What Is The Average Square Footage Of A House? A Guide To House Size
March 21, 2023 6-minute read
Author: Victoria Araj
Like so many things in the U.S., American houses are big. Additionally, home sizes have increased dramatically over the last 50 years. Let’s walk through a brief history of home size:
In 1973, the earliest year for which U.S. Census data is currently available, the average size of a house in the U.S. was 1,660 square feet. By 2015, the average square footage of a home increased to a whopping 2,687 square feet, although since then, it’s begun to drop. In 2021, the average square footage of a single-family home fell to 2,273 square feet.
Now let’s learn more about why American homes are so big, the drawbacks of having more square footage and what home buyers should consider when it comes to home size.
Why Are US Houses So Big?
There are several forces shaping the demand for larger homes in the United States. Let’s take a look at some.
Larger Houses Aren’t Much More Expensive To Build
From a builder’s point of view, the materials needed to create additional square footage is a small percentage of the overall costs of building a new house. Upping the square footage is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to increase the buyer’s perception of value.
Many communities have passed zoning laws specifying that new homes must have a minimum square footage or sit on a certain size of lot. These laws are aimed at preserving the character of a town or neighborhood and limiting the number of homes to be built, as well as who can afford to buy them.
We like our walk-in closets, laundry rooms, en suite bathrooms and all the other amenities, and as long as we do, larger homes will continue to be built. However, it appears that millennials and Gen Z’ers are less enamored of size for size’s sake and more concerned with affordability and sustainability, prompting the drop in average house size from 2015’s high.
Somewhere along the line, Americans stopped thinking of houses as homes and started to think of them as investment opportunities. The thinking was that the larger the home, the greater its resale potential on the real estate market. This prompted a huge increase in the size of homes that we began to purchase.
How Much House Can I Afford?
How much house you can afford depends on your current life circumstances. But it’s easy to get caught up in thinking that the amount you’ve been preapproved for is an amount you can afford, without considering whether you want that much of your monthly income going toward the monthly mortgage payment.
To identify how much house you think you can comfortably afford, take into account whether you like to eat out, how often you like to travel and to where, and any other lifestyle choices that might impact your ability to pay for a home. If you’re not careful in this self-assessment, you could end up becoming house poor.
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The Drawbacks Of Buying A Home With More Square Footage
As with any home purchase, it’s important to go over the disadvantages in order to figure out what type of home will work best for your lifestyle.
They Are More Expensive To Maintain
The bigger the house, the higher the cost to maintain it. Repairs can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars per year. It all depends on the types of repairs and projects you need to take care of, whether you’re planning on making the repairs yourself or hiring a professional and the average cost of services and materials in your area.
Of course, starter homes tend to be older and therefore can cost more to maintain, so you have to pay close attention to the home inspection report and ask the seller about their maintenance history. But if the home has been renovated and reasonably well-maintained, smaller houses should cost less in upkeep for the homeowner.
They Take More Time To Clean And Maintain
Aside from the cost, larger homes take more time for cleaning and upkeep. With bigger homes comes more bedrooms and bathrooms to vacuum and clean on a regular basis. This type of home upkeep and maintenance can take up a lot of your time.
They Tend To Be Built Farther From Urban Centers
Bigger homes tend to be farther from urban centers, which can drive up transportation costs and commute times.
Some people don’t mind commuting and relish the time they can spend reading on public transportation. Other people hate commuting and think of it as a huge inconvenience that detracts from the time they spend with loved ones. Ask yourself whether the extra square footage in your home makes that time and expense worthwhile for you.
They Have A Bigger Impact On The Planet
It should be no surprise that bigger homes tend to produce higher energy bills. If sustainability is important to you when buying a home, a smaller home with more energy efficient features might be better for your lifestyle. It’s also important to note that more and more homes are equipped with energy efficient features, so it is still possible to buy a large home that runs in a more sustainable way. Be sure to ask about the efficiency of any size home before purchasing it.
They Can Waste Space
Many people confuse good design and functionality with size, figuring that larger houses will – by virtue of size alone – accommodate them more comfortably. However, this is a myth. A thoughtfully designed small home can maximize its space while a large home can waste tons of space.
If you’ve just started looking for a home, pay attention to how rooms flow, whether there are storage built-ins and other space-saving features, and the dimensions of the room and the challenges they present. A wide room may be too narrow for a bed and dresser, or the only logical place to put the couch may cut off part of the room for any practical use. You may find that a smaller home’s dimensions are actually easier to furnish.
How Much House Should You Buy?
Google this question and you’ll find that the answers focus on how much house you can afford. But they aren’t necessarily the same question.
The best advice you’ll get is to add space for two people in common areas for every bedroom in the house. In other words, if you have a four-bedroom house, you should make sure your dining room, living room and family rooms can comfortably seat eight people.
Ask yourself the following questions before deciding on how much and what type of house to buy:
How Long Do You Plan On Living In The Home?
If the answer is forever, you’re going to want to accommodate a wide variety of possibilities in choosing a home – and going bigger might be warranted. But if you’re really not sure you want or need a supersized home, consider buying a starter home versus a forever home, particularly if children aren’t in your immediate plans.
Starter homes tend to be smaller (if it was built in 1973, it would likely be 1,660 square feet) and therefore cheaper to maintain. They also tend to be closer to the urban center, so transportation costs are lower and commute times shorter.
Do You Have Children Now Or Plan On Having Children In The Next 5 Years?
If you have children or plan on starting a family sooner rather than later, you’ll likely be hyper-focused on the quality of the schools and how family-friendly the area is. Those usually come with substantially higher property taxes. If you think children are further off in the future, you might not need to buy enough space for them now.
Is There A Possibility That Elderly Parents Or Other Relatives Might Stay With You For Prolonged Visits, Or Move In With You?
If so, consider the layout of the home and how you might create a private space for your relatives away from your immediate family before assuming more space is the answer. Having bedrooms on different levels and a bathroom for each generation will go a long way toward keeping everyone comfortable and happy.
Are You And Your Spouse Getting Older?
If you and your spouse or partner are growing older together in your home, accessibility and layout are probably more important than square footage. Think about whether a ranch or bungalow-style home, with the master bedroom and common areas on the same floor, might be right for you.
How Much Outdoor Space Will You Use, Realistically?
Bigger houses usually come with bigger yards, and thus, bigger costs in landscaping and maintenance. If you’re moving from an urban area to a suburban one, you may be dreaming of having a yard complete with a giant swing set and room for the dog to run, but will you actually use this space frequently?
The Bottom Line: More Square Footage Isn’t Always Better
There are many factors to consider when buying a home, and lots of pressure to make “the right choice,” as if there is a one-size-fits-all answer to the kind of home you should buy.
Before buying, it’s important to think deeply about what matters to you so you can plan your budget accordingly and then find the home that fits your life. If you’re gearing up for a house hunt, make sure you start the approval process to get the best picture of what you can afford.
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