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Today’s New Single Family Homes: Building Bigger for a “Forever” Residence

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Published On : 06-16-2014
Author :Brian Toolan

Today’s New Single Family Homes: Building Bigger for a “Forever” Residence

-  Goodbye “McMansion,” Hello, Friendly and “Built-to-Last” -



From the extra bedroom to the unfinished bonus areas, most home buyers in 2013 chose plans that provided plenty of living space for their families – and to enjoy with them.  A new study - U.S. Census Bureau 2013 Characteristics of New Housing - showed that the average size of a new home was a record-setting 2,598 square feet. This figure of almost 2,600 square feet topped 2007’s record of 2,500 square feet. While a casual observer may conclude this represents a return to the “McMansion,” a closer look at the data and the home designs themselves suggests homeowners are building “forever” homes that will accommodate growing families and aging parents or grandparents.


Just this month, the Census Bureau also reported that the average price of a new single-family house sold last year was $324,500 compared with $292,000 in 2012.  Construction is at a five-year high; although the 569,000 new single-family homes built in 2013 are roughly one third the 2006 total of 1,645,000, the numbers are up from 447,000 in 2011. 


Craftsman style home built for today's family.


Floor plans for this Craftsman home (120-2230)  

The one-and-a-half story Craftsman style home (# 120-2230) has four bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, fireplace, Great Room with Cathedral ceiling, eat-in area, kitchen, and floor plans with plenty of flexible space for expansion. 




What other trends came out of the Census Bureau study?


Of the 569,000 single family homes that were completed in 2013, over 90% had air conditioning, and 44% had four bedrooms or more – indicating the increasing popularity of these house plans. Other trends that are observered by the US Census Housing Characteristics survey include:


1.  Homes with two or more stories represented 53% (305,000) of homes completed -- and over 31% (180,000) featured three or more bathrooms.


2.  About half had a floor area of at least 2,400 square feet.


3.  At least two garage bays were in almost 64% (362,000) of homes; and almost 20% (119,000) had three or more garage bays.


Two story house with four bedrooms.

two-story house plan (# 146-1917) with four bedrooms and three garage bays has a simple symmetrical façade. A covered front porch invites family and guests into an open kitchen, Great Room, dining area and a sun room. 


4.  Vinyl siding was used in almost 31% (174,000) of homes; brick in almost 25%(140,000); and almost 22% (123,000) used stucco.


5.  Fireplaces continue to be an attractive choice in new home construction. Homes with one fireplace numbered 45% (256,000); and 6% (34,000) had two or more.


6.  While regional differences continue, 55% (312,000) of homes were built with slab foundations; 29% (166,000) had a full or partial basement; and 16% (91,000) had a crawlspace.


7.  Gas remains the heating system of choice: over 60% (347,000) of homes had a heating system powered by gas; almost 38% (214,000) of homes had a heating system powered by electricity.


8.  Outdoor features continue to be very popular: 63% (361,000) had porches, 53% (301,000) featured patios, and 22% (127,000) had decks.



So has the housing market really turned such a corner that Americans are buying/building bigger? Not exactly...




What do new single-family home buyers want –and plan – for all that space?


Yes, Americans are buying or building bigger homes. But a very distinct difference from pre-crash years and the McMansion era is the focus on family needs instead of the flashy and unnecessary.


For most buyers, an extra bedroom and bathroom are attractive options.  Sometimes, the open floor layout of a bigger home is more attractive and flexible for potential needs. More than a desire for larger homes, the American homeowner is “sizing up” to accommodate family members – from in-laws to aging parents, or adult children who have returned home temporarily. 


Other buyers want something that’s built-to-last – one they can enjoy from their middle years to their senior years.  Instead of a trophy home, they want to build a “forever” residence that’s friendly to a future senior lifestyle – thus the appeal of having a comfortable master suite on the first floor.


One story, four bedroom home with covered porch.    Floor plan for this one-story, four bedroom home.

A one-story four bedroom home with large and comfortable rooms (master suite and Great Room shown below). The spacious floor plan (#123-1004) has two covered porches, sun room, two-and-a-half baths, and guest bedroom. 


Master bedroom.  Living room.



Who can afford these large homes?


Unlike the McMansion era when people bought and flipped properties on a whim because of lax credit and financing requirements, home buyers today generally must have a strong credit rating to secure a mortgage on attractive terms. Those with great credit can afford and choose to buy/build a larger home.


And with the lower interest rates – translating to lower monthly payments – a larger home seems to be more affordable today than in past years. 




Will the average home size keep getting bigger?


Analysts and other housing experts do not expect the “bigger house” trend to continue for a prolonged period.


Two story Craftsman plan (153-1786). European style home with four bedrooms (153-1213).

A two-story Craftsman plan (# 153-1786) with four bedrooms a covered porch, foyer, Great Room, fireplace, kitchen, breakfast and dining rooms. The master suite and study/guest room are on the main level. On the right is a one-and-half story, four-bedroom house plan (#153-1213) with a patio, hearth room, Great Room with French doors that open to a rear grilling porch. 



As the middle/lower end of the market is still struggling to get financing, smaller homes often are not being built in numbers that they once were. But once the housing market opens up, and allows average home buyers and others with lower incomes to weigh in, experts believe there will be a greater demand for smaller and smarter homes around the country.  As credit eases, we may see a trend towards wider diversity of home building – especially homes that cater to new family formations.




Hello, Smart and Friendly Home


Instead of the pretentions of the McMansions, the new and bigger homes are all about family needs.  The focus is on who and how many live in these four-bedroom/three or more bathroom households. If aging parents or in-laws are with the family, then they build a bedroom on the main floor; or renovate/repurpose space to add living quarters that are comfortable, cozy and pleasing.


Even the increase in outdoor features like porches, patios, and decks indicate the appeal of socializing and interacting with each other within the home’s open spaces.


With all the emphasis on family, quality time and permanence, there is reason to believe that American home buyers in 2013 are looking to live in their homes through their senior years --- and perhaps, even hand them down to the next generation.


Now, that’s the “forever” concept!




The table below provides an overview of the 2013 Housing Characteristics:


Key New Housing Characteristics:









# single family houses completed (1,654,000 in 2006 completed)




2-story (includes 1 ½ story)




Bedrooms: 4 or more




Bedrooms: 3




Median Heated/Finished Square Feet




Average Heated/Finished Square Feet




1 or more fireplaces




Foundation: Slab




Foundation: Full/Partial Basement




Bathrooms: 2 ½ or more




Bathrooms: 3 or more




Garage Bays: 2




Garage Bays: 3 or more




Financing: Cash




Financing: Conventional


Regional Trends in Single Family Homes: Size, Price and Design Features Vary
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