Thursday, November 29, 2007

What Gives

Searching around the new Raleigh Real Estate assessments ...

Did you know that some of the OTT award winners pay less tax than you and I?

Take a look.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Let's Reminisce

Frequent arguments For teardowns revolve around the obsolescence and size of older houses. Fallonia contends that more often the house is in the way of the desired lot. Stories exist on this blog about each of these examples, but I am re-posting some here together to help form the bigger picture.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Someone Said IT

and I point you to Bob Mulder's Point of View in today's News & Observer.

"Keeping house sizes in the existing neighborhood"

Only available in the print edition Opinion Page. It is worth finding a newspaper to read.

UPDATE Nov 26, a link is now available.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Text Change: Interim Infill Standards

BE THERE or Be Square

Friday, November 16, 2007

What If ...

Now here is one those good ideas that could catch on far and wide.

College Park 'Great Additions' tour combines historic homes, modern lifestyle

November 15, 2007

From cobbled streets to contemporary architecture, the College Park neighborhood of Orlando offers a blend of old and new.

The delicate act of bringing modern features into established homes provides the theme for this year's College Park Historic Homes Tour.

Now in its 17th year, the tour Sunday will include an assortment of homes that fit into the theme, "Great Additions."

"One of the main things that College Park residents are concerned about, said Jodi Rubin, chairwoman of the tour, is the tear-downs and replacement with monster houses, or the inappropriate additions that are really large."

"We are showing how you can live in a College Park house that is added on to and is still appropriate in size to maintain the historical exterior integrity of the home and charm of the street and still have the functionality of a modern home." ...

So, what if more neighborhoods decided to encourage and celebrate the great solutions utilized in updating older homes. After all, that is what brings the character to a place ... the best designs are solutions to problems, and the problem of adding space to a small well-built house is one that only the best builders can take on.

In this neck of the woods, generally 3 builders are responsible for the best renovations. All the rest of the signs, there are at least 10 at this time within a mile, are doing new builds in the over 3000 square foot range. Only one builder in the teardown craze has been known in these parts for a while. The rest are new to the game, many with names that are meant to evoke majesty, or the fortunes there of.

The historic character of a neighborhood has always been important to me. It is a shame to lose all of that to mediocre modern design. The historic fabric of a community kind of tells us where we came from. — College Park resident

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hot Off the Hot Potato

A Post on Talking About Politics reveals someone's view of the inner workings of the zoning text changes to be be discussed at the Nov. 20th City Council meeting. This wording matches a document being sent throughout the builder and development community. There is a movement afoot to derail this approach to saving the character of our older neighborhoods. Expect a crowd and a contentious debate as Raleigh wrestles with the definition of growth.

Without some text changes, growth will continue to mean this.

Back in the Day

I enjoyed this read at a fellow Raleigh blog. Reminded me of the good old days where the country was 12 minutes away in any direction. Particularly fun was the old Reedy Creek Road, which wound its way past the NCSU research farms, Umstead Forest, and Reedy Creek itself. Parts of its wildness still exist, other parts are getting developed or swallowed whole. There was one dirt road that was more ruts than than dirt. The old Valiant took to it like a Jeep.

But I digress.

The small-town-ness of Raleigh has given way to a pleasing mixture of small town, suburban, and now urban. This pleasant mixture will be forced to make some hard choices if economics rule the scene. We give up something unique every time an older home bites the dust. It is not just about the house, it is about a way of life. It hurts to see us haul it away.

Check out the story above. He has said it better than I.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Interesting Little Tidbit

This is from
Mansions may face resale obstacles
By Jay MacDonald •

Are McMansions McOver?
Opinions vary, even among the experts.

If recent trends are any indication, however, the bigger-is-better approach to residential real estate may already be giving way to a more reasoned levelheadedness, both in home buying and building.

No, don't expect a return to that less-is-more, small-is-beautiful aesthetic from the Age of Aquarius; there is absolutely nothing austere going on here. Rather, call it a redefinition or right-sizing of what we consider luxury living that has more to do with architectural scale, energy efficiency and creating livable space than with gross square footage.

Like some real estate equivalent of the SUV, McMansions have been the object of scorn and ridicule since they started elbowing their way onto the suburban landscape in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Loosely defined as a house between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet with soaring grandiose entryways and multicar garages, often jammed onto an undersized lot, McMansions quickly went from ostentatious status symbol to something even the Joneses didn't want to keep up with.

"I think a lot of people who could well afford a McMansion today would find it embarrassing on aesthetic, environmental and political grounds, rather like movie stars who could afford a Hummer but choose instead to drive a Prius," says architect James Gauer, author of "The New American Dream: Living Well in Small Homes."

