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The Extra Bedroom Problem

A colleague of mine recently offered an interesting perspective on the 'extra bedroom problem', or the phenomenon where people buy houses that are unnecessarily large in order to accommodate infrequent guests. I wrote about this as evidence of irrationality in the way people choose where to live. My colleague agreed that, more or less, the behavior doesn't make much logical sense, but he argued that the homeowners engaging the behavior might be fully aware of their own irrationality.

(from Flickr user opacity)

Imagine a married couple, no kids, no plans to have kids in the near future, and maybe plans to have one kid in the long-term. They buy a 3-bedroom home. One bedroom is the 'master suite', one becomes the office, and one remains as the guest room. Twice a year, during Christmas and during the summer, the in-laws fly in for a few days at a time.

This whole time I've been assuming that it's the homeowners that incorrectly believe they need all that extra space to accommodate their guests. After all, it seems worth it to yield the master bedroom and sleep on the couch or an air mattress for a few days per year, if it means a better situation the other 360 days per year. That said, the irrational actors in this case might actually be the in-laws, not the homeowners; and they might have enough influence to determine how and where their adult kids live.

Here's how my colleague describes it: when the in-laws come to visit, they want a 'hotel experience', but they want it in your house. That means they want their own personal room with a closing door, a queen sized bed, bathroom, tv and cable. They want to sleep in every day, even when their kids have to wake up and go to work. They want to stay in complete comfort, but they also want to be under the same roof as their family for the entire visit. Maybe the kids secretly think it's an unrealistic or unfair expectation, but they cave anyway.

I think this might be the case some of the time; at other times I still think it's the homeowners who believe the extra bedroom is more beneficial than it is. Whatever the case, it doesn't change the underlying fact that it's not in the best interest of the homeowners.


Chance plays a pretty big role in the game of landing a house. The 100K House post that you linked to neglected to mention this (or perhaps they didn't think of it at all).

I had a one-bedroom condo in Arlington. After living there for five years, I adopted a beautiful dog. She barked, and a neighbor (a renter) complained (a lot). I was at a point where I was ready to get out of the condo in the first place, and I thought it would be nice to have a small house with a yard in which my dog could play.

After working with a realtor for a few months, and having several affordable houses grabbed by investors from right underneath me, I found a little brick duplex in South Arlington that suited my needs. The problem was that it was a short sale. If you've ever dealt with a short sale situation, you know that your chances of getting the house are slim, and even if you do get the house, the process of waiting for all the red tape to untangle is enough to drive you crazy.

In the midst of dealing with the short sale red tape on the perfectly-sized duplex in Arlington, I started looking at options in Petworth and Brightwood. The same thing happened there as in Arlington: I'd find something suitable that I could afford, and then an investor would swoop in with an all-cash offer, crushing my chances.

Until I finally found a house that no investor, for whatever reason, wanted. It's the house I now live in. Yes, it's a lot bigger than what I really need, but was I really going to stick my nose up at it and keep looking, after months of investor-fueled disappointment? Nope. I bought it, and I live there now, and I couldn't be happier. If I ever seriously run out of money, I can rent one of the (many) extra rooms to a friend, or an intern passing through DC for a few months, or some other option.

(A somewhat related story from my past that may or may not interest you, from one former John Carroll student to another: my freshman year there, the majority of incoming freshman were asked to live in "triples" in the dorm rooms, due to a shortage of on-campus housing. It was the same year that "East Hall", one of the dorms across Belvoir, opened ["East Hall" probably has a different name these days; I'm sure it's been named for some important donor or Jesuit.] By an amazing stroke of luck, the school was short two female freshmen that would have evened out the number of triple rooms. This meant that my roommate and I were one of only two freshman rooms that were "doubles" instead of "triples". By another amazing stroke of luck, Millor Hall, which was made up ENTIRELY of freshman triple rooms that year, was full. So the JCU administration stuck my roommate and me in the brand-spanking-new East Hall. Throughout the year, other freshmen who were stuck in triples asked who we paid; all I could say was that I didn't pay anyone, and that my enviable situation was the result of pure luck.)

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