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What Are Cookie Cutter Houses?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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When working on a housing development with a number of homes, one way to save money on materials is to create homes that are roughly identical. This means that all the parts for each home can be purchased in bulk quantities, which usually results in discount prices on material. Of course, when all of the homes are finished they may offer little variation in appearance, and for this reason, they may be called cookie cutter houses. They look like they were all made the same, with the same cutter.

The idea of creating housing in this fashion dates back to the mid-20th century when the first tract houses were built. It’s not hard to still find those neighborhoods, though over the years people living in those homes may have modified them significantly to look less identical. Since the idea of these housing developments meets with some distaste, cookie cutter houses today tend to offer slightly more variety.

There may be several sizes of homes, several ways to position the home, and other differing features to accommodate homebuyers of varying tastes and prices levels. Still, the homes do look related if not fully identical. Such developments are analogous to comparing a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Each may have a slightly different number of chips and circumference, but they’re still all recognizable as the same type of cookie.

Very strong feelings exist about cookie cutter houses. Some people truly dislike them since they may greatly inhibit individual expression. This is particularly true if purchase of such a home means belonging to a homeowner’s association, where any changes to that home, including things like painting, may require approval.

On the other hand, there can be an advantage to purchasing cookie cutter houses. First, they might be less expensive, though there are very wealthy communities where home style is not greatly individualized, too. Second, materials and building may be of a particularly dependable quality, since suppliers and manufacturers are likely to have been the same for all homes. Especially when purchasing older tract homes, the tract tends to have a good or poor reputation for construction and materials, which may apply to all homes.

Cookie cutter house have evolved as a feature of suburbia, and remain a vital approach to building several homes at the same time. These may be attractive to some people because they may be cheaper and bespeak a certain quality. Alternately, the sameness of the homes and neighborhoods that possess them is a turn-off to others. This negative opinion of cookie cutter houses, when held, isn’t necessarily strong enough to prevent people from purchasing tract homes, especially when many neighborhoods are primarily made up of them.

Who Invented Cookie-Cutter Houses?


During World War II, most of the country's home builders were away at battle. Because there was no one to build, the housing development market was at a standstill. But after the war, soldiers returned to the United States. Veterans and their families needed homes quickly. In 1947, Abraham Levitt's company, Levitt & Sons, took advantage of this housing boom and built the first cookie-cutter development. The neighborhood was in Long Island, New York, and thusly named "Levittown." The idea soon took off, and tract home neighborhoods began popping up all over the United States.

Are Cookie-Cutter Houses Still Popular?


Tract homes are still built all over the country today. Most new construction neighborhoods will offer two or three designs rather than just one. Mixing in several methods still keeps construction simple but provides differentiation among communities.

Once only popular in the suburbs, cities often utilize this design for low-income housing. Their inexpensive production cost and quick build time offer a simple solution for cities expanding their housing programs.

Are Cookie Cutter Houses Bad?


Cookie-cutter homes are not bad, but whether or not you like them depends on your personal preference. Uniform communities are probably not for you if you like unique houses with exciting design features. But if you want a brand new abode for a reasonable price, a tract home may be a great choice.

What Problems Do Cookie-Cutter Houses Have?


Developers often use the same inexpensive materials throughout their homes to keep costs down. Additionally, with rapid builds, construction quality may suffer. As a result, residents often experience the same issues as others in their communities. Common complaints from these homeowners include:

  • Roof problems
  • Loose siding
  • Plumbing issues
  • Mold 
  • Poor noise blocking
  • Windows needing replacing

Are the Insides of Cookie-Cutter Houses Similar?


It's not just the exterior of these builds that appear identical. In most neighborhoods, the interiors will also have the same layout. If you live in one of these developments and walk into your neighbor's house, you will likely know exactly where to find the kitchen.

Can You Change the Inside of a Cookie-Cutter Home?

Many builders let residents plan their homes before breaking ground. This personalization offers buyers a chance to put their stamp on an otherwise bland design. Owners can choose the layout and have an opportunity to add creature comforts beyond the original blueprint. Sometimes extras include an additional garage or a mudroom. Other customizations may be upgrades like hardwood floors, granite countertops and upgraded fixtures. However, these luxuries come at a high cost. A once-affordable home could quickly go over budget with so many added features.

How To Make a Cookie Cutter House Look Unique?


There are many ways to make a residence stand out from the rest of the batch. New paint is the most obvious answer, but the houses will still look nearly identical even with a fresh coat of paint. Furthermore, some homeowners associations may not approve your preferred paint color. Luckily, there are many ways to make your house stand out and keep your HOA happy.

Install an Addition


Adding features to the house like a front porch, a gable, or a deck can set the place apart. Some homeowners prefer to add entire sections to the back of their property in the form of a great room with grand windows. The addition of a bedroom or top floor offers more indoor space and a fresh new look from the outside.

Add Landscaping


Major construction is often too costly. In that case, landscaping can add interest to any property. Line flower beds with concrete stamped edging and add fresh mulch for a clean look.

When building new neighborhoods, workers will tear down all trees to clear space for the construction. Unfortunately, most developers never replant the foliage they ripped out. The lack of plants results in drab, treeless settings without much character. Planting new trees in your yard is a fantastic way to differentiate your property and bring natural beauty to your housing plan.

Change the Windows


Tract homes boast the same windows in the exact locations. Change the look of the entire house with new windows. A new bay window can give the facade a much-needed facelift.

If your funds don't allow for new windows, you can still update what you have. Paint windowpanes black for an elegant and standout appearance.

Add Shutters


Hang shutters around the windows on the front and sides of the house. Painting them an accent shade will make your exterior color palette pop.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a HomeQuestionsAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By Euroxati — On Jun 05, 2014

@Chmander - While you do make several good points, just remember that when you own a cookie cutter house, you're not exactly the owner, as it's more like a rental property than anything. That's my main gripe with houses like these.

By Chmander — On Jun 04, 2014

@RoyalSpyder - I agree with you. On top of that, the cookie cutter houses are built a lot faster. Generally speaking, since they follow the same structure and architecture, much less time is spent planning and mapping. Once you have one house done, you generally have the others finished as well.

I used to live in a cookie cutter house as well. While it had it's disadvantages, I did like how it was cheaper. You'd be surprised at how much money you're saving by buying one of those houses, as some of the brand new (non cookie cutter) houses can be extremely expensive.

By RoyalSpyder — On Jun 04, 2014

I have mixed feelings about cookie cutter houses. While it's true that some people could see them as lazy and cheap cash-ins, they have their benefits as well. As the article stated, the same resources are (possibly) used for all the houses, and because of that, a lot more money is saved. I mean just imagine how much is spent building houses each year, with so many different modifications and types of equipment.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a HomeQuestionsAnswered contributor,...
Learn more
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