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American appetite for big homes is falling

Trulia released some very compelling charts and graphs based on opinion research suggesting the demise of the McMansion — the huge, mass-produced housing form associated with sprawl. That’s an encouraging sign for policy makers considering new options for smaller, greener homes inside the city in existing single-family neighborhoods.

Their data, together with the drop in lot sizes for single-family homes points to a slackening in the demand for homes with lots of square footage. While this likely doesn’t mean a mass exodus of people from exurbs into tiny houses inside urban growth boundaries, it is a promising trend in tastes and economics that will benefit smart growth in Seattle. Let’s check out the charts and graphs.Here’s one that shows the evolution of American home preference from the 1950s to the present. House size exploded from an average of 983 square feet to more than twice that — 2,330 square feet today:
Chart.
Images: TruliaBut it appears from Trulia’s research that American’s are shifting their expectations about the size of their homes. This chart shows the American’s ideal home size now:

Chart.

Less than 10 percent of Americans consider the McMansion — defined by Trulia as 3,200 square feet or larger — as being the ideal home size. Not all big houses are McMansions, however. Trulia is talking here about big houses, all built at once, and sprawling out. It’s the kind of housing form you’d expect in, say, Texas. But a story on CNBC had these two paragraphs:

Diane Cheatham, owner of Urban Edge Developers in Dallas, said today, the average size of home they’re building is 2,200 square feet, down from 2,500 in 2005 — which was considered small for Dallas back then.

She said the trend there is more toward building green homes instead of big homes. Right now, they’re building a 1,200-square-foot uber-green home for a couple that’s downsizing from 3,000-square feet, Cheatham explained.

And here we were thinking everything was bigger in Texas. There isn’t any clear consensus about why this is happening, though it seems certain that the economy — and unemployment in particular — has a role:

 

Chart.

 

But  as the economy recovers, we know density and smaller homes are better than mega houses connected by vast networks of highways. What if we made the best of this situation by creating some policies to make it more economical to live inside urban growth boundaries?

That’s why finalizing small lot legislation in Seattle is so important. Legislation that was passed last year to resolve the “emergency” about development of historic lots is actually a great opportunity to collaboratively address issues with new housing in single-family neighborhoods. There is a growing demand for smaller, more efficient homes and Seattle should be ready to build them.

This post adapted from a post written by the author that originally appeared at Sightline’s Daily Score blog.

Image from Blueprint Capital

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