Real Estate Consulting & Sales | Residential + Commercial

How much space is too much?

Another good article about the future of home sizes in America.  Home buyers continue to reflect on how much space they really need as home sizes are shrinking again after decades of square footages increases.  Ironcially the family size in America has decreased while home sizes have increased substantially.  It will be interested to see how household sizes fared between 2000 and 2010 when the next census data is revealed.  Speculation is that household sizes have increased during this recession. 

By KIM PALMER, Star Tribune 

Great rooms. McMansions. Jumbo mortgages. The American home — and everything associated with it — got supersized during the housing boom. Big was good. Bigger was better. Biggest was best of all.

Not anymore. Now the B-word carries less cachet and more baggage. Home furnishings forecaster Michelle Lamb of the Trend Curve has noticed the change. “There’s been a great and discernible shift away from words that describe scale and toward words that describe appointments and quality,” she said.

A huge house, once a status symbol, now symbolizes risk and high overhead to many buyers. “There’s so much more concern about very big homes,” said Robert Lang, director of Brookings Mountain West, University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “People used to buy as much house as they could afford. Now they’re saying, ‘Even if I could buy that, do I really want to?'”

After decades of beefing up, the American home itself is going on a diet. The average size of new single-family homes completed in 2009 dropped to a nationwide average of 2,438, about 100 square feet smaller than 2007, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Some say it’s about time.

“We were bloated,” said Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. “It made architects cringe, there was so much wasted space. There’s a shift back to ‘What do I really need?’ vs. ‘What will impress my neighbors?'”

The recession is obviously a major factor, noted John Archer, chairman of the U’s Cultural Studies Department and author of “Architecture and Suburbia.” But two longer-term trends are likely to keep house size down even after the economy picks up, he said, citing the influence of architect Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big House” philosophy and the green movement.

Susanka’s books “piggybacked on the distaste people developed for McMansions,” Archer said. “People started to latch on to a different aesthetic, that bigger was not better, that quality of life does not mean large volumes of space.”

Going green is partly an economic decision, Fisher noted. Smaller houses cost less to heat and cool, and that’s reducing not just square footage but cubic footage as well. “We’re moving away from 2 1/2-story great rooms — they’re so inefficient.”

But Archer, for one, thinks home size will continue to moderate. “I don’t doubt that once people get richer, they’ll want bigger, but we’ll see a broader spectrum, not a wholesale tilt back.”

Fewer monster homes

Even those who can still afford supersized homes are scaling down, according to David Bieker, owner of Denali Custom Homes. “As recently as a couple years ago, we were getting a lot more requests for 7,000-square-foot homes,” he said. “When the economy crunched, we started getting more [requests for] 4,000- to 6,000-square-foot homes.”

Right now, tight lending standards are a contributor, he said. “The availability of money is dictating the size of homes. People who want to build $1.5 million homes are building $995,000 homes.”

He thinks the shift will be permanent. “Selling in the past was done on square footage: If you had more square footage, it was worth more.”

But the trend is toward valuing quality over volume. “There’s new thinking with the new economy. People are being more realistic about what they need.”

When Alchemy Architects debuted its weeHouse concept (small, prefabricated dwellings) in 2003, it was a novelty. But weeHouses now represent half of Alchemy’s business, according to Geoffrey Warner, principal architect. “It’s fueled our practice,” he said. “A home may be one’s castle, but is the goal really to have a castle? For most people, when they talk about their favorite rooms, it’s generally smaller spaces.”


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