Today’s dream home for a lot of people is an urban location close to the city center that is, nevertheless, luxurious and stress-free to own. Consider modern design and the new urban home build. So many unknown costs and time delays go into major renovations and the value of the land itself is such that, historical building and zoning laws permitting, the best real estate plan is to scrape the older home and build a new one. (In some cases, historical buildings reach such a state of disrepair that they’re condemned and become available for this type of home build project.)In the biggest, oldest cities, the preponderance of urban home builds are found on what’s known as infill lots—or long narrow lots in which an older building used to sit. This is true whether you’re talking about the rowhomes of Philadelphia or the prairie rowhomes of western U.S. cities used by the workers and pioneers who moved west mostly during the 19th century.
The Infill Illusion
Despite all the alleged pushback against large, sprawling homes and the McMansion movement, it’s still true that Americans love having lots of space to work with, to call their own, you name it. Here’s the thing about infill lots, though. The homes you can build on them are almost always bigger than you would think from looking at the initial lot. Depth and height can more than make up for skinny-looking curb appeal. Three-story homes with multiple deck cutouts can deliver 3,000+ square feet of luxurious modern living space in seemingly impossible narrow spaces.Think of it this way: The large home dream doesn’t necessarily have to look the part from the curb. The obvious tradeoff is yard space, but there’s still often enough leftover for area for the dog or indoor/outdoor cat. And between ongoing climate change and the rising cost of water consumption, big yards are not the draw they once were to many prospective homeowners.
The Infill Implosion and Modern Design
The demand for urban homes and urban living has reached such a fever pitch that it’s getting increasingly difficult to find rundown homes that are candidates for scrape and build projects. When such a lot does become available, developers are increasingly likely to maximize the available units. Even with luxury upscale interiors, multiple townhomes ranging from 800-1,500 sq. ft. are now more common with new urban construction than larger custom homes.Modern design is increasingly focused on making smaller spaces feel larger and be able to do more functionality per square foot. So while some home buyers and some real estate developers hire an architect to design a large 3000+ sq ft home on a modest infill lot, other buyers/developers hire an architect who can optimize the interior square footage of multiple units, as well as the building structure itself.
We’ve always thought the depreciation of driving a car off the lot and building a new home a dubious comparison. Yes, the next buyer won’t get to design the home to exact specifications, but that’s often true of the initial owner as well. To ensure that the home build design gets approved by the local zoning board which may be seeking to protect the historical nature of the neighborhood, this process often occurs before the home is put on the market to attract a buyer. Knowing that their new home is approved and shovel-ready is typically more valuable in these types of urban settings than some vague notion of being able to design the home from scratch.