A couple of days ago, Michele and I went down to Bullnose Tile in San Jose to get some tile for our bathroom floor. The place was packed and when I asked a sales person if this was usual, she said something along the line of Yea, everybody is remodeling.
It used to be that, as people made more money, they moved to bigger houses. That is the American way. In the 1890’s, or so, most people didn’t even live in detached houses, they lived in apartments or – later – multifamily housing. Even so, except for the very, very, rich, most detached houses were pretty small. Much later, when I first went to work for Shapell Homes in 1971, we -they? – were building homes in Milpitas, less than ten air-miles from downtown San Jose. Our smallest house was 1048 square feet and our largest was about 1850 square feet. Many of the people who were moving into those houses were moving out of 750 to 850 square foot houses in south Palo Alto or Cupertino.
When I left Shapell in 1976, our average house at Kimber Farms in Fremont, was around 2228 square feet. Kimber was about twenty miles from downtown San Jose. When the market crashed in 2008, builders were selling 2500 to 3500 square foot homes in Modesto about 85 miles from San Jose. In a reverse of what had been happening in the United States for the last fifty years, the houses that people are now remodeling are closer to downtown, older and, most likely, smaller than the big McMansions built out in what were the booming exburbs ten years ago.
Now comes what I think is the ironic part, those houses in Modesto are becoming the new slums as people, who can afford it, are moving back into – and remodeling – smaller homes in Milpitas and Fremont. Today, one can buy a nice 2250 square foot house in Modesto for $250,000; that house in Palo Alto – granted a very expensive place where your neighbor might be Mark Zukerburg – would be about Three Million! Palo Alto was never cheap, but lots of areas that were inexpensive are now being gentrified at an alarming rate. Even a 1200 square foot house in what used to be in the barrios of Redwood City now sells for $600,000.
In my imagination, I see a Christmas party in which people go to the boss’es house that is smaller than their own and closer to downtown. On their one and half hour drive back home, they agree to start looking for a smaller house in Milpitas. Maybe even a house on which I was the General Superintendent in 1971.