In both Real Life
and fiction, it can often cost a small fortune just to barely maintain a high-value property, whether a small business, Big Fancy House
, an exotic or custom vehicle
, or an elegant estate with acres of gardens, farmland or pristine wilderness. For those with Impossibly Cool Wealth
, this is not an issue. For this character, however, his lifestyle suggests that he is barely able to afford to keep the property. The property takes up a large portion of the character's time and money, and he is generally forced to live a very modest lifestyle otherwise.
Confusingly, there are two common terms for this — "land-poor" (as in, poor because of the expense of the land), and "land rich, cash poor" (as in, rich in land but poor in money).
Compare Down on the Farm
. Contrast Impossibly Cool Wealth
. Also compare "Friends" Rent Control
, which applies to characters who rent or own real estate much nicer than they could realistically afford, but it's only their living space and not a landscape fit for a very minor aristocrat.
There are several different types, each one tending to be most associated with a geographic area:
- European (Impoverished Patrician): the character feels that they have an obligation to all of their ancestors and descendants to keep the family estates in order, but no longer has the actual money-generating capacity to keep it going. Their efforts to earn enough to keep the property pristine while paying the property taxes make excellent plot fodder, whether Played for Drama or Played for Laughs. In some cases (generally in settings before World War I), the estate may have been entailed making it impossible to sell even if the character wants to.
- American: Land could be purchased very cheaply as recently as within living memory, and land far away from big cities still can be purchased for far less than other parts of the world. As a result, lots of people gained land without having money to buy fancy manufactured goods. As time went on, even though theoretically they had more wealth, farmers tended to became more economically pinched compared to city dwellers, since their income depended on keeping their wealth tied up maintaining the farmland. In fiction, the character is often portrayed as an uncultured counterpart to the Impoverished Patrician, keeping traditions alive and not selling out to the villainous developer, who is hoping Land Poor characters will default on their mortgages.
- Japanese: Land in modern Japan is scarce and astronomically expensive. Few people own substantial real estate, and many who do received the property through inheritance, and would not be able to afford to buy it now. Unlike western media, in Anime, being Land Poor is less often a critical plot element, but rather used to give a character a place to be alone, find a long-lost MacGuffin or Artifact of Doom, etc., without being unreasonably wealthy.
- Russian: In the Soviet Union, there was little differentiation between the rich and the poor, real estate prices were tightly regulated by the state, and many families could have a vacation home called a dacha. After the fall of the Union, many people got impoverished and real estate prices near major cities skyrocketed, but some clung to their old property, and you can often see a poor family that maintains an inherited run-down dacha in a prestigious location with very expensive land, like the near Moscow Oblast.
- Latin American: Many people have moved to the bigger cities in the last couple of generations. Not all of them have sold their old land property, and some use it as a vacation home similar to dachas in the former USSR. Historically much of Latin America had large landowners control huge swaths of the countryside, but some of them were either expropriated (and are now fighting their way back to their old property with both legal and illegal means) or fell on hard times and had to sell and/or flee the country.
- The other wiki's stately home article touches on the subject of the trope.
"The costs of running a stately home are legendarily high. Many owners rent out their homes for use as film and television sets as a means of extra income, thus many of them are familiar sights to people who have never visited them in person. The grounds often contain other tourist attractions, such as safari parks, funfairs or museums."
- The reality TV series The F*** ing Fulfords is all about this trope. The house in question still has "war damage" from the English Civil War (1641-51) that hasn't been repaired yet.
- Part of the plot of the movie The Grass Is Greener (1960) with Robert Mitchum and Cary Grant. Part of the synopsis: "Victor and Hillary are down on their luck to the point that they allow tourists to take guided tours of their castle."
- The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck deals with the McDuck family becoming too poor to maintain Castle McDuck at one point, although their ancestors were originally driven away by a supposedly ghostly hound.
- This is the situation of several noble houses in A Song of Ice and Fire, who live in castles built back in the Age of Heroes but who no longer have the money to maintain them. Most were ruined by taking the wrong side in a war or were driven into the ground by an idiot lord. Of note are the eight families who have held the cursed money sink Harrenhal, all of whom have become this except for the current owner who received it within the last two years.
