White Stone Face Mansion Style Home

McMansions: Are They A Bad Buy?

Katie Ziraldo4-minute read
June 03, 2021

In any purchase transaction, most consumers are looking to maximize the value of their purchase while minimizing the cost – and this is simple enough with some products. Buyers can save money on groceries by clipping coupons, buying in bulk and scouting for sales, but with larger financial investments such as buying a home, cutting corners isn’t as simple and often means accepting some significant risks.

Combine this longing to get the most out of your money with a burning desire to put your best foot forward in a society that places a substantial amount of value in wealth, and there’s no question why some home buyers are drawn towards McMansions.

But what exactly is a McMansion and how does it differ from a traditionally large home? In this article, we will explore the history of McMansions, how they’ve aged since peak popularity and the potential risks of investing in this type of property.

What Is A McMansion?

McMansions, named after the fast, cheaply produced McDonald’s meals, are defined as very large homes built to convey wealth, without the form, function or quality that traditional homes offer. McMansions are widely considered cliché and classless due to their lack of architectural authenticity.

The word “McMansion” was coined as the opulent, poorly-designed homes began to rise in popularity during the 1980s. Where traditional mansions are typically paid for by the wealthy, designed by experienced architects and built on substantial amounts of land, McMansions allowed upper-middle class Americans to cut corners and build a house that was often a misrepresentation of their economic status – essentially building wannabe mansions with little to no regard for architecture or functionality.

These homes were often built on moderate pieces of land and surrounded by more modest homes, causing them to stand out and look unnatural in their neighborhood. Top critiques of McMansions also include architectural dysfunction, tackiness and a lack of sustainability.

How To Spot A McMansion

So how do you spot one of these homes? The very nature of a McMansion means there is no exact blueprint, and therefore each house will look different from the next. But despite their differences, McMansions tend to stick out like a sore thumb due to their unconventional design and the stark contrast to their surrounding neighborhood. The following are considered the most common, telltale signs of McMansions.


Red Brick Mansion Home

Most McMansions range in size between 3,000 square feet and 5,000 square feet. Owning any home at that size is not a cheap endeavor, and these homeowners often face extremely high utility bills and expensive landscaping costs.

The mega-size of these houses also contributes to their sizable impact on the environment. McMansions require a significant amount of energy to support their amenities. Couple this with the materials used during construction and you have a property that is very energy-inefficient – contributing to the negative carbon footprint of modern society.

Architectural Ambiguity

Brown Brick Mansion with Red Shudders

At its core, the intention of McMansions was to be cost-efficient displays of grandiosity. To achieve this impression at a lesser cost, many long-standing architectural design principles – such as proportion, balance and utility – were ignored. This poor design often included an eclectic and bizarre blend of architectural styles and an unorthodox placement of details like columns, terraces and even windows and doors.

Low-Quality Materials

Brick Faced Mansion With white Siding

One of the most impactful ways McMansions cut the cost of building a traditional mansion is by using cheaper, low-quality materials during construction. For example, it’s extremely common for McMansions to feature expensive brick or stucco on the front of the house, while cheaper vinyl siding covers the sides and back. This makes the home appear more elegant from the street while keeping building costs lower.

Where Are McMansions Now?

The popularity of McMansions began to fall during the Great Recession in the late 2000s. Owning a McMansion often meant living beyond your means and ultimately contributed to the rise of subprime mortgages, which were one of several factors that led to the housing crisis in 2007.

One must also consider how these homes have held up over time. The use of low-quality materials and overall disregard for form and function often means McMansions do not appreciate in home value in the same way that traditional homes do, making it difficult for homeowners to resell the property when the time comes.

Although some homeowners continue to be drawn towards the idea of larger homes, we are continuing to see a decrease in this tendency as many of the features millennials want in a home, such as minimalism, sustainability and overall low maintenance, cannot be found in McMansions.

The Bottom Line: McMansions Are Increasingly Difficult To Sell

When you’re buying a home, it’s important to think long term. Of course, the most important factor of choosing a home is finding a property that reflects your goals and personal taste – but as many of us someday hope to resell our property, it’s equally important to choose a home that will set you up for long-term financial success.

Although McMansions offer a plenty of space and grand façade, their shortcomings in design, functionality and sustainability have made them increasingly difficult to sell in the years since the time of their invention, making them an extremely risky investment overall.

Looking for homes that have stood the test of time? Find out what your architectural style is to ensure your home will age gracefully!

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    Katie Ziraldo

    Katie Ziraldo is a writer focused on financial learning for current and future homeowners. She found her love of writing through her experience working with various newspapers, such as the Detroit Free Press. Her financial literacy stems from her four years as a Recruiter, when she learned the details of every role in the mortgage process. As a writer, she uses that knowledge to create relevant content for homeowners to help them reach their goals.