After two years of gradual declines, the typical new home is growing in size again. But an analyst at the Washington, D.C.–based National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) warns against thinking the trend toward downsizing has ended.
In 2007, the average size of a new house peaked at 2,520 square feet (234.3 sq m), ending a decades-long march toward ever-larger homes, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Since then, the average has fallen to 2,377 feet (221.0 sq m). But Uncle Sam counts only completed houses.
And another gauge—this one a survey conducted by the NAHB of housing starts—shows that the average size was 2,381 square feet (221.4 sq m) at the end of last year versus 2,367 (220.1 sq m) in 2009. The increase is minor: just 14 square feet (1.3 sq m), hardly the size of a small walk-in closet. But Rose Quint, the NAHB’s assistant vice president of survey research, says her December study is a “much more timely” indicator than the government’s. And another study also suggests that houses may be growing once again.
According to a poll conducted by Better Homes & Gardens (BH&G) of 2,000 readers last December, consumers “are starting to give themselves permission to dream about a new home again.” Of greater importance, editorial director Jill Waage says that “for the first time in several years,” people are “actually considering houses that are slightly larger than their existing home.”
However, Quint says it’s too early to read any significance into the increase in house size. For one thing, the gain is highly regional. “It’s not a national phenomenon,” she says, noting that the increase is limited to the South and Midwest. The average size continues to fall in the Northeast and West. For another, a second NAHB survey of a core group of builders, also in December, found that most are building smaller and less expensive models this year than last.
Furthermore, three out of four respondents to a larger, “very broad survey” of builders, architects, manufacturers, and allied professionals believe that homes will be smaller in 2015. How small? The average is expected to measure 2,152 square feet (200.1 sq m)
Areas of the home likely to decrease as a total share of overall space are the entry foyer, living room, and dining room, Quint says. Also less likely to be included in the typical house four years from now are a third bedroom, a dining room, a living room and a second master suite.
Houses have shrunk during previous downturns, however, only to bounce back as larger products once the market improves. And Waage, who is in charge of home content for the nation’s largest home-enthusiast magazine, thinks it could happen again. Four out of ten readers said they are looking to increase the total size of their homes next time they buy. Not by much—only 50 square feet (4.6 sq m) or so—but, the BH&G editor says, “They are dreaming again.”