Housing data over the past decade shows that when it comes to floor plans, bigger is not necessarily better. The size of the average American home took a big hit during the Great Recession, and the trend toward smaller homes is continuing even though the market has recovered, according to Metrostudy data.
In fact, the average home size in the country’s top 15 housing markets has declined over the past two years, with significant dips in Charlotte, N.C., and Washington, D.C., where home sizes diminished by 246 and 122 square feet, respectively. Across the nation’s most desirable residential markets, buyers are opting for less space—and not just in major metro areas such as Los Angeles, New York, and D.C.; the trend includes places like Houston and Dallas, where everything’s supposed to bigger and land is more plentiful.
Thanks to smart design solutions from builders and architects, home buyers don’t have to sacrifice the creature comforts and amenities in order to right-size. “In Charlotte, we are developing smaller designs as a result of higher land costs and reduced lot size, as well as a perceived need for greater demand by millennial, first-time buyers,” says Bob Zweier, president at local home building company Saussy Burbank. “Empty-nesters are also driving demand for open floor plans with master-down and ranch designs that deal efficiently with space.”
For national builders like the TRI Pointe Group, the biggest challenge in responding to the trend has been conceptualizing floor plan arrangements that are more compact, but still allow for the popular features home buyers covet. “In those dense markets, our buyers don’t want to give up any components of a home. They still want the right number of bedrooms,” says Tom Grable, Southern California division president at TRI Pointe Group. “They prefer an open great room—just as long as they don’t have to sacrifice a bedroom or bonus room, such as such home office, to have it.”
Washington, D.C., which recently was named one of 20 finalists—along with its metro area neighbors Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Md.—by retail giant Amazon for its impending new headquarters, could soon be attracting even more new residents to a city that measures just over 68 square miles.
“In urban centers, we are seeing the average unit size shrink, which allows for greater density. Finding ways to maximize efficiency, including creative solutions for storage and inboard bedrooms, allows us to create livable spaces on smaller footprints,” says Toby Millman, president of Ditto Residential, a property developer that has been a pioneer of creating high-occupancy living in D.C.
“Designing for density can be done with elegance and can be as simple as thinking about which direction a door opens. A little ingenuity and exceptional architecture can go a long way,” he says.