Dispatches from the Far Side of the Wealth Divide

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Having covered high-end residential construction for as long as I have, I should have become jaded long ago about how much it is possible to spend on a house. But the state of wealth in America is such that following it involves continually climbing to altitudes higher than those to which I have already acclimated. A recent visit to northern California, where I toured some truly extraordinary houses, had me gasping for breath yet again.

One that really made my head spin was a project still under construction in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. According to this map, the median sales price for a house in that zip code is over $1 million. This house, which will serve as a getaway for an extended family, will cost many multiples of that to build. And that doesn't even consider the fact that it will sit on 800 acres of land.

At at time when the disparity of wealth in the U.S. has reached a level not seen since before the Great Depression and the country is embroiled in rancorous debate about how much to tax people at the top of the income ladder, it was impossible to miss the significance of what I was seeing. However one feels about taxes, the deficit, and whatever else, it is truly jaw-dropping to see just how wealthy some of the wealthy have become. But, like it or not, projects like this one are a lifeline to architects and high-end builders, many of whose mainstream clients--the merely-quite-wealthy--have dropped out of the market. The architects involved in this project run one of the best residential firms in the country, but when I visited their office on a Thursday afternoon it looked more like Sunday morning.

It's better to have work than to have none, of course--and this house will more than do justice to its budget and its site--but this highest-end-only phenomenon has a disquieting banana republic flavor to it. --B.D.S.

 

 
 

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