The real estate ad begins, “You will fall in love with this very unique home.” I cringe. It happens to me more and more frequently these days; I deplore the acceleration of what can only be called linguistic inflation. How can something be “very unique”? Isn’t just being unique enough any more? I have the same reaction when listening to the news and hearing a newscaster refer to a “serious crisis.” Apparently a plain old crisis is no longer serious enough! For my wife, it’s the phrase “a unique individual” which sets her teeth on edge. It’s as if we don’t trust our language any more and feel that we need to pile on the modifiers in order to create a more vibrant and exciting listening experience. Adjectives and adverbs have never been in such demand!
On a deep level these modifiers reflect a broader cultural shift. The ordinary, the expected, no longer suffices. Brand name adherence has crept into every corner of our lives, creating in each of us the desire for the best, the newest, the most! I have become acutely aware of this with real estate in the context of renovations and new construction. Only the newest will do, and only at what is perceived to be the highest level. Until the last decade or two, who had ever even heard of a Miele dishwasher or a Sub–Zero refrigerator?
When I became a young adult I was impressed by Sears appliances: they were solid and workmanlike and they rarely broke down. The KitchenAid dishwasher in the apartment I grew up in may have been noisier than the Miele I have now, but it was no less efficient. And I like my Sub–Zero fridge but really, what is so great about it? Reading real estate marketing now, these appliance names sound like the Holy Grail. They are listed, each one, as if a sort of hushed reverence should rise up around them – the quarter sawn oak or Brazilian cherry or Honduran mahogany floors, the Pincio Red marble in the bathrooms (since when did every marble have a name?), the Valyrian steel knives in the kitchen (or is that the stuff the swords are forged from in “Game of Thrones”?)
Today, unlike 40 years ago, almost everyone renovates, regardless of the condition of the property they buy. And bigger is almost always better – although bigger may be suffering some price challenges in our high-end condo market at the moment. More square footage, higher ceilings, finer finishes. Screening rooms, home gyms, walk-in closets the size of a studio apartment, several more baths than bedrooms. When is enough enough?
In the 21st century market we have pushed the boundaries of the necessary. The “enough” of forty years ago is not the “enough” of today. As the ultra high-end market softens, I for one am looking forward to some lessening in the craving for branded opulence and mitigation in the need for more. Let’s learn to live with the two–year–old marble bathroom, even if the white is not OUR white. Can’t we cook fine in the five–year–old kitchen even if it has granite counters and lacks a Gaggenau cooktop? We live in an era of minimal cost inflation and meteoric inflation in language, brand, and space. As the former inevitably rises, perhaps we can see a concomitant decline in the others?