Why Do People Build Larger Houses Than They Can Afford or Need?
I am a civil engineer and love everything about engineering and architecture. I love watching shows about the construction of family houses. One of my favourites is the British series Grand Designs, where Kevin McCloud presents people and their dream houses mostly built by their owners who had zero experience in construction. Despite their lack of experience, those self-builders created truly unique houses from both aspects of architecture and engineering.
Kevin follows every step of the construction from planning to realization. Each story is about owners’ trials and tribulations along the way.
But for some of them, building a dream home turned into nightmares left them in huge debts, broken relationships, ruined families, and unfinished houses.
After all the blood, sweat, and tears put into the realization, some of those self-builders were forced to sell their dream house for less than the build costs.
Watching people struggle with financing the construction of their homes, I often ask myself the question in the title.
Why do people build larger houses than they can afford?
I remember an answer to that question when Kevin McCloud asked a couple whose marriage broke down because of the pretentious project that has driven them deep into debt: "People will do whatever they can to fulfil their dreams."
But at what expense? Is a desire to build a bigger house than you can afford worth giving almost everything you earn to pay off loans and multiple mortgages for decades?
I would not do that to my family. We all have dreams and desires, but I would never embark on construction with a budget I cannot afford without compromising the quality of life of my family.
As someone whose job is to supervise and manage construction projects, I know well that cost estimation is most important in managing every construction project. A project budget should be based on completed drawings and accurate specifications. Besides, you need to provide additional funds for unforeseen costs that almost always crop up.
Amaze me that people start spending money on their projects having nothing more than the desire and determination.
To me, it looks like letting good luck and ‘higher power’ take the steering wheel of your life while hoping for the best.
Again, I would not do that. Both are too unpredictable. But that’s just me.
Why do people build larger houses than they need?
There is no one size house that fits all. I’m not advocating for living in tiny houses, but what is the purpose of wanting a house much larger than you and your family need.
Consumerism and the dogged pursuit of ‘more’ is deeply embedded in the contemporary world. It is a way our society functions, and the economy grows. The truth is that many of the things we want have little or no relevance to our physical or spiritual well-being.
Some studies about the relationship between the size of living space and subjective well-being have shown that moving to larger accommodation had a weak positive effect on the life satisfaction of research participants, which lasted for 6 months only.
People lived just fine in houses almost twice as small as today, only 50 years ago. At the same time, the household size in most European countries decreased almost twice.
An answer such as: "I deserve a bigger house because I work hard and can afford it" was often heard when Kevin McCloud asked couples who wanted to build oversized and luxurious houses. A couple from the other show I watched recently built their dream house of 800 square meters (more than 8,500 square feet). At the time, they had no kids, only two dogs.
Do we really need everything we desire? People often confuse desires with needs. Is a desire for a larger house than needed gratifying one's ego and trying to impress others?
The ego makes us desire more than we already have.
Although desire arises from the need and a sense of lack, it also emanates from greed or even envy (when someone else’s house is larger and more luxurious than yours).
Many couples from the Grand Designs show said that the reason for a larger house is to host extended family and friends. Family and friends are the most important things in our life, but for spending time with them, you do not need to build a house of 800 square meters.
Perhaps the reason is that people who achieved a certain financial comfort level may just want to indulge themselves with an oversized luxury home. A big house represents some kind of physical proof that they have succeeded in life. Or could it be that some people just fill the holes in their lives?
In human nature is always to want more. If so, will we ever be truly happy? How much is enough? Often quoted words by Rabbi Hyman Schachtel sound reasonable: "Happiness is not having what you want. It is wanting what you have." Both are true if you are able to limit your desires.
We cannot all follow the example of Ben Law and his cheaply built, self-sufficient eco-lodge in the woods, but his approach to sustainable living is worth considering.
Instead of building a larger and more luxurious house, why not investing in improvements to the existing one. The main function of a house can be fulfilled within smaller footage than you think.
In my opinion, we can live better and happier by consuming less and retaining our possessions longer. But that’s just me.
What about you?
Author's note: The article is previously published on BIZCATALYST 360°. Here I've made a few changes.
2. Chesil Cliff House, Devon, UK - unfinished lighthouse dream
3. Pavello, Sussex, UK
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