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Cover story: Economy calls for smaller, not lesser, homes
Question of the Day
Twin concerns about affordability and energy efficiency are driving the trend in new-home design toward smaller homes, according to industry experts. While prospective homebuyers still want specific amenities in newly constructed homes, such as a family room, a spacious kitchen and an elegant master bath, they also are willing to give up or downsize some rooms for the benefit of a more affordable price.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) survey of homebuilders, designers, architects, manufacturers and marketing specialists, “The New Home in 2015,” reveals that respondents think the average single-family home will shrink to 2,152 square feet in 2015, a decrease of approximately 10 percent from the average single-family home completed in 2010, which is 2,392 square feet.
“To put this in perspective, the peak home size so far was in 2007 at 2,521 square feet,” said Stephen Melman, director of economic services for NAHB. “In 1973, the average new home was 1,660 square feet. The real story is that for the past 35 years, new homes got larger every year, except when they hit a plateau during recessions. The question is whether this time it is different.
“Our members think home sizes will continue to shrink because of energy costs. People want to have a home they can afford and one they can afford to heat.”
Mr. Melman said other factors influencing smaller home sizes include the prevalence in the market of first-time homebuyers, who tend to start with smaller homes, and baby boomers who are becoming empty-nesters needing less space.
While it takes time to design and build new homes, many builders already have introduced smaller model homes as part of their collection of home designs.
“Architects and designers have been careful to keep the elements of a home that matter most to buyers, so while homes are a bit smaller, they are also better designed,” Mr. Melman said. “In some cases, designers are using fewer interior walls, adding more windows and increasing the size of the family room, great room or kitchen in order to meet the lifestyle requirements of buyers. In order to make some spaces larger, they need to eliminate the living room or the fifth bedroom upstairs.”
At K. Hovnanian Homes, new single-family home models are available in some communities with 1,500 to 1,600 square feet, and in some active-adult communities designs start at 1,100 square feet.
“Home sizes depend a lot on the area, and in many places we are still offering large homes because there is demand for them,” said Dee Minich, group senior vice president of sales and marketing for K. Hovnanian Homes. “In some cases, we are offering smaller single-family homes geared to first-time buyers to compete with town homes.”
Ms. Minich said that while some rooms are getting smaller, buyers still want large kitchens, great rooms and family rooms.
“In some of our smaller homes, we have taken out the living room and converted it to a library,” Ms. Minich said. “Some buyers want the option of extending the library and adding an adjacent full bath so that the room can someday be used as a first-floor bedroom.”
Ms. Minich said the space added by eliminating the living room often is used for a bigger kitchen.
“A lot of buyers want the option of expanding the center island in the kitchen because when people entertain, they like having a seating area in the kitchen and extra counter space. Plus, this adds more homework space for the kids.”
At Van Metre Homes, smaller and more energy-efficient homes have been introduced with a living room that buyers can convert into a study rather than having both a living room and study on the first floor.
“We’ve found that buyers don’t want the upkeep or the cost of heating a bigger home,” said Krista Peterson, director of marketing and design center for Van Metre Homes. “We’re using flexible space on the upper level for a retreat for homework or a reading corner with the option of closing it off for a fifth bedroom.”
By Matt Kibbe
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