McMansions epitomized the excesses of the housing market, but don't think that just because the market is in the dumps, the desire for overbuilt homes has dried up.
The people who can afford to be in the upper brackets of residential real estate are the least affected by the housing sector meltdown and they are still thinking big. Or almost as big.
A case in point: An 11,605-square-foot home by King's Court Builders in Naperville, complete with his-and-her libraries and listed for $4.95 million, sold before it was able to participate in the Chicago Luxury Home Tour that ends Sunday.
Meanwhile, earlier this month in Hinsdale, builder Dominic O'Neill already had a few potential clients for a spec house he planned to build on a teardown lot even before he closed on the purchase and bulldozed the house. The house's footprint will be as big as the village will allow, he said, because that's what clients want.
But at the same time, builders say some of the extravagances and sameness that marked the first generations of McMansions are going by the wayside. There's a greater movement by clients toward ecologically responsible building techniques and use of sustainable materials—at least until buyers realize it limits their design choices.
There also are more people seeking to move beyond the stereotypical McMansion to something that is not so ostentatious and more their own.
"People think: 'We've got 28 rooms in our house, what do we need with that?'," said Scott Van Duzor of Van Duzor Construction. "You've got these subdivisions full of these monsters. Now people are trying to distinguish themselves from their neighbor. There were so many cookie-cutter $2 million houses, it was just goofy.
"The last few buyers would rather play it down than play it up. They're almost embarrassed by those words 'McMansion'."
Instead of just embracing the "bigger is better" mentality, there's also a thought that "better is better." Sophisticated buyers are looking not just at room sizes but what's in the rooms, so high-end builders are adding better grades of flooring, detailed millwork and exotic granite and stone counters. In part, builders say they have to do more to differentiate their products and the price they command because mid-tier housing now comes with wood floors and granite countertops.
One upside of the industry downturn is that prices of homes marketed as teardowns have dropped 20 to 30 percent from a few years ago, unless the property is in a highly desirable location.
Savvy buyers, not just builders, are taking advantage of the opportunity those lower prices afford.
Bryan Bomba, a real estate agent at Re/Max Elite in Hinsdale, is one of those buyers. He recently bought a property in Hinsdale marketed as a teardown, razed the house and plans to build a large house on the 60-by-300 foot lot when the market improves.
He chose not to rent the house during the interim because of its condition. Also, by tearing it down, he reduced the parcel's property taxes by 54 percent and only has to pay liability insurance on the lot.
He understands the backlash that erupted in many communities over older homes being torn down and replaced by McMansions, but he understands the realities of the market, too. "If there's a beautiful historic house that's torn down and you put up this box, that's nasty," he said. "But if it's a case like mine, it was a rathole."
Teardown.com's Hickey believes there will always be a market for big homes to replace that outdated 1950s ranch. "It's a business. It's not a fad," Hickey said.
THE LOCAL SCENE