I'm thinking that the custom-built, beautifully designed homes just aren't prevalent in the Bay Area anymore just because it's so unaffordable. Just like you said, people want to make a buck and if you combine the fees for architects, interior designers, consultants, engineers, land lots, permits, etc., it probably just costs way more than it can be sold for. And like Michelle mentioned, there are many cities that are very strict with what they allow to be built. The property has to look a certain way to fit in especially in areas of historic importance. But all in all, I completely agree. Great question!
Couldn't agree more with you, although we are not looking in Berkeley or SF, but rather in Silicon Valley. We noticed that many of the new constructions is what they called "cottage" style. They are basically 1500 sq ft houses sitting on a 700 sq ft of land - what I call "mini rises".
First, these houses don't have a backyard, because that space is taken by the garage. Second, in order for you to move from one room to another, you need to take climb steps. You start with garage, then go up a few steps to a living room, then you need to go up another set of steps to get to the dinning room and kitchen, then a few steps up to a bathroom, and then finally more steps to the bedroom. And these houses are suppossed to be "starter" homes, for families with young children. How could one put their kids in a house full of steps and hazards and no backyard to play in?
The most prevalent type of home in the Bay Area built since the 1970s are built as large tracts intended for immediate sale and are focused on the pure statistics to get a home sold. Builders spend a lot of their design budget in staging the model home to be as attractive as possible. Often, not including these design elements in the final home. The least expensive of materials tend to be used as they are only concerned with the home lasting as long as the structural warranty of 10 years requires.
Economics is truly the driving factor in most housing in the Bay Area. With the cost of land at a premium here (historically), it is a very difficult task (but not impossible or unfeasible) to design and construct pleasing, well-built and environmentally friendly homes. Most builders have found that the research and development of this in the past has not been worth it. But there is hope...the general public is beginning to demand that new homes are better designed and environmentally conscience.
Existing housing will just have to be improved one lot at a time. That's what I try to do...