Homebuilders are building the wrong product

By Bruce Firestone | Tiny Homes

Sep 21

I think we are living in good times in many ways so I don’t want to be that guy who spends his time fondly recalling the good ole days. You know like the time when the Black Death killed 50 million Europeans (60% of the population of the period) in just seven years (1346-1353) according to History Today, https://www.historytoday.com/ole-j-benedictow/black-death-greatest-catastrophe-ever.

And I don’t want to be the guy who says in a superior tone, “Well, in my day, we did it this way,” because, frankly, in my day they started building cities, suburbs and exurbs that are hopelessly low density, mono-cultured, car-dependent, soulless no-places (that is, in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s). In fact, the industry is still building suburbs where you can find 3,500 nearly-identical homes and townhomes in a row without a single store, medical office, pharmacy, or indeed any services at all. And no jobs either. And where every trip is a car trip on unnavigable, indecipherable, curvilinear drives, p-loops, cul-de-sacs, and crescents.

Here’s what
I’d like to do with our place, a modest split-level home in an inner city
location–it already has a 1-bedroom, sideyard, tenanted (legal) apartment,
frontyard parking, a mini farm (where my bride grows corn, beans, potatoes,
herbs, apples, pears, and veggies) and a garage office (where I am currently
sitting writing these stupendous articles). 

In addition, I’d like to add a coach
house, another storage shed, a workshop (or, as millennials call it “maker
space”), a backyard games area, plus walkway and laneway awnings (I’m getting
too old to clear snow and would prefer to stay in my place rather than move to
an old folks home—you know, those vertical warehouses where people go to await

What’s not shown on my hand-drawn
sketch that guides my plan for the future of our property is the technology, smart home, energy, rainwater recycling and solar hot
water strategies that we will also deploy.

If I could (within the law),
I’d add a tiny house as well.

I videoed a few seconds of this show on Netflix to show how
they built brownstones in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Harlem and indeed in many other
east coast cities (Boston and Philadelphia come to mind) from the 1890s to the
1950s. Here’s the link, https://youtu.be/4JF2b7AkFuM.


After that, developers seem to forget about concepts like
urban design, streetscapes  and built
forms that a) delight, b) put more doors, windows and eyes on roadways
thereby making them  better, more
interesting and walkable spaces and much safer too, and c) made much more economic sense because they added/included garden level suites (the lower
level places you see in the video and above photo that have their own entries, which allowed
servants, gardeners, teachers, nannies, caregivers and others to live
independently with richer folk resident upstairs but close to their jobs  as well).

Today, those garden level suites are gold–they provide owners with extra income, which is especially important to millennials and first
time homebuyers as well as seniors living on fixed incomes.

If I were a homebuilder today, I would never build a townhome
or single family residence, or for that matter a condo tower or apartment block without adding more revenue-producing space–basement apartments with (dug/manufactured) walkout condition thereby enabling every occupant their own means of ingress and egress as well as (micro) outdoor entertainment space…

You know it’s OK to learn from our past.

Just saying…

Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (civil), M Eng-Sci, PhD, ROYAL LePAGE Performance Realty broker, Ottawa Senators founder, Real Estate Investment and Business coach 1-613-762-8884 bruce.firestone@century21.ca twitter.com/ProfBruce profbruce.tumblr.com/archive brucemfirestone.com


Postscript: my friend,
John McMahon, sent me these photos from his September 2017 tour of Ireland proving
once more that developers better understood the function and form of the built
environment in an era before everyone decided that living as a single
household in a McMansion was the way to go:

Lower level suite

Lower level access

Commercial below grade

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.