THE TEARDOWN TREND
There is nothing new about seeing a single family house being torn down and replaced by a larger, more modern house. When a homeowner has a house in a desirable neighborhood from which he doesn’t want to move away and his circumstances require more space, he has two choices — build an addition, usually a second story addition, or replace the entire house with a new one. It is really nothing new, I’ve made a living for 40 years designing and engineering such additions and remodels or even a new house for the home owner, but there is a new trend emerging and it is not only in the Los Angeles market.
According Census Bureau data, the housing stock continues to age and builders are hard pressed to find suitable lots, so the teardown trend is expected to grow. In 2013, about 47 percent of owner-occupied homes in the U.S. were at least 40 years old. The teardown trend is growing because the older homes in some communities are becoming “functionally obsolete” – the kitchens are enclosed, the ceilings are low, closets and windows are too small, the rooms are too small, they don’t have enough bedrooms, etc.
The current trend is to create “Great Rooms” where the kitchen, dining room, den, and living room have no dividing walls. Of course this requires a great cook too, creating wonderful meals, so the good smell of the kitchen can fill the “Great Room”.
This teardown trend has a new component lately. With the improving economy there are not just the home owners who are initiating these tear downs but developers, builders looking for profit. It is not unusual but rather the trend that a small two, three bedroom house in a desirable neighborhood is bought by a developer, who increasingly is a large national corporation. In lieu of the one story three bedroom house the neighbors will see a two, sometimes a three story “mansion” built. These homes will sell for millions of dollars. And there are lots of buyers!
So, here is the $64,000.00 question: Is this a good trend?
The answer is obvious for the developers, they make good profits. The state gets more property tax revenue. The construction industry employs more construction workers. And, for the neighbors, the value of their homes goes up, without spending a penny, because they will be in a more pricy neighborhood and without an increase in their property tax due to Proposition 13, at least in California.
So why is there an outcry from neighborhood activists to block this trend? These structures are built according to the newest building codes, complying with all the necessary property setback and height requirements, passed the scrutiny of the strict city Planning Department, they are designed by the newest structural engineering methods and analysis, therefore are more safe in case of earthquakes, they are more energy efficient, etc. Still, neighborhood activists are pressing for more and more “mansonization” laws in different cities to block larger homes. I agree if a neighborhood is a historic neighborhood to keep the “romance” alive and that’s why there are “Historic Overlay Zones” created in different city neighborhoods. On the other hand, changes are inevitable in life and if they are for the better we should embrace them. We cannot cling to the status quo forever. Jealous neighborhood activists shouldn’t get the upper hand. I came to this country because it promised me, my family and children a fair life and the pursuit of happiness. If for some people a larger house is the happiness within the law, they shouldn’t be denied that.
As Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher famously said: “There is only one thing constant in life and that is the change.”