I spotted billboards on the major highway and around the large malls in Dubai selling new homes. The headline read:
With your dream home comes a dream car.
An additional claims stated:
Lamborghini or BMW guaranteed.
In my mind, this raised two questions. First of all, why would anyone need to offer an expensive car to entice someone to buy an (obviously) expensive house? And, are the two cars of comparable value or does the award depend upon the price of the house?
Having never dreamed of a owning a car, especially one of those offered, although I have driven many BMWs, this offer would leave me out in the cold.
Most should be aware of the parable about three little pigs and the wolf. The first built a house of straw, which the wolf blew down with ease; the second build a house of wood and felt superior to the first, but was also eaten by the wolf, after he recovered from somewhat heftier blowing. The German pig built a house of stone, which the wolf was unable to blow down and compelled him to return to North America.
As all know, Americans build houses of wood, especially those with property close to ocean shores. None are threatened by wolves, but something worse occasionally pays an unwanted visit.
German houses are built to last centuries and withstand forces of nature (except those built by stupid people on river flood plains: structures remain standing, but all contents are damaged). Recently even stricter building codes require strengthened isolation to reduce energy use.
Whereas most American homes are built with plywood and nails, German houses are made from building blocks, which are almost one foot thick and filled with isolation. Each floor is also about one foot thick of reinforced concrete. Squeaky floorboards or stairs are not problem. Roofs are tiled with stoneware “shingles”, not tar paper. Walls are plastered and painted, not clad with wooden shingles or clapboard, and withstand wind and weather for decades.
Hurricanes do not visit this region, perhaps because they know--like the wolf mentioned above--that huffing and puffing will not blow the house down...
This will be another irregular feature, in which I will attempt to reveal and/or explain how Germany differs from the rest of the world. Some ways may be good, some may be questionable.
Today’s topic is about Home Ownership, inspired by a recent newspaper article about IKEA’s failed attempt to sell pre-fad, “flatpack” houses in this country. As smart as the Swedes have been with furniture and accessories, they failed to understand the housing market. Cheap wooden housing might work in Scandinavia, but not in a land of solidity. And, in a recent report by the leading consumer test institute, the company known for cheap was criticized for overpricing the houses and underperforming of the ever-critical environmental standards. They got everything wrong. If these were boats, they’d be dead in the water.
What’s the big deal? It’s only a house. Look at dwellings in other countries. In the United States, people change house like they change clothes, cars, or spouses. People move all the time, within the same town or across country. Roots are shallow or non-existent.
Germans dwell at the other end of the housing spectrum: hardly anyone changes address. Houses or apartments are passed down from generation to generation like a hereditary title. More people rent than own a house, because of the limited amount of real estate in this crowded country. Even in rural areas, land is sold by the square meter (little more than a square yard, for anyone unfamiliar with the sensible metric system and who continues to rely on the shoe size of a former English king). Farmers become rich overnight, if their land is re-zoned to permit building.
Buying a house is a life-changing experience for any German. Despite constant advertising by building societies and banks about the ease of switching from renting to owning, people fret for years over the decision. Once made, they continue to fret and the house becomes an all-consuming experience, as well as endless source of pride (and expense). Because of such attitudes, houses are solidly built; they are made to last. Building standards are exact and stringent. One rarely sees a wooden house: it surely belongs to a foreigner. A German would be embarrassed and feel the need to rationalize such a rash choice to anyone and everyone. And given the price of housing, no one wants to pay one cent more than necessary. Every aspect of building, buying, and maintaining are calculated and re-calculate each year.
How could anyone live in an IKEA house? It would be too embarrassing. Not only would one be branded as a fool for buying such a house, one would be a laughing stock for paying too much. Flatpack furniture might be acceptable, because it rests behind closed doors. But a house: everyone would know...
This is one marketing disaster that will be difficult, if not impossible, to correct.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.