Living Large

<b>Morley Safer</b> Reports On The Super-Sizing Of U.S. Homes

This story originally aired on Nov. 27, 2005.

The Joneses, that mythic family America vainly tries to keep up with, are setting an impossible standard. It's not just their fancy vacations and designer clothes, their swimming pools and their growling SUV's. It's the house.

The size of the average new house in this country has grown almost 50 percent in the last 30 years, while the average family has shrunk.

As correspondent Morley Safer reported last fall, houses are growing from sea to shining sea, like some alien weed.



Across the country, thousands of perfectly sound and cozy houses are being torn down. The empty lots then get filled up with huge houses.

The Maryland town of Chevy Chase has become divided over size.

Pat Rich has seen eight teardowns on her street, including the house next door. She has a nickname for one the homes in her neighborhood: Wal-Mart.

"I just don't know why people need that much space because it's not as though everybody has a lot of children. Coming in here are two people," says Rich.

The Riches have been offered $1 million for the house they paid $19,500 for in 1960.

One builder, Rich remembers, offered a sob story about wanting to buy a nice little house for his ailing mother "so he could be close to her. I think she'd last about a month and the house would come down."

Chevy Chase finally decided to put a temporary moratorium on all teardowns.

Greg Bitz is not happy about the moratorium. "I bought a house in a country, in a county and in a town that believed in freedom, not in a town that wants to legislate taste, to rule what, where, when and how people can do things to their homes that they have invested, in some cases their life savings," says Bitz.

He paid $726,000 for a house he wanted to tear down, but Mr. Bitz has been blitzed.

The house he bought was about 1,100 square feet. The house he planned to put in its place would be a bit more than 3,000 square feet.

What does Bitz think causes this resistance to larger houses? "I think one of the factors is jealousy, or the haves and have-nots. You have, you know, people that already live in homes that they're comfortable in. Perhaps they can't afford to remodel."

What about the notion that people can do with their land what they want? Pat Rich somewhat agrees. She says, "to a point, except, you're really changing the whole atmosphere of the town."

A few blocks away, Keith Blizzard has seen seven of 11 houses on his block succumb to the wrecking ball. One was replaced by a home he calls the "Battleship Galactica."

"It goes back twice as far as the newer house on the right," says Blizzard, "completed less than a year ago. So, they just get bigger and bigger every year."
  • Daniel Schorn

60 Minutes App

New Look. New Season. The 60 Minutes app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch!

More from 60 Minutes