Even in a down housing market, the size of the average new house in the United States has not dropped much. In other words, the McMansion may not be dead yet.
Who says Americans have fallen out of love with McMansions? It’s true that the housing bust shaved a few square feet off the average size of new homes in the U.S. But new single-family homes built last year were still 49 percent bigger than those built in 1973, according to Census Bureau data. And it’s worth remembering that family sizes have shrunk over that period.
The peak size for new homes was an average of 2,521 square feet in 2007. By 2010 it was down to 2,392. That statistic fed into a slew of stories about the “new frugality.” A survey of builders conducted in December 2010 by the National Association of Home Builders predicted that the shrinkage would continue, with the average getting down to 2,152 by 2015.
But then a funny thing happened. In 2011, according to the Census Bureau, the average ticked up a bit, to 2,480 square feet.
That’s partly because mortgages were so hard to get that only the well-to-do, who buy bigger houses, were able to buy new homes in 2011, according to Stephen Melman, the director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders. But it could also be that the “new frugality” story was somewhat oversold.
A couple of thoughts:
1. This is why it helps to wait and have two kinds of data before making definitive pronouncements: longer-term data as well as a variety of housing measures. Year to year figures tell us something but we should be interested in larger trends. Additionally, if houses are about the same size but there are a lot fewer being built, this tells us something as well. Sometimes, trends are hard to see while we are in them.
2. Even if the size of new houses hasn’t dropped much, it could be that these new large homes look less like McMansions. The common definition of McMansion includes several factors: a large house (perhaps in a teardown setting) that is architecturally deficient and also tied to other concepts like sprawl and overconsumption. What if more of these new large houses are green? What if they are designed by architects and built to last?