McMansion: A Closer Look at the Big House Trend

What you will and won't get with a McMansion

Large homes dubbed "McMansions" go in and out of popularity in the real estate market. These spacious homes on small plots of land in the suburbs have fallen somewhat out of fashion after the U.S. recession in 2008, caused in part when an overinflated housing market burst. But the downward trend didn't last long, even with the resurgence in popularity of smaller-scale houses, like cottages and tiny homes. In 2021, the most recent figures available, the average size of a new home in the U.S. increased slightly to 2,532 square feet. McMansions are often anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 square feet or larger.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, larger homes, especially in rural areas with outdoor amenities like swimming pools and patios, were in high demand. In addition, as more people were forced to work from home and go to school remotely during the pandemic, so home offices and more play space became especially desirable attributes in a house. In addition, owning a large home, especially with a low-interest rate, may translate into a profitable sale.

In this article, we review why some Americans favor big homes and some of the pros and cons of the big house trend.

Key Takeaways

  • A "McMansion" is a colloquial term for a huge and sometimes ostentatious mass-produced house.
  • In America, the National Association of Home Builders reports that the average home size was 983 square feet in 1950, 1,500 square feet in 1970, and 2,349 square feet in 2004. The median size of a newly built home in 2021 was 2,532 square feet.
  • In the United States, McMansions became popular during the housing boom prior to the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis.
  • The big house trend continues to be popular in the U.S., with many homebuyers opting for upscale amenities and large interior spaces found in many new homes.
  • Drawbacks to McMansions include their cookie-cutter appearance, closely-packed neighborhoods, and tiny lawns.

The Rise of the McMansions

Starting around the mid-1990s, the average square footage of newly built homes grew by leaps and bounds. By the time U.S. homeownership had peaked at 69.2% in 2004, a 3,000 square foot home was considered on the small side when it came to new construction.

These giant new homes earned the nickname "McMansions" because they were often generic in style, packed in close together on postage-stamp-sized lots, and quickly mass-produced—much like the fast-food delivery style the name suggests. However, the derogatory nickname didn't hurt their popularity. Not only were the houses getting larger, but everything inside them got bigger as well. In 2004, around 40% of new homes had nine-foot ceilings.

Multiple heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems had become commonplace. And two- and three-zone heating systems were a standard feature. Furnishings also became super-sized. Consumers were buying everything bigger to fill their mini palaces, from professional-grade stoves and refrigerators to overstuffed, oversized sofas.

What Drives the Big House Trend in the U.S.?

Various factors drive the trend of buyers purchasing large homes. New construction and the development of sprawling houses attract families who can afford to have the luxury of space and amenities. Add in years of record-low interest rates, aggressive marketing of upscale homes by residential builders, and the coronavirus pandemic, which drove everyone into their homes, and larger houses become popular with buyers.

What You Get With a McMansion

McMansions are all about interior space. The rooms are big, the ceilings are high, and the "wow" factor is, too. The amenities that convince people to go upscale include lots of windows, spacious foyers, huge staircases, three or four garages, gourmet kitchens, sunrooms, walk-in closets, and enormous master bedroom suites complete with whirlpool tubs and separate showers. Walk-in pantries in the kitchen, laundry rooms, media rooms, and home offices also make the list. Over-sized garage doors (to accommodate oversized vehicles), gas fireplaces, and large decks are also common must-have features.

What You Don't Get With a McMansion

The tradeoff for a luxurious interior often comes at the expense of the exterior. Cookie-cutter designs, tiny lawns, closely-packed neighbors, and garish designs that feature garages nearly as big as the homes are common features of the suburban McMansion.

Expensive brick or stucco on the front of the house with vinyl siding on the sides and back are signature design features, putting an elegant face toward the street and less costly coverings elsewhere.

On the inside, open floor-plans that often include rarely-used formal living and dining rooms are par for the course. While grand looking, large windows, high ceilings, two-floor great rooms, and huge foyers often result in very inefficient—and expensive—heating and cooling. Furthermore, restrictive community associations often limit the ability to add personal touches to the front lawn.

The tiny house trend in real estate was in some ways a response to the Great Recession and a backlash against McMansions.

McMansion Backlash

Not everyone loves a McMansion, and from Los Angeles to the Hamptons in New York, angry neighbors, zoning boards, and politicians have fought back against the oversized homes cropping up in established neighborhoods when the wealthy crowd moves in.

Starter homes and small ranchers are being demolished and replaced by faux estates on quarter-acre lots as affluent people move closer to the city but don't want to live in smaller, older houses often found within city limits. To critics, these new homes look out of place compared to the rest of the neighborhood and clash with the existing architectural styles of the other properties.

Tips to Follow If You Decide to Go Big

A home is likely to be the most expensive item you will ever purchase. If you are contemplating the move to a larger home, learn to pay attention to the details.

