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House Lust (review)

A testimonial to the heights to which our consumer culture can go when shelter becomes an investment vehicle. Bad for the planet, bad for communities, bad for the poor, and yet another way to fleece the middle class of wealth via investment bubble. Not that we didn't know all that, nor does the author come to this conclusion but the details give some insight into American thinking behind the built environment just when we should be preparing for a much more diminished resource consumption lifestyle.

Insights offered:

Homeownership replaced the status once attributed to careers, because now people have niche jobs so obscure that careers are too hard to read as a social marker so people talk about their houses and show off their houses waiting for the wow response to their immense foyers or home theatre, wet bar and jacuzzi.

The extent to which homes have been supersized outside of the Bay Area makes 3,000 sq ft look small when 9,000 sq feet is the top end. They've just increased the sizes of rooms. Interior designers have had trouble giving these interiors a human scale. Homeowners can't remember how many bathrooms they have.

Americans want new stuff, thus new homes that are custom ordered from packages developed by corporate homebuilders ie: Toll Brothers. Much time is spent by homeowners choosing all the details. Increasing amenities are simply rolled into the mortgage thus creating a "savings" for the buyer compared to after market installation. Of course the size of these homes means enormous repair bills if you have to have a roof replaced or some painting done.

Investment property bought site unseen was supposed to be the new 401K but the reality of it is shabby homes for poor people, continued urban blight in communities and no guarantees that investor will reap a return due to mitigating circumstances like hurricanes and managers who run off with the rent.

Author offers a run down of all the home shows on TV, their origin and why they appeal. He also exposes the investment gurus that teach weekend workshops for a tidy sum, some of whom push illegal practices.

Author did not discuss how zoning plays a role in enabling these ridiculous homes. Author is himself a self-identified victim of House Lust and his book does not offer a serious conclusion, only that house lust, like fitness fads shift the culture in favor of the trend even as it dies out. So we're stuck with it. This is what we're up against in attempting to change the culture towards sustainability.

Like other material obsessions that turn into addictions, more is never enough. Author does not speculate why except that's it an American thing. I would say that in a culture of the individual, "more" fails to fill an original need for authenticity ie: shelter that actually fits the lifestyle of the home dweller. American home building is about buying a product based on marketing. People project onto their purchase who they think they are and what they think they want their lives to be, thus the chef kitchens that are never cooked in. And an American built environment that is disfunctional, driving up isolation among people by being so spread out. There is nothing in such House Lust that brings families or communities together.

Editorial Notes: Originally appeared at Amanda Kovattana's Flickr site. -BA

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