Goodbye Bathtub and Living Room. America’s Homes Are Shrinking.
Kanebridge News
Share Button

Goodbye Bathtub and Living Room. America’s Homes Are Shrinking.

Faced with high mortgage rates, cost-constrained Americans are embracing smaller homes

Wed, Aug 23, 2023 8:20amGrey Clock 3 min

For many Americans, homeownership may be attainable only if they give up a dining room.

Home prices are near record highs, frustrating millions of potential buyers who feel priced out of the housing market. Home builders are having to find ways to make their product more affordable to increase their pool of customers.

Shrinking the size of a new single-family home is an increasingly popular way to do it. Smaller homes can help cost-constrained buyers facing high mortgage rates. They also boost the bottom line for builders who are contending with spiralling labour and construction costs.

Since 2018, the average unit size for new housing starts has decreased 10% nationally to 2,420 square feet, according to Livabl by Zonda, a listing platform for new construction homes. Construction starts for new single-family homes declined in 2022. But starts for homes with fewer than three bedrooms increased 9.5% over the same period, according to a Zillow report.

Home sizes are shrinking the most in some of the hotter markets of previous years. The Seattle area, where the size of newly built homes is 18% smaller than it was five years ago, tops the list. New homes in Charlotte, N.C., and San Antonio shrank by 14%, Livabl by Zonda said.

Most builders and architects follow the same basic playbook to produce tighter, more efficient living spaces. They are axing dining areas, bathtubs and separate living rooms. Secondary bedrooms and loft spaces are shrinking and sometimes disappearing.

At the same time, they are increasing the size of multiuse rooms like kitchens and great rooms. Shared spaces like bunk rooms and jack-and-jill bathrooms, which are located between and shared by two bedrooms, are on the rise. In some cases, the kitchen island has become the only eating area in the home.

Estridge Homes, a semi-custom new-home builder that operates near Indianapolis, recently launched a new neighbourhood concept with detached homes 300 to 500 square feet smaller and $50,000 to $75,000 cheaper than it typically builds.

The builder is slashing some bedrooms and bathrooms and trading some indoor living space for outdoor space. Lots in the neighbourhood are smaller too, but the builder is working with limited acreage by landscaping to create privacy.

Home buyers began moving in earlier this year, and demand has been strong from both entry-level buyers and empty-nesters.

Those two groups “are both big demographics,” said Clint Mitchell, chief executive at Estridge. “They kind of want the same thing.”

In December, Brad and Julie Redman downsized from their more-than 7,000 square-foot custom-built home to a 3,400 square-foot semi-custom model in Westfield, Ind., after their children left home.

Despite the smaller house and yard in a denser neighbourhood, the couple is happy with the decision. They gave up a formal dining area when they moved, but their new eating area easily converts to space for entertaining guests.

“We can use the same space for more than one thing,” Julie Redman said.

Shrinking homes are also beginning to reshape the furniture market. Companies like Bob’s Discount Furniture are creating designs suited to tighter spaces. Demand has increased for items with multiple functions, from kitchen islands with drawers and wine racks to sleeper sofas and smaller, drop-leaf dining tables, said Carol Glaser, executive vice president of merchandising at Bob’s Discount Furniture.

“If they are in smaller homes,” she said of her customers, “they need their furniture to work harder.”

Still, even smaller homes won’t make a big enough dent in the purchase price for most entry-level buyers or provide an answer to the nation’s severe housing shortage. Estridge’s semi-custom homes and townhomes, for example, still range in price between $400,000 and $800,000.

The share of new home projects priced below $400,000 has declined in nearly every major home-building metro since 2018, according to Livabl by Zonda. For entry-level buyers across the nation, the cost of owning a home increased 72% from February 2020 to May 2023, according to an analysis by John Burns Research and Consulting that estimates monthly payments, maintenance and other costs of ownership.

