Buying an older house to tear it down and build a new and bigger one is "a growing disaster," "a cancer," and "an orgy of irrational destruction," according to Richard Moe of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Now UIC economist Daniel P. McMillen is publishing research that goes beyond the rhetoric. It's not all about the evil.
Data from Chicago and six high-demand inner-ring suburbs show the highest rate of demolition in Winnetka, where between 1996 and 2003, nine percent of total housing was torn down. (Chicago's overall rate is around three percent, but surely higher in pricey neighborhoods.) The research also shows that teardowns are purchased for the land underneath--it's all about location, meaning transit, walkability, and good schools.
Writing in Land Lines, a publication of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, McMillen acknowledges that teardowns can in some cases harm neighborhood character and reduce the stock of affordable housing. But they bring benefits too:
FYI links: There is a anti-teardown Yahoo group (mostly suburban), and a real-estate site for buyers and sellers. Neither one seems terribly frenetic. McMillen's technical article, coauthored with Richard Dye, is forthcoming in the Journal of Urban Economics. A draft as of May 26 is here for those thirsty for technicalities.