architecture blog

12 Incredibly Obvious Things I Like About Small Homes

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Wed, Jun 3, 2009 @ 06:06 AM

In the spirit of the recent Los Angeles Times article discussing the downsizing of the average American home from 2,629 square feet (last year) to 2,419 square feet (this year), I thought I’d touch on my reasons for liking small homes:

1. Simple Math: If You Build Less, It Costs Less


Tight lending means that loans for big, expensive homes are difficult, if not impossible to come by. Every square foot you build costs more in construction materials, labor, permits, city fees, and dare I say it, architecture fees.

2. Resale Value


What? The Realtor rule has seemingly always been, that the larger the home, the better the value. But things have changed.

Building more can now price you out of the market.

Instead, try building only what you need, not what you perceive some mysterious future buyer will need.


3. Quality Over Quantity


About 10 years ago, Sarah Susanka introduced an idea to build better, not bigger, homes in her popular book, The Not So Big House.

Her philosophy is relevant today as the economic shift has lessened the appetite for McMansions in favor of more compact, better built homes - the type of home that you'll want to live in for a long time.

4. Energy Efficiency


Aside from the energy you'll save in construction, a small home is far more efficient over its' life span. The mechanical systems needed to heat and cool your home will cost less upfront and will have to work less to keep you comfortable inside.

5. Think About Trading Space For Power


At a construction cost of $250 per square foot, if you were to build just 80 less square feet, you would have the $20,000 it takes to add a very decent solar power system. And in most places, government rebates will help put a big dent in that $20k price tag.

6. Sustainability


This is a much broader topic that is tough to summarize in a quick list; so simply put, small homes use less resources.

7. Affordable Land

Like many major metropolitan areas, in my home town of Los Angeles, the difficult challenge of finding affordable property makes it tough for many to make that first key step towards building a new home.  If you're willing to go small, new opportunities present themselves in the form of more affordable undersized and odd lots that others may ignore.

8. Subdivide

You can also consider becoming a micro-developer by subdividing a larger lot and building a few homes: one for you and the others to sell to help pay for yours.

Small Lot Subdivision, which we have here in Los Angeles, is spreading as other municipalities realize its potential.

9. Keeping It Clean


A simple concept: small homes are easier and faster to clean. If you hire someone to clean, it will cost you less.

It's also not much fun cleaning rooms you never use.

10. Don't Forget the Furniture


Larger home = more furniture you have to buy.

Nice furniture = expensive.

Small home = less furniture needed = can afford better furniture.

11. Less Room For Junk


Quick Quiz

If I had less space in my house to store (fill in the blank), I would:

a) Pull it out of the closet and put it on display
b) Use it more often
c) Give it away to charity
d) Sell it on ebay or craigslist

The correct answer is that these are all good answers.

I love storage as much as anyone, but having too much can have some disadvantages as well.

12. You Can Always Add-On Later

Build what you can afford (& need) now. Plan for what you want later.

 

By no means is this a complete list. I would love to get some thoughts on this.

What spaces in your house do you not use?

What areas of your home do you wish were bigger? Smaller? 

 

At Modative, we're fans of small modern homes. We like designing them, even on tight budgets. Feel free to contact us if you're thinking about a small home. We can even help you find property.

Download a PDF of 12 Incredibly Obvious Things I Like About Small Homes

Tags: Property, Los Angeles, Small Lot Subdivision, Affordable Housing, Subdivisions, economy, small homes

The Good & Bad of Starting a Building Project Now

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Mar 17, 2009 @ 09:03 AM

So, is now a good time to start a building project? While it is a scary time, there are opportunities abound for those that have the courage and means. I am no fortune teller, but I can dish out a bit of what I've heard and experienced in the last few months. Of course I'll also throw in some invaluable gut intuition.

The Bad

  • Banks - Lending is tight. Really tight. As a banker recently told me, "our current appetite for lending is small." He went on to say that the easiest type of loan to get these days is for an owner occupied building. That is their way of saying if you're building it for yourself to occupy (a home, remodel or commercial building) and you qualify, you may have some of their money.
  • Uncertainty - The development attitude in the recent boom was build it and they will come. This is not the case anymore. You have to be careful what you build, for whom, and at what cost.

The Good

  • Cheap Land - The price of land seems to be back to where it needs to be to make development projects work again. People assumed that the ever escalating price of new homes and condos was all developer greed. It was not. High land prices and construction costs dictated high sales prices.
  • Foreclosures - OK, foreclosures are bad. Someone loses, banks fail. This is one of the main reasons we got into this mess, right? I get it. Now for the bright side. Foreclosures can be opportunities. The cheap real estate they offer allows for new opportunities - a quick condo flip, land for your new home, the chance to develop a small project, etc.
  • Cheaper Construction - The price of materials and labor have fallen due to demand reductions. Almost all material prices have been in decline since the summer of '08. Contractors are hurting. Less work for them means they will take on projects for smaller overhead and profit percentages. Quality contractors are also taking on smaller jobs that they wouldn't touch a few years back.
  • Cheaper Soft Costs - It pains me as I write this, but the bad market has also lowered the costs of architects, engineers and all the other people that get you to the point of construction and beyond. Why? They are also hurting.
  • Faster Permitting - We do a fair amount of architecture work in Los Angeles, and the difference at City Hall these days is astounding. What used to be a four hour wait to submit for plan check is now a four minute wait. In our experience, their processing times are much faster as well.
  • Time - Time is the typically bane of the architect and owner's existence. Building projects take time. They have to be designed, coordinated with consultants, documented and permitted. All this adds up to a long process that can be quite burdensome. Now, however, this time factor can help with some of our major negatives. Banks will start lending again. The market will recover. So when you think of a building project, think about the time involved. Many projects take about a year to get to permit/construction start (when you need that construction loan), then the construction can take another year (when you move in or need those prospective buyers.) So ask yourself where you think things will be in one to two years.
  • Emerging Trends - Major slowdowns are often times of reflection and change. This is very true in the building biz. Of late, I've seen a strong desire for smaller, more efficient, green buildings. This trend comes both from awareness of climate change and our financial need to do more with less. I like this trend and think that it'll bring about some very innovative and evolved projects.

 

Do you have any thoughts on this? Questions?

Tags: Green, Development, Condos, economy, architect advice, real estate

Opportunity in a Down Economy

Posted by Derek Leavitt on Tue, Jan 13, 2009 @ 08:01 AM

Our long time friend and professional collaborator Kayo N. Libiano found a great quote very relevant to today's times and passed it along. I will now pass it along to you.

"Never before in the history of America has there been so great an opportunity for practical dreamers as now exists. The six-year economic collapse has reduced all men, substantially to the same level. A new race is about to be run. The stakes represent huge fortunes which will be accumulated within the next ten years. The rules of the race have changed because we now live in a changed world that definitely favors the masses, those who had but little opportunity to win under the conditions existing during the depression, when fear paralyzed growth and development.

We who are in this race for riches should be encouraged to know that this changed world in which we live is demanding new ideas, new ways of doing things, new leaders, new inventions, new methods of teaching, new methods of marketing, new books, new literature, new features on radio, new ideas for moving pictures. Back of all this demand for new and better things, there is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it."

-Napoleon Hill, from "Think and Grow Rich"
First Published in 1937

With all the doom and gloom in the media today, it's refreshing to rethink these times as times of opportunity, innovation and courage. When the economic downturn all shakes out, will the winners be the ones that ran and hid?  Just like back in the 1930's, sticking with the status quo will not lead to easy success. The optimists and innovators will will use this time wisely and hopefully change the world for the better in the process.

Tags: Innovation, Development, Inspiration, economy, quotes