My House Has Wheels is about RV living and camping but it’s also about housing. Our transition to RV living first started with frustration with our housing options. That frustration still drives us to this day. The two big problems we have with traditional homes are the size and build quality. To me the perfect illustration of poor design choices in modern housing is how many homes in South Florida have composite shingles.
In a place where hurricanes are routine, composite shingles are the absolute dumbest design choice in the history of human shelter. Not only are composite shingles ill suited to the occasional hurricane, those fly-away shingles usually sit on top of traditional bricks and sticks construction; another poor choice in hurricane prone areas.
So, why do we have stick-built homes with composite shingles going up in hurricane zones and Tornado Alley? That’s largely due two quasi-government companies that hold tremendous power over the real estate industry called Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those companies are the conduits for providing government guarantees for mortgage loans. If Fannie won’t guarantee the loan, you won’t get a mortgage. And, if your home is anything other than bricks and sticks with a composite shingle roof, it’s hard to get Fannie to back the mortgage. In a bizarre reality the government has created a rather one-dimensional housing market.
Nowhere To Go But Up
Average home sizes have increased every decade since the 1950s and it’s easy to see why. Builders are limited to home styles and materials that the government knows it can sell. Consequently, the only way builders can increase revenue is to add square footage. If it costs $125/sq foot to build a home, then a 1,500 sqf home is $187,500, but a 2,500 sqf home is $312,500. There’s no incentive for builders to make less expensive homes.
Everyone Wins…Except You
Higher home prices benefit everyone in the real estate business. Builders make more, companies that make building materials make more, real estate agents get bigger commissions, mortgage lenders write bigger loans, local governments collect more taxes and insurance agents sell more expensive policies. It’s a giant money feast sponsored by homebuyers.
RV Living – A Choice By Most, A Necessity For a Few
Our insane housing market, where homes get more expensive but don’t provide any additional value, continues to squeeze buyers. That leads to a peculiar set of people living in RV parks and campgrounds. You’ll find the majority of people adopted RV living because they enjoy it and it’s liberating. The other group is the mobile poor. Those adopting the camper life out of economic necessity seem to be split evenly between younger and older people. Through various circumstances, these are people who don’t have an option for more permanent housing. Sadly, we’ve watched the mobile poor grow as a group in the last few years.
While homes were growing in size so was the marketing effort to normalize bigger. Bigger homes and bigger yards were sold to people as prestigious and family friendly. More room for the kids, more room for entertaining, more and more room is better. Just like RVs and campers, bigger is not always better. Our society has become trapped in the bigger mentality and has lost sight of how liberating a small space can be, especially when that small space is also mobile.