An Antidote to Cookie Cutter Homes

By Scott Van Voorhis

A classic design inspired by houses from the early 1900s -- it's Plan 48-489.

Why do so many new homes look like big ugly boxes? My pet peeve is the big new house with no windows on one entire side. Nothing but a big, blank expanse of wall, too often grey.What to do? Well if you want something that really reflects your tastes, you might be better off either buying a lot and picking your own house plan from a myriad of websites and services out there and then hiring a contractor to build it.

I chatted the other day with James Roche, chief executive of Houseplans.com, which offers thousands of home plans for do-it-yourself builders.

The house above is a classic design straight from the early 1900s that is popular among Boston area buyers on Houseplans.com. The 1,925-square-foot home comes with three bedrooms and two and half baths - the price-tag for the plans is $750.

Another popular Boston area plan is this ultra-modern-style home. A bit smaller at just over 1,500 square feet, it still manages to squeeze in three bedrooms and three baths. The price-tag for the plans is a bit heftier, though, weighing in at $2,095.

ultra modern plan Boston popularjpg
This modern/classic mix is my favorite of the bunch. It doesn't look huge or ostentatious yet this four-bed, three-and-a-half bath home manages to pack in a lot of space - nearly 3,000 square feet. 

Of course, the big question in Greater Boston, if you want to build your own house, is finding a lot to build on. Given the dearth of raw land, this may involve tearing down something that is already there - a potentially pricey proposition. But it can be done - my new neighbor recently took down a worn out cape and is building a neat looking, farmhouse-style home in its place. We live in Natick, so it's no McMansion, but it has lot more character than some of the $2 million monstrosities I've seen built in more affluent suburbs.

So how do our tastes stack up with what's hot around the country? Well just take a look at this emerging hot seller on Houseplans.com, basically a "modern farmhouse" design that's touted as "reminiscent of a dairy barn."
modern farmhousejpg
Interesting, but don't think we will be seeing that in Quincy or Reading or Georgetown anytime soon."A lot of people want something that represents them," says Roche, the Houseplans chief. Well I can agree with that - sure beats cookie-cutter. So why do so much new construction wind up looking so dull?Roche offers a few clues.

Your typical home builder is under pressure to bring in a big profit while the market is hot. And the home design by default has to be somewhat generic so it won't scare way one group or buyers or another, notes James Roche, chief executive of Houseplans.com, which has thousands of plans on tap.It's home design based on the lowest common denominator.

For example, windows are the most expensive feature in a house. Hence the reason builders often skimp on them, even as the expense of building something ugly, Roche says."Think about it - you are trying to build a house on spec and if you want to make 10 or 15 or maybe 30 percent, you have to cut corners somewhere," he notes.




Originally Published in Boston Real Estate Now

08/15/2014