Living Big in a Small Home
After years of upsizing, Americans are enjoying the benefits of more modest living spaces.
With the average home size declining, owners are cleverly doing more with the square footage they have.
Years before house staging came into vogue as a sales tool, Howard Hoffman was helping sellers rearrange their furniture to maximize floor space and enhance a home’s beauty. Hoffman, GRI, SRES®, now owns Stage & $ell, a home staging and redesign company in Indianapolis.
Chances are he’ll have a lot more business in the years ahead from people needing to resize their lives. With baby boomers entering retirement, young adults delaying marriage, and the economy improving by fits and starts, Americans are starting to embrace the idea that less is more when it comes to their square footage. The average size of a new house decreased last year for the first time in nearly three decades.
“Home buyers have been changing,” says Fran Litton, a planner with Evans Group, an architectural firm in Orlando, Fla. “They still want the luxury and toys, but they’re putting them into a smaller space.”
Although the average square footage of a new house is still double what it was in 1960, in the last year, it decreased slightly to 2,215 square feet from a high of 2,277 square feet in 2008, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. While the decrease doesn’t approach mid-20th century levels, it is the first drop in house size since the recession of the early 1980s.
Smaller houses can mean bigger challenges for real estate professionals. “Eighty percent of people appreciate only what they can see,” says Hoffman, who also works as a sales associate with F.C. Tucker Co. in Indianapolis. “You have to make sure you’re showing them what you’ve got.” That means making sure each room is easily identified. “Get rid of that desk and computer in the dining room,” he says. “Make sure buyers can see it’s a dining room.”
Hoffman also advises clients to remove rugs to show off hardwood floors and take pictures off the walls. “The less the eye has to distract it, the bigger a room feels,” says Hoffman. “People buy what they see. If they can’t see the floors or the walls, they won’t buy the house.”
Interior designer Roberta Lathrop agrees. She tells her clients with smaller kitchens to clear the counters. “You can’t have all the small appliances sitting on the counter,” says Lathrop, who runs Designs by Roberta in Belmont, Mich. “It will start looking very cluttered very fast.”
Smaller houses require owners to rethink what they have and how they use things. “If you have a smaller house, maybe you don’t need half a dozen different pans,” she explains. “Maybe a single flat griddle that you can put over a couple of burners will do.”
One of the first tasks she assigns clients is to go through their stuff—ruthlessly. “We all have too much stuff,” she says. “Get rid of it. If you’re attached to an item, or think maybe you’ll need it, put it in a box and store it somewhere for six months. Then go back through it.
Have you used it? Have you even missed it? If not, donate it. Get it out of the house.” That goes for clothes as well, she says.