- A significant portion of the series Monarch of the Glen dealt with the financial difficulties of the aptly-named Glenbogle estate.
- Audrey fforbes-Hamilton from To the Manor Born actually sells the manor her family has held for over 400 years because the cost of maintenance, plus her husband's debts, make keeping it impossible. She gets it back in the end.
- Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind is an American example of a European-style Impoverished Patrician.
- The titular Darnaway family in the Father Brown short story "The Doom of the Darnaways" are living in the few inhabitable rooms still left in their crumbling mansion.
- In The Aldous Lexicon, the Underwood family, which most of the characters are in, is like this in some of the parallel universes (in others they have managed to get rich again). At one stage the house was sold, then bought by the grandson of the woman who sold it years later. The poorer Underwoods really aren't managing to maintain the house.
- In the film I Know Where I'm Going!, Torquil MacNeil is Land Rich, Cash Poor, since he's the laird (owner) of Kiloran, but has no money and needs to rent it out.
- Lady Ludlow in Cranford. She resists the railway being brought through her grounds because she wants to hand the estate down intact to her son Septimus, and protect the livelihoods of the estate workers. She mortgages the estate against the wishes of steward Edmund Carter.
- At least one episode of Midsomer Murders revolves around this, with the landowners desperate to keep their land (though they're not always the murderers...)
- Sherlock Holmes deals with impoverished aristocrats all the time, some of whom are prompted to resort to crime in order to remain wealthy enough to maintain their ancestral homes. (See the stories, The Copper Beeches, The Speckled Band, and the Grenada television version of The Eligible Bachelor.)
- Downton Abbey; The Crawleys were short of money before Robert married a wealthy American, despite owning a large stately home and most of the nearby village. When Robert loses Cora's fortune in series 3, they are faced with the prospect of selling the house (and moving into a smaller stately home they also own); Matthew rescues them with an unexpected windfall — one so improbable that they lampshade the hell out of it — driving much of the upstairs tension of the latter half of that series.
- Crimson Peak has Thomas and Lucille Sharpe, who live in a crumbling mansion and have completely run out of money in their quest to make the estate profitable.
- Survivors had almost everyone dealing with this. Though being a post-apocalyptic world means money isn't relevant, due to the much smaller population (estimated as 1:5000 people surviving) it's relatively easy to locate and take over empty estates or farms. However, maintaining the land and buildings with small numbers and little technology requires the majority of the characters' time and effort.
- Marvel Comics' Black Knight runs into this issue; he inherits his British family's ancestral castle, but since he was a former run-of-the-mill American physicist before doing so (i.e. not Tony Stark or Reed Richards caliber), he doesn't really make enough money to keep up with the property costs. This then gets worse when he's turned into a statue for a lengthy period of time, to the point where his friend Victoria Bentley who actually is wealthy and lives nearby, has to use some of her wealth to help him out. When she ends up being killed down the line, the Black Knight finally turns the castle into a museum, which presumably finally solves the whole finances matter.
- Truth in Television: There used to be a rumor that one of the colleges of the University of Cambridge owned a large amount of land but was perpetually bankrupt, because it had been unwise enough to enter into a great number of 99 year leases in 1910, when real estate was a quite a bit cheaper and money was worth a great deal more. As a result, the college would regularly get checks for five pounds, ten pounds or other ridiculously low amounts from the lucky leaseholders of properties that should have been paying "ground rents" of thousands of times higher than that. note
- The Everglots in Corpse Bride describe themselves as "land rich bankrupt aristocracy." They fit the European version of this trope to a T.