Shifting winds
As a historic confluence of factors -- boomer inheritances, the post-2000 tech stock collapse, superlow interest rates, the mortgage lending explosion -- drove America on a cattle stampede to invest in real estate, more and larger forces -- including energy costs, higher interest rates, the mortgage lending implosion and demographic shifts -- have now slowed the market to a surly teenager's stroll.

The housing times, they are a' changin' -- again. If during the past couple of years you bought a much larger home than you needed, primarily for investment purposes, you might want to cover your eyes now.

"I firmly believe that when the housing market slows, you'll see a short-term drop in the demand for large homes. But in the longer run, it's going to be even more challenging to sell these because the average household size of the boomers is going to go down as the last kids leave," says Thomas Lawler, a housing consultant based in Vienna, Va. "Builders will respond by reducing the number of those homes they build, but you can't turn that on a dime."

Meaning the inventory of McMansions is likely to grow. And grow. And grow. Could we one day see a landscape with large white elephants lingering on the market?

"I find it difficult to see how we won't," Lawler says.

Gopal Ahluwalia, vice president of research for the National Association of Home Builders, isn't as quick to perform last rites on the McMansion.

"There is a definite decline in those homes, but are they on their way out? No. This happens often as the housing market goes up and down. They are not on their way out; they have slowed down with the whole housing market," he says.

The SUV of suburban homes
In recent years, McMansions also became an attractive alternative to investing in the stock market.

"We know that, beginning right around the latter part of 2003 and 2004, there was a fairly dramatic increase in the number of people who bought real estate as an investment," says Lawler. "There are two ways that an individual can increase their investment in real estate: buy a rental property or just buy a bigger home. Most people want to invest in real estate but not everyone wants to be a landlord."

During the past 30 years, a curious phenomenon occurred: The size of American homes increased at the same time that family size decreased. Ahluwalia says the average home size has grown from 1,500 square feet in 1970 to a projected 2,450 in 2006. U.S. Census figures show the average household size declined from 3.14 people in 1970 to 2.58 people in 2002.

Ahluwalia says the average home size and what Americans consider their optimal home size seem to have reached a sweet spot at roughly 2,400 square feet, less than half the size of the smallest McMansion.

"I don't think the home size will continue to increase anymore," he says.

The trouble with hugeness
There are numerous reasons why McMansions are in decline:

McMaintenance. The cost of maintaining a McMansion continues to rise. Energy, insurance and home maintenance costs are all affected by home size. Energy costs have been on a tear nationally; over the past three years, natural gas is up 43 percent and electricity rose 12 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. If you own an average-size home but fancy a McMansion, imagine these bills suddenly doubling. Or tripling.

McFinancing. McMansions looked better when interest rates were lower. With rates on a 30-year fixed mortgage at 6.29 percent as of early May 2007, a $1 million McMansion would cost you $6,183 per month; the same manse at 5.28 percent in June 2003 would have cost you $5,541 a month.

"Interest rates are still relatively low, but as rates rise, as they inevitably will, the cost of financing the 5,000 square feet you think you want will look very unattractive compared to the cost of financing the 2,000 square feet or less that you actually need," says Gauer.

McTaxes. It's hardly news that municipalities from coast to coast have been rapidly reappraising and reassessing homes to capture revenue based on "bubble" values. Not good news if you own a McMansion.

"I think property taxes are getting to be a huge factor," says Gauer. "Cities and towns across North America are scurrying to bring real estate appraisals up to date so they reflect currently inflated values. For many homeowners, the tax bill is more than doubling."

McInvestment. As the housing market slows to a crawl, the demand for McMansions as an investment has declined. "An obvious reason is the desire for people to have a larger amount of their net worth invested in real estate has gone down," Lawler says. "You would expect that the larger homes are going to have less home price appreciation, and possibly more home price depreciation, over the next decade than would be the case for the smaller homes. There is a tendency for people to focus on how much housing they actually want."

McResale. Simply put, who's going to want my McMansion? The buyer pool may be drying up as boomers downsize for retirement and Gens X and Y eschew size for more modest, versatile modern spaces they can afford. If you built a much larger home than others in your neighborhood, it may take you additional time to find a buyer.

Ahluwalia recently polled 50 select architects for an NAHB study, "The Home of the Future." The consensus was that America's new home aesthetic emphasizes upgraded amenities (premium countertops, hardwood floors, heated flooring, Sub-Zero refrigerators), increased functionality (larger and more garages, multiuse rooms), higher ceilings and improved light (more windows, recessed lighting), all in a footprint of about 2,400 square feet.

"Previously, more people were saying, 'We want space. We'll add the features later on.' Now, a lot of people are saying, 'We want features.' That is the main difference," says Ahluwalia.

