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Food for Thought

Richard Quinn

FULL DISCLOSURE: I wrote this out of frustration, bordering on desperation.

More than a year ago, I bought a condo and took out what was supposed to be a short-term mortgage, which we’d pay off once we sold our home of 45 years. Silly me. You guessed it: I still have the mortgage and I still own the old house, with not even a single offer received. The No. 1 reason for buyers’ lack of interest: The kitchen is too small. Nobody gets past the kitchen.

My house has one other drawback: There’s no toilet on the first floor. You would think a society obsessed with working out could walk up a flight of stairs once in a while. Over 70 million Americans have a fitness center membership. I need just one who wants to live in New Jersey.

Clearly, by today’s standards, our kitchen is indeed small. On the other hand, it was large enough for a family of six, for cooking three meals a day and for preparing 135 Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter dinners. Here’s the kicker: More than 50 years ago, someone expanded the kitchen by four feet from its original 1929 size.

No doubt the necessities of the 21st century require a great deal of counter space. Without that space, where would we put our mini-waffle maker, panini maker, programmable pressure cooker, rice cooker, air fryer and bread maker?

Our kitchen has a small eating area and is next to a formal dining room, which is separated by an actual wall. When we bought the house, there was a swinging door, which we removed as our only concession to the open plan concept. I think there’s something to be said for having a place to eat and nothing else. Here’s a datapoint that shocked even me: “60 years ago, the average dinnertime was 90 minutes. Today it is less than 12 minutes.” Perhaps eating in a wide-open space that encompasses kitchen, dining area and family room has something to do with that.

With all the space we demand for our kitchens, you would think they receive heavy use. Not so much. Only 36% of Americans cook and eat at home daily. Others don’t cook but eat at home—probably on the couch.

It’s not only large kitchens that we demand. New homes were an average 1,048 square feet in 1920, 1,177 square feet in 1940, 1,500 square feet in 1970 and 2,657 square feet in 2014. Even as we demand more space, the number of people in the space has declined. Now I better understand the plaintive cry, “I need my space.” Average family size was 3.76 people in 1940, 3.58 in 1970 and 3.14 in 2018.

More and bigger is an American thing. But those big houses with large kitchens cost more to buy and to maintain. Property taxes, insurance, utility bills and general maintenance of home and property are all proportional to the size of a house, not to mention the mortgage payment. My woefully inadequate house carries a tax bill of $14,500, while a newer house across the street tops $20,000.

Have Americans opted for that professional kitchen and 2,600-square-foot house and, in the process, traded away their ability to save for retirement? We used to call that house poor. But that was in the olden days, when we used to sit around the dining room table and talk about such things.

Richard Quinn blogs at QuinnsCommentary.com. Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. His previous articles include Fashion StatementYou’re on Your  Own and What’s Your Plan. Follow Dick on Twitter @QuinnsComments.

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Barry Karnes
Barry Karnes
1 year ago

I blame HGTV. Apparently, everyone wants “The Perfect Home” with a 70 year mortgage, and every household is now $300k plus. Good post Richard.

Mik Barbasol
Mik Barbasol
1 year ago

Moving to a lower tax state i.e Florida would also make financial sense.

R Quinn
R Quinn
1 year ago
Reply to  Mik Barbasol

Financial perhaps, but with 13 grandchildren within a hour of where we live, that ain’t happening.

parkslope
parkslope
1 year ago

I assume you have lowered your asking price a few times. NYC is in a down market but, unlike other sellers who have had their places on the market for months, we priced our Brooklyn brownstone appropriately when we listed it last month and will be closing next week. I would think that there has to be a price point at which your house will sell. Even if it is far below what you think it is worth, sometimes it is better to take a loss and move on. I hope things work out for you soon.

GW
GW
1 year ago

For people who have been in homes for decades it typically comes as a shock when it comes time to sell.

Why?

The home that has provided so many great memories and meaningful family events can’t possibly have the amenities to satisfy buyers in 2020.

Emotional value does not align with market value.

The more quickly one can get through the denial and anger stages of realizing this, the faster one can set a realistic market price.

Not having a single bid indicates that the asking price is, unfortunately, way too high.

Staging the home can occasionally help but not if the issues are numbers and locations of bathrooms, kitchen size and makeup, etc….

What this author is experiencing is extremely typical. If you need to sell, set the price to sell.

kt2062
kt2062
1 year ago

Can I ask just how big the kitchen is?

Richard Hornback
Richard Hornback
1 year ago

I agree with the sentiment. I see large kitchens where nobody eats Or if they do they do not eat together. But you have to go to market with what the market wants no matter how foolish.

Any way to combine the kitchen with the living room? If the wall is not load bearing? Any way to give up a large closet to put in a small toilet and sink? This is a lot easier if you have a basement and can run the water lines and sewer along the basement ceiling. It might be worth your while.

Is there a house in the neighborhood like yours? You could ask neighbors if they have a larger kitchen or first floor bathroom and how they were put in.

Funny though how a low enough price will entice a buyer to overlook the flaws in a house. Especially in a desirable area.

oaklandrefugee
oaklandrefugee
1 year ago

wow!! 14.5 in property taxes. you need a Cali-style Prop 13

R Quinn
R Quinn
1 year ago

Just any FYI, the real point of the article related to the high demands of today’s buyers compared with past generations. What we deem essential now was not even a consideration a few decades ago.

Dwayne73
Dwayne73
1 year ago

You need to find a New York apartment dweller or a European who will think your kitchen is giant. I am betting that your dishwasher is not your combination washer/dryer too.

I totally agree with your frustration. HGTV has wreck everybody’s home ownership expectations and then you wonder why so many people are house poor. I grew up with two brothers in one 10 x 10 bedroom and one bathroom in the house. Now you need a bedroom and a bathroom per child plus an extra bathroom for the guests and a master suite too.

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