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Home Size Continues to Decline; Buyers Increasingly Opt for Single-Story Homes

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RISMEDIA, June 16, 2010—The size of new single-family homes completed declined last year, dropping to a nationwide average of 2,438 square feet, according to detailed information about the characteristics of new homes completed in 2009 that was released recently by the Census Bureau.

After increasing continually for nearly three decades, the average size of single-family homes completed in the United States peaked at 2,521 square feet in 2007. It was essentially flat in 2008, then dropped in 2009, so that new single-family homes were almost 100 square feet smaller in 2009 than in 2007.

“We also saw a decline in the size of new homes when the economy lapsed into recession in the early 1980s,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “The decline of the early 1980s turned out to be temporary, but this time the decline is related to phenomena such as an increased share of first-time home buyers, a desire to keep energy costs down, smaller amounts of equity in existing homes to roll into the next home, tighter credit standards and less focus on the investment component of buying a home. Many of these tendencies are likely to persist and continue affecting the new home market for an extended period.”

Crowe also pointed out that the average square footage of new single-family homes completed is only one measure of new home size. “The Census Bureau also reports average square footage in a quarterly release based on starts rather than completions, which is sometimes useful when market conditions are changing rapidly,” he said.

In keeping with their slightly smaller size, new single-family homes completed in 2009 had fewer bedrooms than previously. After increasing for almost 20 years, the proportion of single-family homes with four bedrooms or more topped out at 39% in 2005; it was 34% last year. The proportion of single-family homes with three bedrooms increased from 49% to 53% between 2005 and 2009.

New single-family homes completed last year also had fewer bathrooms than previously. The proportion of homes with three or more bathrooms was 24% last year, a decline from the peak of 28% in both 2007 and 2008. The percentage of single-family homes with two bathrooms increased from 35 to 37 last year, and the percentage with 2½ bathrooms was at 31% for the third consecutive year. The proportion of single-family homes with 1 or 1½ bathrooms has been below 10% for more than a decade.

In 1973, the first year for which the Census Bureau reports characteristics of single-family homes completed, most new single-family homes–67%–had only one story. Twenty-three percent had two or more stories, and 10% were split levels.

The proportion of one-story homes declined steadily for more than three decades, dropping to a low of 43% in 2006 and 2007. At the same time, the proportion of single-family homes with two or more stories increased, rising from 23% in 1973 to a high of 57% in 2006 (split level homes currently account for less than one percent of all single-family homes). Since 2006 the trends have been reversed, as the share of single-family homes with one-story increased to 47% last year, while the share with two or more stories dropped to 53%.

Regional Differences in Completed Single-Family Homes
The Census Bureau’s data on characteristics of completed single-family homes also showed regional differences.

In 1973, less than half of all new single-family homes completed had air conditioning; in 2009, 88% were air conditioned nationwide. Regionally, the proportion ranged from a low of 69% in the West to a high of 99% in the South. The Northeast and Midwest were at 75% and 90%, respectively.

Nationwide, 62% of new single-family homes completed in 2009 had two-car garages, and 17% had garages for three or more cars. However, there were clear regional differences. Three-car garages were found in only about 11% of homes in the Northeast and the South. In the Midwest, 30% of all homes had three-car garages, and in the West, 26%.

Regional differences were especially pronounced in the selection of exterior wall material. Nationwide, 34% of all single-family homes completed in 2009 had vinyl siding, 23% were brick, 19% were stucco and 13% had fiber cement siding.

Vinyl siding predominates in the Northeast, where it accounted for 74% of the market; wood was a distant second with a 12% market share. In the Midwest, vinyl siding accounted for 62% of the market, while wood and brick were at 15% and 11%, respectively.

Brick was the leader in the South, where it was found in 40% of new single-family homes. Twenty-eight percent of new homes in the South had vinyl siding and 13% had stucco.

The Census Bureau began reporting statistics on fiber cement siding, which is relatively new to the market, in 2005. It already accounts for 24% of the market in the West. Stucco and wood account for 52% and 15% of the market, respectively, in that region.

For more information, visit www.nahb.org.

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