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The Curse of the Cookie Cutter House

Wikipedia definition of Cookie Cutter Homes and Tract Housing: Tract housing, also known colloquially in the United States and Canada as cookie-cutter housing, is a type of housing development in which multiple similar homes are built on a tract of land which is subdivided into individual small lots. Tract housing developments are found in world suburb developments that were modeled on the “Levittown” concept and sometimes encompass large areas of dozens of square miles.

Urban Dictionary: Marked by sameness and a lack of originality; mass-produced. Often used to describe suburban housing developments where all of the houses are based on the same blueprints and are differentiated only by their color.

I was the owner of an Interior Design business during the 80s. It was a time when property values fell and sales slowed, resulting in a sluggish real estate market. It took several years before the real estate market recovered.

I saw two things in sub divisions of tract housing, or “cookie-cutter” homes. The builders began selling their over built inventory for less than they had sold owner occupied homes a year or two earlier. Thus, they stripped away the equity that home owner had built up and in many cases the home owner was now upside down on what they owed. The second thing was the difficulty owners had trying to sell these homes.  It is difficult to have your home stand out when there are 10 – 20 almost identical looking homes for sale in a very condensed area.

As a designer in the late 80s – 90s, my challenge was helping these owners differentiate their homes.  Curb appeal was huge just to get people through the door. Then, there had to be something outstandingly different inside to entice a buyer.

Now, I wonder – did we learn anything from the 80s bubble and the 2009 crash? What are we doing to create unique homes for the masses, to bring added value to their properties?

In New Port Richey, Land O Lakes and Wesley Chapel, the SR 54 corridor appears to be on fire with new home subdivisions filled with tract housing. From the road, they have an Army barrack appearance.  I’ve received phone calls from home owners who purchased 10+ years ago, and are now desperate to sell.  They are unable to sell at (or above) their purchase price. Why, they ask! The answer is – they are competing with new home builders who offer a buyer their choice of the latest cabinets, flooring, free upgrades and discounted closing costs if they use their preferred lender. Buyers are lured by the prospect of getting a brand new home with closing costs built into the price.

I share this information with every buyer I meet. It is a win for the builders and banks and a losing proposition for the home owner trying to build up equity in their home. For the person who “must sell” their home in the sea of hundreds of similar homes, being the least expensive home for sale is the only guarantee of getting the home sold quickly.

Owners of the “cookie cutter” house are faced with the unfavorable option of listing their home for sale at the lower end of market value to entice the discerning buyer. This results in the loss of equity in their homes and the reduction of market value in surrounding homes.

For these reasons and more, buyers should beware when they are considering the purchase of a “cookie cutter” house.  As for the builders … isn’t it time they responded to consumer needs by producing homes that hold value, are unique, and have all the components deserved by todays buyers?