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Real Estate

Opposing world views battle for housing future

The national debate about the future of the American home is already shaping up to be an epic battle between two different ideologies.

On one side, are those who believe pushback against the concept of suburban sprawl ignores the desires of many Americans who still want single-family homes out of the way of big cities.

On the other hand, housing advocates are calling for denser developments or mixed retail-residential neighborhoods that defy the mentality of the independent, fast-growing suburban way of life.

Unfortunately, this may be an epic battle that pitches one housing ideology against another.

For example, John Burns Real Estate Consulting released a report, challenging the notion that the future of the San Francisco Bay market is dependent on the dense housing development concept.

The group’s report said: “For many environmentalists and planners, high density urban housing is the Holy Grail, and they are making it increasingly more difficult for new suburbs to emerge. Though demographic shifts will help drive demand for this product, this will not be to the exclusion of demand for more conventional housing types, as some planners and academics believe.”

The other viewpoint calls for denser housing solutions to situate the next generation of millenials who desire eco-friendly options that require less commutes and more neighborhood amenities.

Peter Goodman of the Huffington Post wrote: “Americans demanded gleaming houses on individual squares of lawn far removed from urban centers, and the people who finance and construct real estate delivered the goods.”

He added, “this is how we wound up with expanding rings of suburban sprawl orbiting every metropolitan area. This is how we turned ever-larger swaths of open space into grids of look-alike homes, the inventory that came to be tinder for the foreclosure inferno. The developers, bankers, salespeople and their government enablers were merely working to satisfy a public craving.”

Goodman believes the actual free market demand that spurred along the quest for suburbs was hijacked by special interests that essentially destroyed the concept of the suburbs, leaving America with the need to build a new housing model. “We need another housing boom,” he writes. “Not another boom that redistributes wealth from middle class families to financial executives while sapping public coffers, but one that works in reverse, yielding reinvigorated communities built to last, adapt and thrive.”

But on the other side, John Burns Real Estate Consulting is likely to have allies in people like Steve Cook, who recently wrote on that new data shows buyers are still in many cases opting for larger homes.

“In a trend reminiscent of the explosion of the SUV and pick-up truck markets during times of rising oil prices, demand for larger homes has continued and perhaps even increased despite millions of foreclosures, negative equity over 25% and a trend towards greener, smaller new home construction,” he noted in an article. He cited data from Coldwell Banker‘s website in which it said visitors are looking at homes that are on average larger than those sold in February and contain more bedrooms, 3.31 on average.

Then you have Julie Reynolds, a vice president at Move Inc., who possesses a relatively balanced approach when evaluating the future of the suburbs.

“What we have been hearing is a kind of combination,” she told HousingWire. “The millenials are looking at more urban areas. They want to be closer to their jobs.”

However, Reynolds believes when millenials do have families they may look at the suburbs, they just won’t go to the third-ring of the suburbs, which includes bedroom communities created in the 1990s and 2000s that are far from the areas where millenials work.

“They are much more sensitive to the environment and having reduced carbon footprints,” Reynolds said. “They tell us this when we do surveys. They are definitely interested in buying a home, but they are not interested in buying a home in far-reaching areas.”

Reynolds says suburbia is a concept that came in three stages, beginning after World War II and culminating in the final stage in which the third ring of suburban development offered cheap land, high-priced homes and cheap, risky credit to buyers. Reynolds still sees suburbia as having a place in the real estate market, but the third ring is likely to lose some appeal as workers aim to cut back on gas prices, she said. 

“We are starting to see the shrinking of the third, outer layer. Folks are moving back in due to economic factors,” Reynold said. “We still see interest in suburbia, but not the further outlying areas.”

When it comes to cities of preference,, the website operated by Move In., saw more web traffic visiting listings in Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles.

Other cities in the top 25 included areas like Madison, Wisc., which are less urban in nature, but able to offer residents an urban-suburban type feel. 


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