Welcome to the Kleber & Associates blog! Decline of Average Home Sizes Continues to Spur Debate: A First-Hand Account from a Home’s “Chief Purchasing Officer(SM)”.  Here’s the latest…
By Jill Levenson

Our latest K&A e-blast regarding diminishing average home size provided some statistics on the changing real estate market and its connection to the building and remodeling industries. The real thesis was that we, at K&A, expect many American homes to be full of more creature comforts than their earlier counterparts. While the article was chock full of interesting demographic data, I think some additional psychographic research is a vital piece of the puzzle as we seek to understand this trend.

As an Art Director at K&A, my market research doesn’t just happen in the office. I recently purchased my first home, which I suppose makes me a young-ish example of the female “chief purchasing officers” we’ve been talking about. So, in the spirit of research, let’s consider what follows to be an experiment in self-ethnography – a quick review of the thoughts that crossed my mind when it came to making the final decision to purchase.

To me, the definition of a “McMansion” which I hope we agree has decidedly negative connotations, is more about a home’s size in comparison to the land lot it occupies than it is about the size of the home alone. The trend here in Atlanta, specifically regarding infill housing, has been to put the largest home possible on a tiny little piece of land. I think people who buy these homes want maximum living space with the minimum cost in terms of landscaping and maintenance.

In the grander sense, I think the McMansion phenomenon also shows how the people who buy and live in these homes value their quality time with the outdoors. (I mean, honestly, how do you host a barbecue on a 5′ x 5′ patch of grass?) Driving around town, I am truly disgusted when I see the tracts of land that have been clear-cut to make way for these kinds of infill developments. I would be ecstatic to see this trend reverse itself, with homes being more in proportion to the land they occupy and with yards dotted with mature trees. I’m certainly not the first person to criticize a lot of the infill housing I’ve seen around town.
The trend towards greener housing is one factor affecting the decline in average home size that we haven’t yet taken into account. Besides only wanting to pay for square footage they will actually use day to day, (seen in the trend towards more open floor plans, fewer separate formal dining and sitting rooms, and more en suite bathrooms, etc.), people are realizing that their decision to protect their own pocketbook can also be beneficial for their whole community.

Two-thousand square feet is plenty of living space for the average nuclear American family (whatever that means anymore) and most information I can find on green living suggests that anything above that limit for a single family is automatically considered “un-green” no matter how green the building materials and home fixtures. In fact, I think anything over 3,000 square feet automatically fails LEED certification – a major issue many people had with the EcoManor recently built in Buckhead.

Another trend, especially here in Atlanta, that would certainly affect average home size, is reverse gentrification (which seems to be happening to many American cities at an increasingly rapid pace). In general, in-town housing comes at a premium due to higher density and demand, but, in many cases, it is also necessarily smaller. (Inman Park not included, far as I can tell.) With gas prices still near record highs across the country, many potential homebuyers are looking to move closer to work to save time and money on their commute. So, once again, we see American families making decisions that reduce the strain not only on their own resources, but on the world’s natural resources as well.

For me, I knew that a 2,000 square foot home close to work was:
a) all of the floor space I could possibly need
b) the most I could afford not only in terms of a mortgage payment, but in terms of the time and money I have to spend on upkeep and maintenance

Besides what I’m saving on gas, I have almost two extra hours of free time every day since I moved closer to work. You can’t beat that. But on the issue of yard size, I’ll be the first to say that I wanted to have my cake and eat it, too. I required at least some semblance of a nice backyard for my dog (and, of course, for barbeques), but I also knew that I didn’t want to spend much time or money on landscaping. Hence, I’ve been looking into xeriscaping, bringing me to my next point:

I’m all for these trends and the economy-minded decisions that drive them, however purposeful or inadvertent their effects may be on the gradual movement towards a newer, greener, and more efficient American Dream. And if that means I can afford to install a Mr.Steam steamshower in my smallish master bath, even better.