Lada 🏡 Prkic

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Why Do People Build Larger Houses Than They Can Afford or Need?

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. 

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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 over-sized 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 homeA 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? 

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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.


Image Credit: 

1. A dream house, a castle in the clouds 

2. Chesil Cliff House, Devon, UK - unfinished lighthouse dream

3. PavelloSussex, UK 

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Comments
Lada 🏡 Prkic

Lada 🏡 Prkic

2 months ago #27

#26
A condo of 75 sq meters (800 sq feet) for one is a luxury in Europe. :) My first question would be, why wanting a larger living space than is needed if it means a higher cost of living. It's OK If you can afford it. I read many articles about why American houses are so big. It's not just about housing. Many other things in America are defined by bigness. One of them is the size of refrigerators. :) I think that what people consider adequate depends on their context. The environment in which we live shapes our attitudes. Jerry, thank you for sharing your views on this subject.

Jerry Fletcher

Jerry Fletcher

2 months ago #26

Lada, I grew up in a little house with 2 bedrooms and 1 bath a kitchen and a living room all in under 1000 square feet. Most of my apartments through the years were about 600 square feet but they were comfortable because only one person lived in them. When I married I lived in a 2000 square foot house and then a 2800 square foot house. Both had two offices. Now I live in Condo which is 800 Square feet. Could I live in less space? yes. But I don't want to. That lack of space of my childhood years causes me to see anything smaller as a closet. European sized houses are like prisons and don't get me started about housing in Japan. That is the long way round the barn to say I think if we felt crowded in youth we are willing to pay the price for larger homes. On top of that is the social/ego massage of having more than the Jones family which I concur is basically stupid.

Louise Smith

Louise Smith

3 months ago #25

My close friend built a straw bale house in the country outside Melbourne I would love to build my own small with 2 bedrooms & a great view

Lada 🏡 Prkic

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #24

#23
Yes, we should. I like how proponents of minimalism explain the search for happiness - not through things, but through life itself. And also by focusing on what is necessary. Easier said than done. :)

Mohammed Abdul Jawad

Mohammed Abdul Jawad

3 months ago #23

#22
Perhaps, we become 'victims' because of vague temptations and vanities in abundance. We all, collectively, create culture. Shouldn't we practice self-restraint and focus on the essentials? Perhaps, contentment makes a pause on our (unwanted) craving.

Lada 🏡 Prkic

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #22

#19
Mohammed, your comment made me think. Whom we should blame, a "victim" who craves products he/she can ill afford or consumerist culture and most specifically luxury industry?

Lada 🏡 Prkic

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #21

#10
Ken, as you said, the size matters depends on the country you live in. :-) I can't afford a big house without a decades-long loan. I would rather live a debt-free life and spend money on other "silly needs." For now, we are happy living in our apartment.

Lada 🏡 Prkic

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #20

#18
Thanks for sharing some interesting facts, Harvey. The square footage I mentioned is for the apartment size I live in. The average house size in Croatia is 140 square metres (1,500 ft²). But I'm not talking about the average house size and people who build such houses. The question was why people build larger houses than they need or can afford. What would be the purpose of wanting a huge luxurious house while the main functions of a house are fulfilled within the more than average size? What would be the reason for building a house of 8,000 square feet for a family of two? A huge house is, actually, a monument to call attention to one's social status, wealth, or giving a sense of self-worth. I might call it superficial. It is hard to explain human nature. :)

Mohammed Abdul Jawad

Mohammed Abdul Jawad

3 months ago #19

#16
Ah, blame the 'culture drift' that has burdened us with materialism and we get fascinated by the fashion of the (glittering) world.

Harvey Lloyd

Harvey Lloyd

3 months ago #18

#11
Then yes americans do seem to have a larger footprint. A starter home here for 4 people is probably average 1500-1700. But i would also add that development costs and regulations drive lot prices through the roof. The federal government has authorized localities to place a tax on lots that helps in expanding roads and schools, called proffers. In some locations i have seen this price well above the average of 14,000 per lot. In talking to most builders they cant sell a house with a 1,000 sqft footprint and recover costs. A lot of the size of a house here in the USA is driven by regulations and commercial viability. We also have green space requirements which is good but adds to development costs. Add to this special zoning requirements of building materials and local design criteria, you are buying more than just square footage. You are also purchasing a planned development within the locality.

Harvey Lloyd

Harvey Lloyd

3 months ago #17

#8
My comment was celebrating putting family before debt. Kudos to you for that axiom. Pride and status can remove the family first thought in providing shelter.

Lada 🏡 Prkic

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #16

#7
Mohammed, I would say it's not just about greed. It's also about heavy consumer culture, of which we all became captives to a greater or lesser extent.

Lada 🏡 Prkic

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #15

#6
I agree, Franci. My opinion too. Thank you for commenting and sharing.

