Why Are U.S. Homes Getting Bigger? Blame Repeat Buyers.

Homes Growing in the U.S. Every Year

Despite a wavering housing market, new U.S. homes grew in 2011 to just 41 square feet shy of the 2005 record.

The average size of the new American home grew in 2011.

That’s not a typo.

“But, wait,” you’re saying to yourself. “I thought we were all ‘going green.’ And economizing. And financially strapped.”

Flying in the face of market conditions and a healthy push for environmentally friendly housing, the average newly constructed home in 2011 inched closer to the 2005 record for sheer mass. Recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the average new home grew to 2,480 square feet in 2011. That’s up from 2,392 square feet in 2010, and only 41 square feet off the 2005 size record.

Why U.S. homes are getting bigger

Experts at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) initially puzzled over the Census Bureau findings. Joining in the chorus of bewildered authorities was Rose Quint, assistant vice president for survey research at the NAHB.

“We had the same question: Why was this happening when most people want smaller homes, want to downsize?” Quint said in a recent MSNBC article. “This is exactly so counterintuitive to what we know is happening on the ground.”

Further analysis by the NAHB showed that the growth was fueled by repeat buyers. Traditionally a smaller part of the market, repeat buyers took advantage of cheap land and low interest rates in 2011 and built larger homes. First-time buyers who typically buy at the lower end of the price scale have been increasingly absent from the market, due to strict lending guidelines and larger down payment requirements.

Where buyers are adding square footage

The traditional new American home had more bedrooms and bathrooms in 2011, according to the Census Bureau data.

In 2011, 39 percent of homes featured at least four bedrooms. That figure represents a jump from 35 percent in 2010 and 34 percent in 2009.

Newly constructed homes also boasted more bathrooms in 2011. The percentage of homes with at least three bathrooms rose from 25 percent in 2010 to 28 percent in 2011.

Will the trend continue?

With so many factors at play, it’s difficult to predict if current trends will hold. Last year, NAHB survey respondents actually predicted that the average American home would shrink to 2,152 square feet by 2015.

If first-time homebuyers are allowed back into the market, the average home size may indeed fall. The conservative spending habits of novice buyers could quickly bring the average new home size down by several hundred square feet.

But if the market continues to restrict the buyer pool to wealthier, repeat consumers, the average new home may continue to grow.

Either course comes with its costs and benefits. More spending may revive a struggling industry, but reckless spending may result in an additional wave of foreclosures and short sales. New homes may take advantage of the latest “green” technology, but excessive square footage could negate any gains from environmental advances.

What are you seeing?

What are you seeing in your area? Are new homes noticeably bigger? What direction would you prefer to see in home size?

Photo courtesy of lavocado@sbcglobal.net