Posted by Leonard Steinberg on April 22, 2011

I have noticed all around us a distinct trend: fat is being trimmed in the biggest way in all arenas of our lives, including real estate. Here are my observations:

1)    The New York Times reported yesterday how the desire for less bloated homes across the country has caught most builders a bit off guard. The need for a double height entry is waning, as is the need for rooms never or hardly ever used. The old addage of ‘bigger is better’ is fading, and being replaced by more usable, energy efficient, user friendly, humanly scaled homes. The costs of building, maintaining and operating larger homes is also a consideration. The cost and availability of land requiring a shorter commute will also dictate this trend. Not only are long commutes expensive with rising energy costs, they are also life-vampires, stealing valuable time from already overworked families. While there will always be a desire in Manhattan luxury real estate for large homes, even here in the land of excess and mega-wealth, larger homes are becoming more efficient, mostly from a new awareness of each individuals role in conserving energy.

2)  Cars expanded in size dramatically over the past 10 years: A perfect example is the Toyota Corolla that was once a small car and over the years expanded into a medium sized car. In the past 24 months we have witnessed a dramatic influx of small, efficient cars, the kind that the rest of the world has been driving for years. Even Rolls Royce introduced a smaller car, The Ghost, as an alternative to The Phantom, that ultimate symbol of bloated motoring excess outside of the SUV arena. SUV’s now have competition from SUV-like cars, offering all the advantages of the SUV while shrinking, cutting the fat.

3) The global recession has forecd most companies to trim fat, mostly driven by their desire for profit. Businesses are often the most effective at trimming fat as most are pretty emotionless, and also have to act quickly before drowning or being unseated by more efficient competition. The stock market’s hourly monitoring and quarterly score card system fuels the speed.

4) Even governments are trimming fat, although reluctantly and slowly. The culture of fat in government is difficult to break, although with States at the brink of bankruptsy, the urgency has become accute. New Jersey Governor Chrystie has become the poster boy for fat trimming, albeit only budget-wise. Even disfunctional New York State was able to slash its budgets pretty dramatically, and on time.

5)  Humans are cutting the fat too: Never before has there been a greater awareness of the food we consume and what it contains, especially fat-wise. In food we are learning about good fats and bad fats, and there is even regulation now to govern this. The First Lady talks about cutting fat and healthy diets….thats a first!

6)  Energy is becoming much more expensive and the supply chain does not meet the demand. The USA has not had an energy policy for decades….a disgrace. But common sense industry and human intuition are already defining an ‘un-official’ energy policy: Solar power is growing, incandescent lighting is being replaced, hybrid cars are becoming common, buildings and homes are being retrofitted with energy efficient windows and better insulation. Real estate has awakened to the value of energy efficiency not only for the planet, but for the BOTTOM LINE too, a much more effective driving force in the USA.

7) Interior design: We are seeing more efficiently designed interior design products. There are sofa’s that used to take up 20-30% more room because of thick arm rests…..skinnier versions provide as much comfort and seating space, but trim the excess square inches that are not usable.

8) Technology: The computer we used to need to do our daily business had a hard drive below our desks, a keyboard and a monitor…..all this is now condensed into a tablet the size of a book. Remember those huge screen televisions the size of an SUV?  Now they are a bit over an inch thick and sit on the wall, thereby eliminating the need for several square feet.

9)  Retail: Even WALMART, the king of excessive retail space, is launching smaller more efficient stores, more focused on the needs of consumers.

As I am real estate focused, I see a great future for clever, engineered design in homes. The designer/architect of a luxury Manhattan home will now come equipped with the mindset of a yacht designer, designing homes that accomodate all the needs and wants of a very demanding client, in the best of tastes, but with an eye towards being chic AND efficient in the use of space. A bathroom wall cabinet set into a wall that becomes the wall, takes up much less space than  a sheetrock wall with a cabinet set on the outside…..these small efficiencies add up and collectively shrink the size of homes without compromising quality of life.

Our diets are probably the best way to understand fat: Fat is not healthy. It slows you down. It stops your organs  and internal systems from functioning well. It can cause depression. It is not terribly attractive (especially as we approach Summer swimsuit season). In dieting we have also learned about good fats and bad fats….a little good fat is necessary to be happy and healthy, no? A good trainer will teach you that excessive fat trimming can cause muscle loss, so we have to be careful that the fat we trim from all the areas of our lives is done so prudently, efficiently, and most of all…..intelligently, without pandering to politics, the biggest curse of our time.

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