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McMansion are McOver

November 30 2010

The gigantic houses funded by the no-doc loans of the late 90s and early 2000s gave new meaning to the term “embarrassment of riches.” When the housing market faded in 2006, the unsold behemoths known as McMansions (oversized houses built on undersized lots) were unpleasant reminders of massive egos and trillions of dollars in losses.

But there are other reasons why big isn’t necessarily better. Homes that are too big are harder and more expensive to maintain, and they spend the earth’s resources. And many people have “been there, done that,” chagrined to learn that trophy homes don’t necessarily bring more happiness. For many, there’s a certain freedom in living smaller. 

Recess from excess

Homes sizes always expand and contract with the economy. And since 1950, the U.S. economy has been on a roll, despite several recessions.

Consequently, home sizes have slowly grown 300 to 400 feet per decade. 

According to research at Trulia.com, homes were about 983 square feet in the 1950s. By the 1970s, homes grew to 1,400 square feet, to 2,120 in the 1990s, before topping out at 2,330 square feet in the 2000s.

But homebuyers today may curb that trend, pardon the pun.

Trulia.com and Harris Interactive surveyed potential homebuyers and found that size isn’t as important as it once was. Most respondents’ (28 percent) ideal home size is between 1,400 and 2,000 square feet, and another 27 percent want a home with 2,000 to 2,600 square feet. 

Only 9 percent of respondents said they want a home 3,200 square feet or larger and another 9 percent said they want a home between 800 and 1,400 square feet.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) says its members are also noticing the smaller-is-better trend. For the first time since 1992, the square footage and the number of three-bath homes being built declined.

In a 2009 member survey, nine out of 10 builders said they are planning to build smaller, less expensive homes than in the past.

Does that mean that homebuyers must give up luxury along with space? According to a Builder Online presentation at the International Builders Show in January 2010, homebuyers will still have the features they want, but they will be more carefully selected and edited as focal points.