Comment of the Day: When Builders Respond to the Square-Footage Pricing Incentive

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEN BUILDERS RESPOND TO THE SQUARE-FOOTAGE PRICING INCENTIVE Per Square Foot“. . . It is a shame that square footage is such a driver on sales in Houston. Everyone I know who lives in 3000+ sq ft only uses about 1500 of it at any one time and the rest is overkill. And then they complain about not having any green space on their property.” [Old School, commenting on Brand New and by the Bike Trail on a Heights Corner] Illustration: Lulu

15 Comment

  • I can’t figure out what you do with a 3000 square foot house if you’re not a family of eight. Other than pay to heat and cool it, clean it, etc. In the abstract extra space is great, but it does carry a cost, and honestly these places often feel weirdly out of proportion and alienating to me. (My childhood home, for a family of four, was 1700 square feet, and was bigger than those of many friends; we had no trouble all finding out own space to be left alone in the house.)

    If the trade off is a pile of money and reduced outdoor space to get an oversized house, or double my commute to get an oversized house for the same price, it’s no contest – less time in the car, more space for the dog to run around, these things add much more value to life than unused space.

  • @ John (another one): I grew up in a family of eight, and our biggest house was 2880 square feet. The roomiest feeling one was actually a bit smaller (I just looked them up on HCAD). Not paying to buy, furnish, maintain, heat, and cool a bunch of extra space just makes common sense to me, too.

  • I love the illustration, Lulu!

  • Even though we just added a family member, there will be plenty of space for my daughter and any siblings who come later in the 2000 square foot house we’re planning on moving to rather than the 3200 square foot one we have now.

    We kinda got our current house by accident; the bank that owned it thought it was 2200 SF and priced accordingly. It turns out we don’t use most of it, and all the rooms could stand to be smaller.

  • Couldn’t agree more. I’ll take small house where-I-want-to-live vs. big house where my life would suck. I had a few friends buy monster homes in Katy. Guess where both live now (hint: not Katy)
    One of the cheesy real estate companies around here had (has?) a slogan “Live where your life is” (don’t know if they stole it from someone else). Whoever came up with that found a way to sum up my feelings perfectly in just 5 words.

  • In some ways, though, we need more space today, especially as kids get older and everyone has their own computer, a home office, a room for crafts/sewing, etc, or participates in multiple activities. We have 3 of us in a 1400 sq ft house 2/1, and while there is enough space for day to day living, we have nowhere near enough closet space, need a second bathroom, have minimal pantry space, and have nowhere for guests to stay. We are fortunate to have am over sized garage, where we can keep seasonal items, camping and hunting gear, etc. I’ve played with drawing the house and adding the space we need, and about 2400 square feet would be ideal.

    I have a colleague who has a 4,000 sq ft 5BR house, even though his oldest child has left and his daughter is away at college. He needs that much room to provide space for both of his parents when they visit, because they are divorced and need two rooms.

    I think another reason for the larger houses is that by the time you pay $300,000 for the lot, no one wants a small house on it. There’s no prestige in a $500,000 1500 sq ft house, you just seem crazy. I had an older friend who built a 2400 sq ft house on a 12,000 sq ft lot in Bellaire. When they moved out of state to be closer to their grandkids, they had a hard time selling the house because it was small for the neighborhood.

  • I could not agree more. Call me crazy, but I’d rather have a usable backyard for gardening, dogs, and enjoying being in the sunshine over an additional media room/3rd office. Unless you’re Sir Galahad seeking the Holy Grail, I’ll take huge tracts of land over square footage any day.

  • I agree. We have close to 2300 sq ft for 2 of us and seriously discussed whether we wanted a house this big, but the price was right. We use most of it (except the silly loft at the top of the stairs) but could easily do with less. Amusingly a former co-worker from SE Asia came to visit and her first comment was ” well I guess you don’t really NEED a big place.” I suspect she’d visited other co-workers McMansions and ours seemed puny in comparison.

  • I love my small bungalow in the Heights with 1800 square feet and both a nice front and back yard. I would rather have the green space for growing things than the extra space inside. I had a large house on two acres in Connecticut and found that I only really used three rooms – the kitchen, the family room and the master bed room. All else was just money wasted on heating, cooling and decorating. We never used the upstairs sitting room, the three other bedrooms, the library and didn’t use the formal dining room that much either.

  • As an avid gardener, I consider outdoor landscape area almost as valuable as interior space. I have gotten really good at squeezing in attractive, edible garden plants among my flower beds on my 5,500 ft2 lot. It’s a great hobby, gets me off the couch, and keeps my property looking sharp.

    As a kid, we lived in a 1,400 ft2 house with a family of 6 and we got along just fine. Closets were tiny, but we didn’t have that much stuff to store in there anyway.

    My parents each grew up in houses half that size (my mom was raised in a shotgun shack in the Heights) with more kids and only one bathroom and no air conditioning, and they survived, too. I guess we are on a doubling trend with each generation – which is not sustainable over the long term.

  • Houston is mostly an indoor city that’s why townhomes and garden homes with no land are so wildly popular. The yard is mostly a decoration for the house itself and no-one has time to attend to their own garden, these days food is cheap but time is very expensive.

  • Of course no one needs a big house — but it sure is nice for families with small kids and out-of-town relatives visiting often (ie. about half of Houston). To all those who grew up happily in a small house: you likely weren’t aware how badly your parents wanted some seperation from you.

  • My comment has more to do with being taxed by HCAD for livable space that I can’t actually live in.
    When I took my set of blue prints/plans to HCAD last spring to protest the livable square footage they had listed for my house I was shocked to learn that they include the dimensions of the exterior walls in the taxable livable square footage calculation. I had assumed that the city and county got their livable square footage calculations from the house blue prints/plans when submitted for the building permits.

    Per my blueprints/plans, my house consists of 2185 square feet of livable space not including the garage, HCAD had the square footage calculated at 2325. When the HCAD representative reviewed my set of blue prints/plans, he mentioned that per his new calculation the taxable living space was closer to 2500 square feet when measuring the exterior dimensions of my set of blue prints/plans.

    Just to see what his response would be, I asked him why HCAD didn’t tax the garage square footage. His response was that the garage wasn’t a cooled/heated air conditioned livable space. My response to him was neither are the cavities between the interior and exterior walls. Per HCAD’s the cavities between my interior and exterior walls are considered livable space.

    Also I worked for the builder of my home and there are 11 other homes identical to mine in my community and the only difference is the front elevation on a few of them. I have the other 3 front elevations detailed in my set of blue prints/plans that I pointed out to the HCAD representative due to all of the other 11 houses like mine having huge square footage discrepencies. A few of the identical houses to mine had taxable square footage as low as 1600 square feet.

    The HCAD representative stated that it was due to the appraiser’s they send out estimating the square footage. When I pionted out that the other 11 houses with the same exterior/interior layout as mine having only slight differences in front roof elevations, his response was that the appraiser’s may miss this occassionally due to being so busy or that maybe the HCAD appraiser may be new and inexperienced.

    So now when I see homes listed for sale that mentions the square footage per HCAD’s calculation, I just wonder how many people are dupped into thinking they bought 3000 square foot home when in reality it may be much larger or much smaller since HCAD may have appraiser’s out in the field that may be too busy or inexperienced to accurately determine the true square footage of your home.

    I think the city and county needs to make changes in the way they determine taxable livable square footage.
    They need to get the true/accurate livable square footage measurements from the blue prints/plans that are detrmined by the Architect/Engineer when submitted for the building permits and not from sending out a busy/inexperienced appraiser’s into the field that could make as many mistakes as they did in my community with the other 11 identical houses to mine.

  • RTB3 makes an interesting, and valid, point. In my set of identical townhomes, HCAD had the square footage all over the map. Anywhere from 1800 to 2300 square feet. This came back to bite one seller, when the buyer’s bank did their appraisal and found out that that 2300′ one was more like 1950′, and it didn’t appraise at the selling price. I understand there were some last minute negotiations between buyer and seller in order to let the loan go through.
    Since the unit I own had one of the smaller square footages according to HCAD ( it’s identical), I used this in my favor by protesting my tax appraisal and using a $’s per square foot basis to come up with a lower number. So, works both ways.

  • Please note that I’m not making a blanket condemnation of larger homes – if it makes you happy and you can afford it, great. I just think everyone would be wise to think hard about their tradeoffs before deciding what to buy, and not complain that they *had* to move to Katy so their family of four could have a 3000 square foot house. No, you didn’t have to do that.

    Heightsite – 1800 square feet is not a *small* bungalow. For the Heights that’s freakin’ huge.