoods - and with $4 a gallon prices, it’s only going to get worse.
Nationwide, home in neighborhoods with long commutes and no public transportation are falling faster than prices in communities closer to cities, according to a study by Joseph Cortright, an economist at Impresa Consulting. For example, his study found that prices in distant suburbs of Tampa fell 14 percent in the last 12 months, versus a 9 percent drop in areas nearer the city.
The story cites the case of commuter in Charles Town, W.Va., who drives 120 miles roundtrip to a job in the Washington, D.C. area. His commuting costs have doubled since moving to the area in 2003, and a house in his neighborhood that sold for $360,000 five years ago sells for $239,000 now. The decline isn’t due to foreclosures, but is tied directly to the higher commuting expenses.
I used to find myself agreeing with Kenneth T. Jackson, who says that the decline of the exurbs will be gradual and take a decade or two, or urban planner Joel Kotkin, who believes that certain exurbs with vibrant city centers and jobs nearby will continue to thrive. But no one seriously predicted such a rapid spike in gas prices. If they stay high, it makes me think the decline for some exurbs will be faster and more dramatic than first thought. I’d also expect little public tolerance toward more tax breaks for homebuilders, who get blamed for building all those McMansions, or for using public money on road improvements for new subdivisions.
There’s long been a philosophical battle over whether there’s a higher quality of life to the density of cities, and to the ability to rely less on cars for getting around. If energy remains expensive, it may be cost, rather than personal conviction, that settles the argument.