McMansions: The End of an Era

McMansions, large homes built for the purpose of having a large home, may be gradually exiting the American landscape.

“McMansions,” the derogatory name given to overly-large, mass-produced suburban homes, were as much a feature of the housing boom as subprime loans and credit default swaps, with new developments of such homes seemingly springing up wherever land was available.

But as a recent piece on Atlantic Cities points out, the McMansions were the end result of a 50 year trend towards bigger and bigger single-family homes, with the average square feet for such a property increasing from 983 to a mammoth 2300 in the 2000s, even as household sizes continued to decrease.

But no longer. Despite being several decades in the making, the peak for American home sizes may have been reached, if a preponderance of recent data is any indicator.

One such study was conducted by MLS site Trulia, which found that not only had the median “ideal home size” for Americans declined to 2100 square feet, but that a third of the study’s respondents reported an ideal home size of 1400 to 2000 square feet.

As the writer of the Atlantic Cities piece, Kaid Benfield, points out, that finding is consistent with recent work by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the 2010 U.S. Census. In the latter study, the average U.S. size was 2,169 square feet, down from 2007’s peak of 2,277. And according to the NAHB, the downsizing trend will outlive the economic recession, and homes will continue to decrease in size even as incomes and the GDP grow.

A National Association of Realtors (NAR) article, “Are Home Sizes Finally Done Shrinking?,” reinforces that point. Citing data from the American Institute of Architects, the article reported that nearly 60 percent of architects surveyed in 2010’s first quarter reported home sizes declining; in the first quarter of 2011, 52 percent reported smaller home sizes.

Benfield concludes his piece with an interesting bit of relativity – even with the recent declines in U.S. home sizes, Uncle Sam’s residences are still extravagant by international standards. According to a chart compiled by the BBC, the U.S. had the largest average floor space in its homes at 214 , with Australia coming in at second at 206 (and Australia, coincidentally, is grappling with its own housing downturn). After that, the average floor space plummets to 137 for Denmark, 113 for France and bottoms out at just 76 in the United Kingdom.