- Truth in Television: cross between European and Russian examples in modern Romania. During the last 10 years of the Communist era, a large percent of the population migrated from countryside to industrial (now ghost-) towns and left behind country houses, while the property bubble of the 2000s drove the prices of major city real estate to the sky, while few if any natives had anything to do with farmland. So at this moment land in the countryside is quite literally dirt-cheap and a lot of otherwise poor people own significant acres of land. As a side effect, when natives worked well-paid jobs in Western Europe, they could raise huge, kitschy and mansion-like houses at home with only a few thousands of dollars to boot.note
- An unusual application of the same concept: in Rogue Trader, while most of the eponymous Intrepid Merchants are well into the Fiction 500, it's possible to start out as a Trader that has extremely low Profit Factor (a measure of their wealth, liquidity, and contacts) because their resources all tied up in their Mile-Long Ship. Since most Rogue Trader warrants are dynastic in nature, and the spaceships are so huge and long-lived that they pass from owner to owner, the ship in question is typically an inheritance, one of the few tangible assets left to a dynasty fallen on hard times. Of course, the upside is, it's a seriously Cool Starship that outstrips anything else the players could reasonably expect to start with.
- In Sea Lord John Rossendale has inherited the title of Earl of Stowey after his older brother committed suicide. The inheritance consists of the Stowey Manor and a very large tax debt. The family hopes to pay off the debt by selling a Van Gogh painting they own but it disappears under mysterious circumstances. Fed up with the situation and unwilling to sacrifice the rest of his life to care for a piece of land, John leaves England and sails the world for the next four years. When his mother dies, he finally returns home and tries to deal with the mess once and for all.
- Noël Coward tackled the topic in The Stately Homes of England.
The stately homes of England, how beautiful they stand
To prove the upper classes maintain the upper hand
Though the fact that they have to be rebuilt
And frequently mortgaged to the hilt
Is inclined to take the gilt
Off the gingerbread and certainly damps the fun
Of the eldest son
Still we won't be beaten, we'll scrimp and scrape and save
The playing fields of Eton have made us frightfully brave
And although the Van Dycks have to go and we've pawned the Bechstein Grand
We'll stand by the stately homes of England
- Gabriel Knight: The Ritter family is a textbook example. Wolfgang Ritter, the last of the line, is severely in arrears on property tax on Schloss Ritter, and can only afford to actually use about five rooms in the immense castle. Gerde mentions that Wolfgang's pride is partly to blame; he could have made at least some money by holding tours or leasing it to film productions, but Wolfgang preferred to let the castle slide into ruins to allowing outsiders to romp around his ancestral home, which, considering the importance of the castle, the artifacts there and the Schattenjäger line and rituals, might not have been a bad call. After the events of the first game Gabriel inherits the castle from his uncle Wolfgang, and uses the money from his book and what he stole from the Voodoo Cartel to pay the back taxes and begin repairs and restoration.
- In The Money Pit, the protagonists buy a Big Fancy House for a huge discount — and the repairs become a HerculeanTask.
- In the war movie / comedy Father Goose, Cary Grant is a drifter/former teacher sailing around Southeast Asia who has pretty much nothing but his boat and a two hundred dollar debt. He gets coerced into joining the British as a coastwatcher when old friend and Royal Navy officer Trevor Howard threatens to confiscate the boat.
- Helen Hayes plays this role in Herbie Rides Again.
- In Spaced Invaders, the trope is played so straight it's funny.
- In Mildred D. Taylor's YA novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and its sequels, which are set in Mississippi during the Depression, the fact that the black Logan family owns its own land gives them relative freedom and dignity compared to the other black families in the area, who are all sharecroppers and thus totally beholden to the people whose land they live on and farm. (Truth in Television for the era, obviously — after Reconstruction, the sharecropping/tenant farming system that set it was in some ways practically indistinguishable from slavery.)
- To the Manor Born is a Brit Com about the relationship between a downwardly mobile noblewoman and the nouveau-riche businessman who bought her family estate.
- In King of the Hill its revealed that Bill's family is a land poor family with a European touch to it, they used to be wealthy plantation owners, but modern times have reduced their income to near nothing causing the family to live alone in a large manor with no servants and likely a rising debt.
- In Michael Connelly's book The Lincoln Lawyer, it's revealed that Mickey Haller bought his home ignoring maintenance costs. He believes bail bondsman Fernando Valenzuela wouldn't accept it as collateral for a five-thousand-dollar debt.