That said, he expects McMansions to remain a viable and even desirable option well into the future, even if it takes longer to find the right buyer. The reason? It's as simple as human nature.

"Why do people buy huge houses? Because they can afford it. It's the same as asking why do you buy a $90,000 Mercedes when the same function can be provided by a $30,000 car? I can afford it, I like it and I have enough to spare. It does not have to do with the functional need of the space. If the lifestyle can afford it, it's a good investment."

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Texas.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

"Remaking Raleigh" by Bob Geary

Remaking Raleigh: Visions for an urban landscape in 2030
Planning Director Mitch Silver sees a 21st-century city
By Bob Geary

The most important element in a comprehensive plan, says Raleigh Planning Director Mitch Silver, is the vision statement. You pick a point in the future—2030 in this case. You determine your desired outcome: What do you want your city to look like? Then you write down the policies that will make it so, draw a land-use map to go with them and adopt zoning codes to steer it. Pretty dry.

But it wasn't dry at all when an energized Silver described his own vision for Raleigh at last month's meeting of the Special Transit Advisory Commission (STAC), a 29-member regional body studying whether—and how—to graft a rail and bus system onto the fast-growing Triangle. Silver told them transit "is not an option, it's a necessity" if Raleigh and its neighbors are to remain economically competitive.

"All great cities have great transit," he declared.

But to make transit work, Raleigh will also need growth management, Silver continued. Raleigh's new comprehensive plan, expected to take shape by 2009, will emphasize both: City leaders are intent on changing development patterns from strictly suburban to newly urban—and on designating specific transit corridors where it's possible to create the dense, but also walkable, bikeable places that appeal to young folks and empty nesters, too.

Raleigh's been looking at possible streetcar routes, Silver said, rapid-fire. It's getting into matters of "public realm." It's going "multi-modal." It's hoping the region will go that way with it.

This extract should give you an idea of the places this story goes. By far my favorite quote is this.

"When I took this job," Silver concluded, slowing his cadence for emphasis, "everybody said, 'Please, we don't want to be Atlanta.' What's ironic is that we seem to be making all the same mistakes as Atlanta did. But the good news is, we still have time to correct our mistakes."

Be sure to visit the Indy for the full story. Bob Geary is one of our best local journalists.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The View

Things are progressing in my neighborhood, in the last week these 2 houses hit the dump.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Painted Ladies Tour

Beauty skin deep
November 1, 2007
By MARY GRAHAM Staff Writer | Sun-Times

As a youngster, Louis Perlia walked by a stately Queen Anne home, circa 1895, on Forest Avenue in Evanston on his way to school.

Even then "I had my eye on this beauty," Perlia said. Little did he know that 40 years later as owner of Graphic Construction and Painting he'd embellish the grande dame into its grand-prize winning status in this year's Chicago's Finest Painted Ladies competition. ...

This beautification project for homes originated in Chicago, receiving national attention when seven of its winners were featured in Painted Ladies, U.S.A. by Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada.

Entries are judged by the beauty of paint application, how colors chosen fit the home or business property and how the finished project fits its surrounding neighborhood. Categories include profession and non-professional in six Chicago and suburban areas....

Now this is fun.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Over in Greensboro

Growing pains in Irving Park
By Jim Schlosser | Greensboro News & Record
Friday, Nov. 2, 2007 3:00 am

Amid yard signs touting City Council candidates, another kind of sign is popping up in exclusive Irving Park.

"Let's preserve the character of Old Irving Park ..." the signs say.

Irving Park carries with it a deep history in Greensboro. It has been a "good" neighborhood since it began in 1911. Quoting one resident, the teardown trend "is changing the appearance of Irving Park." She adds that it is a "unique neighborhood'' and was designed by two renowned early 20th-century landscapers, northerners John Nolen and Robert Cridland.

"It is not the teardowns that upset everyone in Irving Park, that is to be expected a little with age. It is what is being built on those empty lots."

This is the chorus to songs being sung in older neighborhoods across this land. The times they are a changing. But are zoning regulations the answer, or consciousness raising, sensitivity training for the builders, Golden Rule lessons for the buyers? I suggest a visit to for the complete article.

Here's a clue, tho.

Although many replacement houses have blended well, others meet only minimum setback requirements — and those are meager, [the resident] says.

The rules mandate houses stand at least 30 feet from main roads, such as Sunset and Country Club drives, and 25 feet on smaller streets.

In the old days, setbacks hardly mattered. Wealthy families built large houses far back to allow for spacious lawns.

The city has yet to approve an NCO district. Westridge Road's application is winding through the approval process, which Sertell says can take six to 18 months. ...

Although some of Irving Park's 719 property owners surely will oppose being an NCO district, [the resident] says, "Everyone has come up to me, and said we should have done this 75 years ago.''