Think back to the last time you moved. There was probably at least one moment in that process when you said to yourself “I’m NEVER doing this again! I will DIE in this house before I pack and unpack all these boxes again!” Although there is near universal agreement that moving is the worst, the traditional housing trajectory still includes a lot of U-Hauls. We move out of our childhood homes into our first apartment (or two or three). Next comes a little starter home. As we want more room for family, businesses or hobbies, we think about the move-up home and then maybe another step-up home as we continue to grow. After that, with kids gone and businesses winding down, downsizing starts to seem more appealing. That’s a lot of moves and let’s face it, your friends are getting too old to haul your stuff around just for the promise of pizza and beer.
What if all those different homes could actually be the same home? What if homes could be flexible, changing with us as our lives grow and evolve? It’s a concept the New York Times just contemplated in an opinion piece titled “The New American Dream Home is the One You Never Have to Leave.” The author talked of the trend in homebuilding of flexible spaces that can be used in many different ways and can be changed over time.
Homewise has been exploring this exact idea with our homes at El Camino Crossing, designing homes with Flex Life spaces (An 11-year old would call it a Pokémon home, because it has so many possible evolutions). Flex Life spaces can be used in many ways: home businesses, art space, exercise space, living space for a roommate or a short term rental that supplements income. As families grow, work spaces can be transformed into living spaces and then back again as needed. This idea of Flex Life space grew out of our partnership with MIX Santa Fe, through which we got direct feedback from future homeowners whose lives don’t fit a standard mold. Some own businesses, some are artists, some have children and others don’t. Many are part of the gig economy and want to combine the costs of their work spaces and living spaces into one payment. Others enjoy flexible jobs that allow them to work from home some days and from an office on others.
We love the idea of flexible homes not just because they meet people’s varied needs, but also because they beautifully advance our core organizational mission. That mission is to use homeownership as the means to the end goals of family financial security and community vitality. Flexible spaces mean more diversity in a neighborhood, which promotes that community vitality mission. If homes can accommodate only one type of living, you only attract one type of household. Kind of boring, right? But homes that are flexible attract all different kinds of households: different sizes and make-ups, ages, interests and talents. What a great way to create community vitality in a dynamic neighborhood!
When it comes to financial security through homeownership, the key is longevity. (Professors at Harvard dubbed longevity “the golden rule of homeownership”). Homeowners need to be able to ride the waves and endure changes in the market in order to take full advantage of long-term appreciation. Timing the market can be really tricky. What happens if you just have to sell so you can move to a different house (the baby is due any day now!) and the market isn’t so hot? Flexible homes promote that longevity by allowing people to maintain their tenure as homeowners uninterrupted, reducing the risk that they will hit bad timing in the market when life events push them to sell or buy. And just as importantly, they reduce the number of times you have to pack up your life into a bunch of boxes your scrounged from behind the liquor store.