- Magnificent Obsession: The Phillips family seems to be wealthy, owning a huge house on the shore of Lake Tahoe, as well as a hospital. Yet when Dr. Phillips dies his wife Helen is unpleasantly surprised to find out that the rather excessively generous Dr. Phillips gave away literally all of their money, leaving Helen broke.
- Truth in Television The fate of James Madison's Montpelier estate. The plantation switched from tobacco to wheat as a cash crop since the former depleted the soil too much. However, when the switch was made wheat grown in the newly opened Midwestern states began flooding the market. The result was that Dolly was forced to sell the estate after James' death and move to Washington, DC.
- Kagome's family in InuYasha is obviously not unusually wealthy, but they own a house with sheds, a shrine, a well, a huge tree in the backyard as well as the grove surrounding all of the above — in downtown Tokyo. Played straight in that her family has been the shrine's caretakers for centuries — the house is just so that they don't have to live in the shrine itself (which might be disrespectful); the sheds appear to be mostly devoted to things used for the shrine's upkeep and specific ceremonies. As for it being located in downtown Tokyo, it's generally implied (and possibly explicitly stated at some points) that the city grew up around the shrine — it wasn't just built there overnight or anything. The well and the tree were included in the land set aside for the shrine because of superstition and people recalling them as being associated. It's also implied that most of the family's disposable income comes from whatever Kagome's mom might do for a living. The shrine is a tourist attraction and the gift shop brings in a hefty hunk of change, but most of that money goes right back into maintenance and upkeep.
- In Tenchi Muyo!, Tenchi's family owns property that apparently includes a shrine, carrot farm, lake, large wilderness areas, and a Big Fancy House. His father is a professor of architecture, and his Unwanted Harem includes a Super Villain, two princesses, the grandaughter of the chief of the galaxy police, and a super-scientist. Despite this, his family can barely afford to send him to college, and his Unwanted Harem can barely afford to eat even working multiple jobs. The one time he asked one of the princesses to ask her dad for some money, he sent enough gold to destabilize the Earth's economy, which, of course, they had to send back for fear of runaway inflation.
- This is only true for certain versions. The OVA version gives no mention to this trope, nor do any of the girls work.
- On the other hand, It was never shown that they are indeed poor — at most it was used for a couple of offhand jokes about the "Friends" Rent Control. Plus, in the OVA canon Nobuyuki and Tenchi originally lived in their relatively modest house in the city, while Katsuhito lived in his shrine in the countryside. After their house in the city was destroyed by the Unwanted Harem's wacky antics, Nobuyuki has rebuilt it on the shrine grounds in an enlarged form. And, again, all this was in Okayama, where the property values are significantly lower than in Tokyo.
- It is implied that the Masaki Clan were aristocrats in ancient Japan, and Yosho inherited the Shrine and surrounding property from his late wife/cousin, Kasumi Masaki, who held it before. Yosho is also, at least in OVA canon, LITERALLY centuries old. This means that, depending on when Ryoko was sealed, he could predate Okayama, which was founded in 1889!
- The Tendos in Ranma ½ also held a relatively large home in Tokyo, despite having very little means of support (they rent out the dojo and are called to deal with things like supernatural creatures). Downplayed as their dojo is in Nerima, which is a border district and was mainly farmland in the past. Up to this day it still has the largest proportion of farmland among all of Tokyo's special wards, and thus the property value isn't on the general Tokyo level. So the large estates aren't all that unusual for the neighborhood, even if it's decidedly middle-class.
- Example from outside Japan: in The Silkworm, the missing novelist Owen Quine is not particularly well off, but he inherited a half-share of a large London house in the days when they were much, much cheaper. The co-owner, Quine's bitter rival, refuses to sell, even though the house is empty. Ownership of the house has so little impact on the Quines' lives that Quine's wife doesn't even think to tell Cormoran Strike about it at first, but it becomes a major plot point because it's a perfect place to hide.
- The Sparrow Clan of Legend of the Five Rings is in an odd position — despite being a minor Clan, they own some of the richest and most fertile land in all of Rokugan. And, due to a rather extraordinary political debacle involving a poorly received poem, they are not allowed to farm any of it, by Imperial edict.