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The Great Debate: Large Home vs. Small Home

by Stephanie Sims

There has been much debate and several contradicting studies over whether Americans want large homes or tiny homes, or whether or not they want McMansions to rise yet again. While many buyers found appeal in smaller, less expensive homes during the recession, now that the economy is coming back, buyers are now reconsidering their options and leaning towards larger homes. According to the Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends report in July 2013, 27 percent of buyers opted for homes sized 1,501 to 2,000 square feet, which was the most popular option among all buyers; the second most popular, at 24 percent, was for homes 2,001 to 2,500 square feet.

“Buyers are looking to own the largest home they can afford, which is a departure from the conservative nature in recent years,” said Rebekka Koehl, vice president of marketing for Ryland Homes. “Those who have the resources are choosing to purchase a larger home with amenities such as extra deep basements and garage additions that suit a renewed interest in lifestyle and entertainment preferences at home. We continually adjust our floor plans to meet buyer demands and have focused on increasing the livability and efficiency of our homes to meet this need.”

From the early ’80s to 2007, the median square footage of new single-family homes rose from 1,500 square feet to roughly 2,250 square feet. When the housing bubble popped and new home construction declined, home sizes fell to their lowest median square footage since 2003, a median of 2,100 square feet. However, with new home construction picking up steam and consumer demand for housing soaring, median home size is back on the rise.

When it comes to homebuyers, the emphasis seems to not be on the size of the homes themselves, but rather, on how the home can fit the hombuyers’ lifestyle. Cheryl Bonk, vice president of sales and marketing for M/I Homes, says that there is more of a focus on the design and layout of a home instead of the actual square footage. For example, a large kitchen with high-end finishes within a home with less square footage is more preferable than a larger home with a so-so layout.

“Big space with little design or function has not been a preference for the past few years,” she says.

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficient and green appliances are big on homebuyers’ lists of must-haves in a home, whether the home is new construction or not. The Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends report also found that environmental concerns proved important, with 39 percent of homebuyers in 2013 citing concern for heating/cooling costs, and 37 percent citing concern for commuting costs. When homes are on the larger side, the heating/cooling costs can get expensive, unless there are energy-efficient features in the home; think about what it costs to heat and cool a 3,000-square-foot behemoth. Many homebuyers forget about this important cost, and even home improvement projects such as repainting the exterior, replacing the roof or changing the flooring cost more because of the size of these homes.

The good news,though, is that with new construction homes on the market currently is that many of them have the energy-efficient technology that is the most relevant, helping homebuyers keep costs down.

“New homes built today have gone through at least two energy code changes in the last five years, so a new home built five to 10 years ago is, technically, already dated in terms of efficiency compared with new homes built today, further reducing home energy costs,” says Todd Warshauer, director of sales and marketing for William Ryan Homes. “Home automation and technology has advanced exponentially in recent years to the level of new homes being controlled by a smart device within the home and away from the home.”

Homebuyers would be smart to invest in energy efficiency now so they don’t have to later, as well; energy-efficient appliances are a highly desirable feature in any home.

“Our 100 percent Energy Star rating is a sought-after feature in each of our homes,” Bonk says. “All buyers appreciate this feature, not only for the savings, but for the environmentally responsible message it sends.”

Room Readjustment

In 2012, 41 percent of newly built homes had at least four bedrooms, according to the Census Bureau, which is the highest share on record; this is quite a contrast from the late ‘80s, when only 20 percent of new homes featured that many bedrooms. Furthermore, 30 percent of new single-family homes in 2012 featured at least three bathrooms, also a new high and a considerable increase from 1987, when just over 10 percent of homes had three or more bathrooms.

While certain rooms are growing in number, some rooms are phasing out altogether (formal living rooms, for example), which can make certain homes and floor plans feel more open and bigger than they actually are.

“Builders and developers are offering more ‘flex space’ in their homes to maximize square footage, whether it be a study, play room, pocket offices or in-law suite arrangements,” Warshauer says. “Space needs to be utilized to the fullest, versus designing to a specific room count like 10 to 15 years ago.”

“For those seeking a maintenance-free lifestyle, we’ve seen a significant increase in three-bedroom townhomes,” Koehl says. “The shift in these market dynamics reflect longer term commitments buyers are making to accommodate family needs or added resale value.”

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