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    What is a Teardown?

    A "teardown" is a house that is removed from a parcel of land to clear the site for the infill construction of a new home. Why would someone pay hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars, to buy a house, only to tear it down? The answer is that buyers are purchasing the "buildable lots" when the value of the lots is higher than the value of the houses that sit on it. The determining factor for the value of these lots is their location in highly-sought communities and near other more valuable homes.

    What Fuels Teardown Activity?

    The desire to live in well-established communities. More than 70% of the nation's largest cities have experienced net population increases during the last decade. There are a limited number of neighborhoods and suburbs that are coveted for their proximity to transportation, jobs, excellent schools, attractive tree-lined streets, public facilities and amenities like parks, libraries and shopping, and city-like downtown areas with cultural and recreational amenities. Most of them have stabilized in growth and are nearly built out, with relatively few homes for sale and even fewer vacant lots. With many people wanting to move into such highly-sought areas, but desiring newer and larger homes, the value of "teardowns" continues to increase.

    Many older houses do not meet todays standards for the modern new home. New home requirements continue to increase in size and amenities. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average newly built home has 2,300 square feet of living space and comprises 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a two-car garage.  This is an increase of 53% from the average home size in 1970, and a 130% increase from 1950, when the average new house incorporated only 1,000 square feet., with 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a small living room and a kitchen. Also, the list of desired features in new homes today includes such amenities sich as great rooms, gourmet kitchens, spa bathrooms, his-and-hers walk-in closets, home offices, au-pair suites, home theatre, data networking, and multi-car garages. A house that is built on the site of a teardown almost always is representative of this higher-end construction.

    Are Teardowns Good?

    Teardowns frequently are said to have breathed new life into old neighborhoods and discouraged suburban sprawl. According to the National Association of Home Builders: "Revitalizing older suburban and inner-city markets and encouraging infill construction is universally accepted as good public policy. Infill development, done wisely, can take advantage of existing infrastructure; provide higher densities in locations where mass transportation is already in place; and integrate new housing into the fabric of the community."  Even in the most historic of neighborhoods, structures that do not contribute to the overall character of the area are candidates for replacement with higher-quality, better designed homes.

    How Do Historic Preservation Efforts Affect Teardown Activity?

    Somewhat to the surprise of many teardown skeptics, teardown activity has also coincided with historic preservation awareness reaching its highest level in recent years. Local government, residents and other non-profit organizations are working closely together to ensure that truly historic homes are preserved and maintained and that zoning regulations guarantee the scale compatibility of new construction to the existing historic neighborhood. Most new homes that are being built have this compatible architecture and higher-quality craftsmanship, as buyers are aware of the benefits and values associated with maintaining the character of these neighborhoods. Thus, "controlled" teardown activity has proven to benefit the interests of all those affected.

    By Diane Tuman

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    • Last edited October 12 2012
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