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Right-sizing your next home

Why less square footage is proving to be an increasingly popular trend

By Erik J. Martin - CTW Features

“Less is more,” it has often been said. While that may not be true of meal portions, mobile data plans, or income tax refunds, it’s a philosophy increasingly embraced by home buyers seeking smaller footprints.

For proof, digest this data: The average newly built home shrunk from 2,689 square feet in 2015 to 2,576 square feet in 2018, based on U.S. Census Bureau numbers. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) suggests an even more aggressive shrink, with the average size of new houses dropping for the third consecutive year in 2018, down from 2,500 square feet three years earlier to 2,320 square feet last year.

Why the push toward a more diminutive domicile? Gen Y is the primary reason, says Dan Cosgrove, agent with Revolution Realty, LLC in Boston.

“In my experience, the median size of home that millennials buy is about 1,800 square feet, which is about 200 square feet smaller than Gen X or the baby boomers,” he says. “Part of the reason for this is that around 50 percent of millennials are strapped with student loan debt. They’re sacrificing some square footage to keep things within budget.”

Rose Sklar, affiliated agent in Weston, Florida with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, also believes that many younger buyers today value experience and flexibility over possessions, making them less prone to cash in all their chips for a long-term home.

“They’re opting for less square footage because it allows them more freedom with their now disposable income to experience moments and travel, which they prioritize,” says Sklar. “They seem to like more compact homes with creative solutions for space and tend to live leaner with more of a focus on who they are, not what they own. Plus, millennials are trending toward smaller families and getting married later, so they don’t need a large space.”

Keep in mind, also, that boomers (many of whom are empty nesters commonly looking to downsize) and Gen Y often vie for the same smaller homes, further skewing the average square footage lower.

“Note, too, that millennials like to live in or closer to the city in order to reduce their commute and live in a lively neighborhood,” Cosgrove adds. “They’re often prone to buy in an area experiencing regentrification, where houses and buildings are being restored but are space constrained because the areas are land locked.” But it’s not just twenty- and thirty-somethings who are leaning toward less square footage.

“Many buyers across age groups are looking to make less of a carbon footprint. And they want to enjoy life more without being a slave to their home and their yards on weekends. Bigger isn’t always better — people realize the more house you have, the more the upkeep,” says Valerie Burmester, broker with Marketplace Sotheby’s International Realty in Redmond, Washington.

The experts agree that 2,320 to 2,576 square feet — the aforementioned average home size today — works fine for most buyers without having to make major sacrifices. “It’s a great match for singles, couples, or even families of up to four people maximum,” Sklar notes.

Remember, too, that the residence you purchase or own now doesn’t have to be your forever home.

“Buying a house is not a permanent thing, so don’t think that what you’re looking for has to match all your needs,” says Cosgrove, who cites an Inc. article published in 2017 that reports the average millennial lives in a given home for only six years and that only 11 percent of Gen Y consider their home to be permanent.

What’s the right size for you?

“Consider your current needs but always look to the future,” suggests Burmester. “Younger buyers may want to consider if and when they’ll be having children. And older couples who are downsizing may want to set an extra room aside for visiting grandchildren or guests.”