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Ikea thinks inside the box with housing venture

You've got to love Ikea's chutzpah, or whatever word they use to suggest presumptuousness on the 55th parallel.

After seducing millions of 20-somethings with its assemble-it-yourself white wood, stainless steel and plastic furnishings, the Swedish furniture giant is offering itself as a north-woods elixir for a real estate market gone mad.

Ikea's "BoKlok" subsidiary, a joint venture with Swedish construction giant Skanska, is ratcheting up sales of prefabricated, timber-frame homes starting at 500 square feet. In my book, that's barely large enough to set up Snoopy and Lassie in domestic doggy bliss. But thousands of Europeans swear by their chic, bleak boxes.

Ikea's selling point is affordability, but let's be clear that we're talking about a land-squeezed European's sense of affordability.

Realty company Coldwell Banker reminded us this week how much a typical-sized American suburban home costs Irishmen, Spaniards or Dutchmen. A 2,200-square-foot house costs well north of a million dollars in many major European cities. One of the most expensive markets was Bucharest, Romania. So when you hear a Swedish BoKlok home costs close to $200,000 for a one-bedroom or $325,000 for a three-bedroom, the reaction might just be "I'll take two, please."

We won't have to worry about Vikings dominating our housing market — yet. Ikea opens its Tampa superstore next year, but BoKlok is not yet part of the company's U.S. expansion plans.

I say let Ikea try its hand at the hammer. Sears used to sell "kit homes" from catalogs for a few hundred bucks a pop 100 years ago. Many of those homes still stand. Lowe's entered the same do-it-yourself market as part of the post-Hurricane Katrina reconstruction. The chain's "Katrina Cottages" are supposed to withstand 140 mph gusts.

Lowe's will sell you most of the materials to build a house for as little as $30,000. (But you'll have to supply labor, land, the slab, and heating and air conditioning. Try living without the blessings of Freon in the Louisiana bayous.)

Maybe in 10 years we'll stroll down Ligonberry Lane or Eric Bloodaxe Boulevard. You can only stomach so many Alhambra Terraces and Windemere Circles.

Ikea thinks inside the box with housing venture 09/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:33pm]
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