Lada 🏡 Prkic

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #14

#5
John, the planning department don't grant permissions to build based on someone's needs, but on the relevant spatial plans. :) In Croatia, if your house, no matter how large, is in accordance with spacial plans you can obtain a building license.

Lada 🏡 Prkic

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #13

#4
In Croatia too, Pascal. :) People are obsessed with owning an apartment, build a house, and buy property at the seaside. Croatian love to spend money, and most people are in the red. :)

Lada 🏡 Prkic

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #12

#3
John, I'm always glad to see your comment because of your contrarian approach. :) Your comment reminded me of a human's desire to build monuments to self (throughout human history). A mega-mansion you mentioned in your comment, is perhaps just that - a monument to call attention to one's social status, wealth, or giving a sense of self-worth. There is not a straightforward relationship between wealth and life satisfaction.

Lada 🏡 Prkic

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #11

#1
I forgot to add, here where I live, an 85-square-metre home (about 900 square feet) is pretty much adequate for a family of four. :)

Ken Boddie

Ken Boddie

3 months ago #10

One of the attractions about living in Australia, and before that, New Zealand, Lada, is that so many houses are much larger than in Europe. Having been brought up in a tiny apartment in Scotland and then not much bigger in London and some English cities, I’ve got to say, “Size matters!”😂 So, as long as you can afford it, go for it, particularly when so many of us these days have a home and a home office rolled into one.

Scott Butcher

Scott Butcher

3 months ago #9

Humans have always been strange creatures, but that's the psychology

Lada 🏡 Prkic

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 months ago #8

#1
Thank you, Harvey, as always, for your thoughtful contribution. When I said I would not do that to my family, I meant just that. To pay large loan instalments to have a little more square footage than now is not worth being enslaved by debt for 20 years or more. I believe there's a difference between Europeans and Americans in terms of home size. :)

Mohammed Abdul Jawad

Mohammed Abdul Jawad

3 months ago #7

We, out of human tendency, fall prey to greed. And there begins stories of extravagance.

Franci 🐝Eugenia Hoffman, beBee Brand Ambassador

I feel having a bigger-than-needed house is a status thing. I would rather have a smaller and functional house, and peace of mind from mortgage payments, insurance costs, maintenance costs, etc. Your last paragraph is my opinion, as well.

John Rylance

John Rylance

3 months ago #5

To me it raises the question, why do planing departments grant permission to build, and/or mortgage companies loan money to people to build houses they dont need? I agree with your last paragraph, and the quote from Rabbi Schactal.

Pascal Derrien

Pascal Derrien

3 months ago #4

I agree with the question in the title , I suppose vanity, validation and a need to display a social status if often but not always a part of the equation. Culture too I know in Ireland there is a manic obsession almost in owning a house. The house market overheated in 2008 contributing largely to an economic crash leaving many with astronomical mortgages in arrears they could not repay

John Prpich

John Prpich

3 months ago #3

I believe that the answer is more complicated and is a combination of many different things. The biggest home I've had was 2400 square feet and I never used the living/dining area, we ate in the kitchen. I now live in a 2 bedroom 800 square foot apartment and that's still big for me. Bill Gates has a family of five and they live in a 66,000 sq ft home. Why could possibly be the reason(s) ? Ego, keeping up with the Rockefellers, bullied as a kid for being a geek, marking his territory , like animals do. To reinforce how successful he has become, believing he's the smartest person in the room. A poor set of values, being part of a generation that focused on acquiring things, it's different for everyone. Imagine if there was a rule that said your home can only be 2,500 sq. ft. and you can only own two homes. Or? is the really about being happy and believing that your wealth can make you happy. What happens when you are told that you have 2 months to live, what good is the money to you then. Homes in Europe are typically small, but then again there are castles all around Europe. At the end of the day it's about displaying your wealth through ownership of land and a very large and luxurious home.

Harvey Lloyd

Harvey Lloyd

3 months ago #2

We recently built a two family home that we spent a year discussing ergonomics. How would we use the house. In a two family home, finding privacy was a big issue. Our design and final budget docs reflected how the house would be used as opposed to how it would look. Looks were considered after the ergonomics. We had to add some windows or move them, along with roof design to make the house more appealing outside. Great post, thanks.

Harvey Lloyd

Harvey Lloyd

3 months ago #1

I would have to say that i agree with your thoughts here. There are a couple of points i would make. You stated that you would not do that to your family. Implying that family is more important than my house or other material things. But there is no visual i can see that you are doing that. Unlike a material object i can see and have an opinion, a good person is something we just are and do not need the "merit badge" of visual display. Houses, cars, watches and other appurtenances to existence display our status. It also becomes who we are over time. So if the money goes so do i. I am somebody else. I agree the finer things in life do not come with a merit badge. The people we love and the senses we get from the experience are transparent to the outside world. I don't need material thin gs to try and display that status either.