In a given week I could be inspecting everything from trashed out foreclosures selling for $30,000 or $40,000 to new construction selling for $3,000,000 to $4,000,000 or more, that same week I could be interacting with clients who understand virtually nothing about construction and clients who are architects or builders. I see a very wide range of cost of construction quality, and just about the entire spectrum of people purchasing shelter, status or income. And one of the things I've had to learn is hat I absolutely cannot let my own experience and taste dictate how I interpret and report what I see, in fact I think the temptation to do so is one of the major causes of problems in my industry, and of and I've even written a page for my website about why it's important not to let these factors color the way I do my job:
That said, here are a few observations I frequently find that I'm making (to myself):
1) I must have passed several hundred hundred expensive new houses in upscale communities along the shore of Lake Michigan north of Chicago in the last few years, and not one of them has displayed real creativity, or to my eye possessed real architectural distinction.
This is actually quite remarkable; it used to be the case that at least some of the people who had the money to commission custom residential architecture on substantial scale were looking to live in a residence the clearly reflected their personality, or at least the conspicuous consumption of creative architectural talent.
The McMansions that have sprung up around here during the boom however - irrespective of cost - are generally designed in imitation of something else; an English manor house... A French château.... or all too often one of those ridiculous breeds of dogs produced by crossing a dachshund and a wolfhound (or however they are making them).
I call this "when CAD goes bad " - elements from various eras of ostentatious architecture get jammed together like Legos your kid left in the oven: there's a Victorian chimney at one end, a Gothic turret at the other, the two are linked together by what appears to be a Swiss chalet and topped with an eyebrow window below a widow's walk, with the Georgian stables separated from the residence by a French garden graced with acrylic replicas of headless Grecian torsos interspersed with contemporary life-size realistic bronzes of children doing the things the children used to do back in the days when soccer moms were operating ringer washers instead of SUVs.
I guess this shouldn't be surprising, the young couples who bought most of them (on option loans) spent their teenage years and young adulthood learning to be dentists or software architects or investment bankers, and there is no particular reason why they should know good architecture from hideous abomination.
Still, it does give me pause: if this is what they're looking for in their houses, imagine the result when they start specifying the genetic design of their children!
2) People will spend $85,000 on kitchen upgrades, but hesitate to spend $850 to upgrade their insulation from the minimum required to meet the local building code to the amount recommended by the Department of Energy.
3) The relationship of construction cost to construction quality is the best perverse, and more likely nonexistent.
4) Houses are way too complicated, I've been learning about them for 35 years, and I'm still learning significant new things about them every day.
5) Worse, building a properly operating house is getting more and more complicated and unlikely. It's darn near impossible to kill a 100 year old structure constructed using traditional Chicago masonry techniques - you can abuse such a structure for decades without destroying - it but a modern house clad in EIFS requires superhuman perfection in its detailing if it's not to rot from the inside out within a decade or so.