The Right Location

It starts with choosing the right location. Purchasing a property in a neighborhood with homes of similar size and style will not only help you avoid antagonizing your neighbors, but it will also make the property more attractive for resale.

Likewise, choosing a property with some land around it goes a long way toward making the house look like it belongs where it sits. Even communities seeking to limit or ban the construction of big homes don't tend to have a problem when a builder puts a large home on an equally large plot of land.

Garage Placement

Just as the size of the lot plays into the aesthetics of the purchase, so does the garage placement. Side-entry garages minimize the impact of having three or four garage bays side by side, toning down the "garage mahal" look. If side entry is not an option, consider a recessed garage design. Having a huge garage that sticks out in front of the house is not as attractive as a more understated look—for your neighbors or future buyers.

Energy Efficiency and Quality Materials

If you are building a new home, you should consider energy-efficient building practices and designs for new construction. The proper heating and cooling systems, lighting, windows, and insulation can make a big difference in the long-term cost of owning the home.

You'll also want to pay attention to the quality of the materials used to build the house. Many big homes use top-quality material on the front and lower-quality material elsewhere to save a few dollars. A beautiful brick or stucco facade faces the street, but vinyl siding is used for the sides and back. It's often worthwhile to spend the extra money to make the house look complete.

McMansions and Millennials

According to a 2021 report by the National Association of Realtors, millennials make up the largest share of homebuyers. But McMansions and millennials are not always a natural match. Most McMansions were built in suburbs where it is necessary to travel by car to get groceries, go to school, or even a train station for your commute to work.

Demographically, millennials tend to want to live in walkable cities and towns and use convenient transportation for their commute. As a whole, this group purchases more modern or new homes. Some reports have found that while millennials are renting in cities, they buy houses in rural areas to use or rent out as vacation homes. This group also wants quality homes that are smaller but well-constructed using sustainable materials over giant, subpar behemoths. Many McMansions built in their heyday may need costly renovations to bring them into the 21st century.

Not every large home is considered a McMansion. A well-designed, architectural gem of a house can be the same size as a cookie-cutter builder's McMansion.

McMansions vs. McModerns

The word McMansion may bring to mind large, outdated, ostentatious homes, and some are made with low-grade, eco-friendly building materials. McModern homes are similar in that they are built by construction companies rather than designed by architects. These new construction homes are built to reflect and riff on mid-century modern aesthetics and sometimes, but not often, sustainable materials.

These McModern homes have a large footprint and are often built after the teardown of a McMansion in towns close to urban cities, like San Francisco or New York. McModerns appear to be popular with tech-conscious, educated, younger buyers with money to spend on amenities and square footage.

How to Avoid a McMansion

If you plan to build a large, newly constructed home, there are ways to avoid ending up with a McMansion. Working with an architect who understands the scale of homes in your neighborhood and town can improve the odds of your house sticking out in a flashy way. Using sustainable and high-quality building materials will also improve your chances of building a McMansion, as well.

If you have limited property, making sure your home doesn't build right out to the property line, as many McMansions do, will help make your house balanced with the property it sits on. And just because a lot will allow for 5,000 or more square feet of a house doesn't mean you need to use it.

Big House FAQs

Why Are McMansions Called McMansions?

McMansion was coined in the 1980s and used to describe poorly designed, expensive, and large homes built by developers without input from an architect. McMansions were often built in subdivisions in the suburbs, with many McMansions making up a neighborhood. The name was derived from McDonald's because the homes were often mass-produced, overscale, and were constructed with cheap, homogeneous materials.

What Is the Difference Between a Mansion and McMansion?

Most actual mansions are designed by well-known architects who pay close attention to exterior and interior details. Mansions are usually situated on estates with abundant property, and they are costly. A McMansion is usually one of many large homes in a specific location built by developers. The materials used for a McMansion may be of low-grade quality, although that is not always the case. McMansions tend to be built on small properties, as well.

What Size Home Is Considered a McMansion?

The size of a McMansion will vary depending on the location and the developer and builder. There is not one specific size for a McMansion type of home. Generally speaking, these homes are larger than the median size of a newly built single-family home, which according to the U.S. Census Bureau for 2021, was 2,532 square feet. Most McMansions between 3,000 or 5,000 square feet or larger.

The Bottom Line

The big house trend remains popular in the United States, and while buyers have embraced smaller homes or even tiny homes, McMansions and large newly built homes are in demand. The coronavirus pandemic sparked a new interest in larger homes with offices, more bedrooms, play spaces, and outdoor amenities.

New construction trends show that while McMansions may not be popular, well-designed and built new homes with large footprints are in demand, but buyers are looking for more tasteful homes without a McMansion moniker.

Article Sources
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