And the smaller floor plans usually mean that buyers are getting less space for their dollar. Lower list prices might make the overall price cheaper, but buyers are still paying more a square foot, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Inflation-adjusted cost a square foot increased about 2.5% on average between 2012 and 2020. In both 2021 and 2022, it increased nearly 4%, according to John Burns Research and Consulting.

Builders have also ramped up activity for other cost-saving methods, like starting home construction off-site and building more attached homes. In Lexington, S.C., buyers are willing to share a wall with a neighbor when it saves thousands and makes homeownership more attainable.

Sonia Mendez, a real-estate agent in the area, said she has seen builders increase construction of 1,500 to 1,700 square-foot townhomes.

“They are being bought just as fast as the single family home,” Mendez said. “The first-time home buyers are excited. They don’t see a small home. They see it as a dream come true.”


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Related Stories
Going warm and fuzzy for the 2024 Pantone Colour of the Year
3 Reasons You Should Buy a Stick Vacuum—And 3 Reasons They Suck
By KATE MORGAN 08/12/2023
The OpenAI Board Member Who Clashed With Sam Altman Shares Her Side
Wild cities and concrete corridors: How AI is reimagining the landscape

A new AI-driven account by leading landscape architect Jon Hazelwood pushes the boundaries on the role of ‘complex nature’ in the future of our cities

By Robyn Willis
Wed, Dec 6, 2023 2 min

Drifts of ground cover plants and wildflowers along the steps of the Sydney Opera House, traffic obscured by meadow-like planting and kangaroos pausing on city streets.

This is the way our cities could be, as imagined by landscape architect Jon Hazelwood, principal at multi-disciplinary architectural firm Hassell. He has been exploring the possibilities of rewilding urban spaces using AI for his Instagram account, Naturopolis_ai with visually arresting outcomes.

“It took me a few weeks to get interesting results,” he said. “I really like the ephemeral nature of the images — you will never see it again and none of those plants are real. 

“The AI engine makes an approximation of a grevillea.”

Hazelwood chose some of the most iconic locations in Australia, including the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, as well as international cities such as Paris and London, to demonstrate the impact of untamed green spaces on streetscapes, plazas and public space.

He said he hopes to provoke a conversation about the artificial separation between our cities and the broader environment, exploring ways to break down the barriers and promote biodiversity.

“A lot of the planning (for public spaces) is very limited,” Hazelwood said. “There are 110,000 species of plants in Australia and we probably use about 12 in our (public) planting schemes. 

“Often it’s for practical reasons because they’re tough and drought tolerant — but it’s not the whole story.”

Hazelwood pointed to the work of UK landscape architect Prof Nigel Dunnett, who has championed wild garden design in urban spaces. He has drawn interest in recent years for his work transforming the brutalist apartment block at the Barbican in London into a meadow-like environment with diverse plantings of grasses and perennials.

Hazelwood said it is this kind of ‘complex nature’ that is required for cities to thrive into the future, but it can be hard to convince planners and developers of the benefits.

“We have been doing a lot of work on how we get complex nature because complexity of species drives biodiversity,” he said. 

“But when we try to propose the space the questions are: how are we going to maintain it? Where is the lawn?

“A lot of our work is demonstrating you can get those things and still provide a complex environment.” 

At the moment, Hassell together with the University of Melbourne is trialling options at the Hills Showground Metro Station in Sydney, where the remaining ground level planting has been replaced with more than 100 different species of plants and flowers to encourage diversity without the need for regular maintenance. But more needs to be done, Hazelwood said.

“It needs bottom-up change,” he said. ““There is work being done at government level around nature positive cities, but equally there needs to be changes in the range of plants that nurseries grow, and in the way our city landscapes are maintained and managed.”

And there’s no AI option for that. 


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Related Stories
Toy Shoppers Come Down With a Case of the Holiday Blahs
Homeowners’ Spare Rooms Worth $700 A Month In Today’s Rental Crisis
By Bronwyn Allen 03/11/2023
How an Academic Uncovered One of the Biggest Museum Heists of All Time
By MAX COLCHESTER 24/10/2023
    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop