Last year, homebuyers decided less is more when it comes to finding a new house.
The average size of newly built homes decreased in 2016, according to research and a recent survey completed by the National Association of Home Builders.
Market analysts point to this as a sign that the home building industry is preparing for the coming wave of first-time buyers as millennials begin to dip their toes into the market. Others say more homebuyers are looking for more manageable homes at a time when the housing inventory is at an all-time low.
In 2015, the typical new home had 2,689 square feet. In 2016, it dropped to 2,634, according to figures supplied by the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s the first drop in size since 2009.
The survey’s data on new home characteristics show 2016 marked the end of an era – which began in 2009 – when homes got bigger with more amenities.
According to those canvassed in the survey, smaller homes must still include specific amenities. A separate laundry room tops the list of must-haves across all income groups. Energy-efficient features, like low-E windows, Energy Star-rated appliances, ceiling fans and programmable thermostats are also at the top of buyers’ wish lists.
Some features not as popular among buyers in 2017 includes cork flooring, geothermal energy, outdoor kitchens and sunrooms.
A majority of homebuyers say they would prefer a new home to an existing house, while 65 percent want that home to be in the suburbs. Size preference goes up as income goes up, with buyers in the $150,000-plus income bracket prefer homes around 2,500 square feet.
No matter how much income they have, more than two-thirds of buyers prefer a smaller house with more features and amenities over sheer size in 2016.
Kate Mood and her friend and business partner downsized this past spring when they moved into a 1,400-square-foot home in Benton Township. They run a medical consulting business called Avalon Case Management Inc. out of their home, where they assist local employers with handling work injuries.
In 2002, the two bought a large house and used their 3,500 square feet as a bed and breakfast. With two homes on the property, they lived in the 1,700-square-foot home next door.
One of the biggest changes for them was downsizing in property. They used to have seven acres, but it became too straining to take care of it all.
Mood said the previous house had rooms they didn’t even use. Living in a suburb on a smaller lot has worked for them so far this summer, she said.
“We were waiting for the right moment to find a smaller house,” Mood said. “We considered downsizing to an RV, but that seemed a bit drastic.”
Surrounded by a culture that watches home improvement reality shows and how-to videos on social media – while also remembering their parents’ experiences in the recession – the study revealed millennials overwhelmingly prefer do-it-yourself projects.
With houses going smaller, amenities for outside living continue to be popular. Survey respondents also are looking for standalone buildings to be used for outdoor entertaining, crafting, reading or as a place to get away.
Mood and her friend moved away from a larger yard and house because of the work that went into it. Mood said it’s something more people will consider in the next few years.
“You talk to more and more people that are working 50 hours a week to pay for this big house,” Mood said. “Who wants to work that many hours for something you don’t even need? I think people want to enjoy life more and not maintain so much. I would personally put my money toward experiences rather than things.”
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