There is an ad for a mobile phone carrier with a bunch of kids sitting around a table explaining how Bigger is Better. But the days of that thinking in housing may be coming to an end. While I am not suggesting that 150 sq ft homes like they are building in Washington, DC are for everyone, it is clear that many people are now choosing homes that are smaller, rather than going for max square footage, and those smaller homes are likely a good investment:
Arthur C. Nelson, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, has looked carefully at trends in American demographics, construction, house prices, and consumer preferences. In 2006, using recent consumer research, housing supply data, and population growth rates, he modeled future demand for various types of housing. The results were bracing: Nelson forecasts a likely surplus of 22 million large-lot homes (houses built on a sixth of an acre or more) by 2025.
This desire for smaller houses has several reasons, ranging from lifestyle choice to economics and environmental. The next generation of home buyers are showing different priorities than their parents. They have been hit hardest by the recession but rather than still attempting to recreate the lifestyle of their parents, they are thoughtfully choosing options that reduce their commute, need for a car, maintenance costs, in time and money, and eliminating parts of the home (formal living rooms and dining rooms) that they find unnecessary.
Urban buyers are showing a willingness to pay a premium for walkable neighborhoods and alternative transportation options. A study reported in the New York Times showed that for each step up the walkability ladder added nearly $82 per square foot to home values. Interestingly, that same story also stated that each step up the walkability ladder also added $10,000 in average household income. Add to that the cost of commuting just 30 miles a day to work, estimated to be $15,000+ a year and there are some serious benefits to a more walkable home. Since these buyers want shorter, or no, commutes that means they are also looking for homes closer to the city core, usually in areas of higher density and that leads to smaller homes.
But it isn't as clear cut as saying they have to pick a smaller home because it is close to work. They want a smaller, or perhaps a better word is "rightsized" home because the generation raised in McMansions don't find value in useless rooms, hours of mowing and isolation of the suburbs. They are more interested in experiences over square footage, they want green space but don't feel the need to own it, and they want to meet up with friends at the local coffee shop or take the kids to the museum.
These homes also are easier and cost less to maintain. This is the first generation raised to recycle, and they make environmental concerns part of their purchasing decisions. Less square footage to heat, cool adds up to less to spend on utilities and a lower carbon footprint on the earth.
By saving money on commutes and utilities, these buyers are also learning that they can live large in smaller homes. Better finishes, more custom details and less room to have to decorate all let buyers and owners focus on creating beautiful, jewel box homes that are cozier and more unique to the owner. Space has been distributed into wide open layouts that allow for entertaining and socializing without separating guests. Luxury bathrooms and large closets are offset by nooks that act as offices, walls that open or close to combine space and gathering tables that double up for dinner prep and homework. By making homes more flexible these homes are the right scale for just one or two people, and can still work when the whole family comes over.
Finally the best argument for smaller homes comes from the genius of George Carlin. "A house is just a place to put your stuff while you go out and buy more stuff." Personally I want less stuff and so I actually think smaller is better.
Looking for a right-sized new home in Pittsburgh? Hatfield+Home located in Lawrenceville are 14 new homes in a great walkable neighborhood. Check out www.hatfieldandhome.com for more details.
Buying or Selling a home in Pittsburgh? Call Christa Ross from RE/MAX Select Realty, at 724-933-6300 x214 (office) or 724-309-1758 (direct) or visit my website at www.bestpittsburghhomes.com.