Time magazine: “The Return of the McMansion”?

Time echoes some other commentators: new data suggests we may be headed back toward bigger houses and McMansions.

When the real estate market imploded and ushered in the Great Recession, one of the biggest casualties was the size of our homes. For years, we’d been building increasingly large homes because, well, we could — and because we assumed all those two-story foyers and master suites could only go up in value. The recession put a screeching halt to this trend: After peaking at 2,521 square feet in 2007, the average size of a new home has dropped, a trend many industry observers thought would continue…

Census data shows that the average size of a new home built last year was 2,480 square feet, the first increase after three years of successive declines. Nearly 40% of new homes built last year had four or more bedrooms, a return to the all-time high reached in 2005 and 2006. And nearly 20% have three-car garages, an increase following two years of declines…

This reversal is unexpected. In a 2010 report, the National Association of Home Builders speculated that the trend of smaller homes might be due to a secular shift and that our preference for small houses would continue after the recession ended. “Part can also be attributed to trends in factors like the desire to keep energy costs down, amounts of equity in existing homes available to roll into a new one, tightening credit standards, less emphasis on the pure investment motive for buying a home, and an increased share of homes sold to first-time buyers,” the report says. “Not all of these trends are likely to reverse themselves immediately at the end of a recession.”

This illustrates the problems of making sweeping predictions on recent data: it is really difficult to predict long trends. Does the 2011 data now suggest we are going back the other direction toward bigger houses? What if the figures go down slightly again in 2012?

A second issue: moving back to bigger houses doesn’t necessarily mean that they are McMansions. The backlash against McMansions has been stiff in the last decade so these new big homes might be quite different. Perhaps they have emphases on customization (a concern of Sarah Susanka and the “Not So Big House”), more traditional looking neighborhoods (a concern of New Urbanists), and are greener and more sustainable homes.

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