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Home Sizes in the US: Expectations vs Reality

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Home Sizes in the US: Expectations vs Reality

Everyone always says ‘bigger is better’. But just how realistic is that approach when it comes to home sizes? Should our decision to buy a home be influenced by this over-used notion? Or is it time to get our heads out of the clouds and settle for what we have?

Our team here at Point2 Homes surveyed 29,000 people across 9 different target countries—the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Brazil and Australia—on their housing realities and what they consider to be a good-size home, and compared the results.

Key findings:

  • Americans enjoy the second-largest homes among surveyed countries, second only to Australians; home sizes among U.S. respondents are 30% bigger than what European respondents have;
  • The U.S. dominates space per person: American respondents enjoy 45% more personal space than the Brits or the French, and 70% more space than the Spaniards;
  • Though homes in America are bigger than ever, US respondents still want more space—but how many can actually afford it? High prices are pushing homeownership out of reach in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Home Size US

Home sizes in the U.S. have been on a steady upward path since the 1970s. According to The Wall Street Journal, the median size of a new single-family home expanded by nearly 62% over the past four decades, reaching 2,467 square feet in 2015. That basically means the average American home is now more than twice the size of a British one, and more than 11 times the size of an average Chinese home.

But whether you live in a small, quaint European city where everybody knows your name or in buzzing Manhattan, somewhere along the line you’ve said to yourself: ‘I need more space!’. The only problem is that you can’t always get what you want—and depending on where you live, you may not even get what you need.

Australians Are Living the Big Home Dream, While Our Canadian Neighbors Are Far Less Greedy

When it comes to home sizes, not everyone is created equal—what some might consider to be the home size of their dreams might not be enough for others. When asked about the size of their dream home, respondents showed varied degrees of restraint. Those living in the U.S. already boast the second-largest homes among surveyed countries, second only to Australia, yet they still want more space. Based on the answers to our survey, American homes are 45% larger than Spanish ones, and 20% bigger than those enjoyed by the Brits or the French—now that’s a lot of space. Nonetheless, a lot of respondents dream of owning homes even bigger than that.

US-AUSTRALIA For instance, most of our respondents from Australia, which boasts the largest average home size in the world—approx. 2,032 sq. ft.—dream of homes totaling over 2,500 square feet. As you can see, though the average home size in the Land Down Under hovers around 2,000 square feet, that’s still not enough for the Aussies!
US-UK The same goes for folks over in the U.K. Their ideal home boasts more than 2,501 square feet, though the average home size there is closer to 1,600 square feet—20% less than what Americans enjoy. Nearly 30% of respondents said they live in homes between 1,000 and 1,500 square feet in size. However, 38% of British residents who answered our survey said they dream of homes twice the size of the ones they currently have.
US-CANADA Though most of those who answered our survey want bigger homes than the ones they live in, this cannot be said about Canadians. Most of our respondents from Canada live in homes of between 1,001 and 1,500 square feet, and they seem to be pretty satisfied—nearly 30% percent chose that range as their ideal home size. The average home size among respondents is actually 1,792 square feet, so some Canadians might even be willing to downsize to a smaller home (crazy, right?).
US-MEXICO The data coming in from Mexico shows that people there aren’t quite as satisfied with the size of their homes. Compared to the U.S. or Australia, Mexican residents don’t have a lot of room to roam: 38% of respondents said they lived in homes of less than 1,000 square feet, but they do dream of a more spacious home of 2,001 to 2,500 square feet.
US-BRAZIL Expectations in Brazil are more tempered—49% of our respondents said they live in homes of less than 1,000 square feet, and most would prefer to upgrade to homes between 1,001 and 1,500 square feet—a more reachable goal. Now the average home size among our respondents from Brazil is 1,288 square feet—48% less than in the U.S.—so it makes sense that Brazilian respondents want to upgrade.

Our European respondents also show a great deal of restraint, though they do dream of bigger homes as well. The majority of our answerers from Germany said they live in homes of less than 1,000 square feet and would like just a little more elbow room—somewhere between 1,001 and 1,500 square feet. The situation is nearly identical in France and Spain—most respondents said their homes total less than 1,000 square feet and would like to upgrade to the next tier (1,001 to 1,500 square feet).

US-EUROPE

Home Size Vs Personal Space: More Room to Roam in the US

Though Australia boasts the largest average home size in the world, when it comes to average living area per person, things start to look a little different. Turns out, among all of our respondents, those living in the U.S. enjoy the most space per person—an average of 656 square feet—while our Aussie answerers only have an average of 549 square feet of space at their disposal. Even more dramatically, the average living space per person among our U.S. respondents is nearly twice the size of what a Brazilian resident enjoys, and 202 square feet more than what the British answerers have. That’s actually not so far off the norm: according to Census data, living area per person in the U.S. reached a median of 700 square feet in 2013, for both renters and homeowners. Furthermore, the median living area per person in a brand new U.S. home reached 971 square feet in 2015, nearly twice what it was back in the 1970s.

Home Size chart 2

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The fact that we have more room to roam in the U.S. isn’t necessarily by choice, but instead has a lot to do with the number of family members and the fact that people here tend to get married and have children much later than before—thus the average American family is shrinking. According to ABC News, since 1970, the median age for women to get married increased by 4.3 years to 25.1 years, while for men, the increase was 3.6 to 26.8 years. Most of our U.S. survey respondents said their household included 2 people, bringing the number of family members to 2.90 on average. Respondents from Australia, for instance, stated their household includes 4 family members, so naturally the living area per person is significantly smaller.

How Much Is Too Much? 74% of Small-Home Owners in the US Want More Space

The results of our survey show that U.S. respondents aren’t entirely satisfied with the space they currently live in, and would definitely like to have a little more elbow room—though they already enjoy the second-largest homes among the surveyed countries (1,901 sq. ft. on average). Most respondents from the U.S. agree that a good home size lies somewhere between 1,501 and 2,000 square feet, which isn’t a far cry from what they currently own.

Home Size pie chart

More than half of those living in spaces from 1,001 to 1,500 square feet and 74% of those with homes of less than 1,000 square feet would prefer a larger home, and that preference doesn’t seem to change as they grow older either. On the other hand, people living in homes of more than 3,000 square feet would prefer to downsize, and so would those in the 65+ age group. This isn’t surprising, as maintenance costs are also more of a hassle for larger homes, and older homeowners prefer to move out of the suburbs into smaller spaces in the city, according to Builder.

But what’s interesting is that the majority of American respondents do want more space, despite the fact that their homes are already massive, compared to other countries. Why this insatiable need for more space and how much is too much when it comes to home sizes?

Why Are US Homes So Big?

Although the number of family members in a U.S. household has decreased from an average of 4.5 in 1910 to 2.6 in 2010, according to a study done by our sister company PropertyShark, new homes being built in America are bigger than ever. The average new home in the U.S. now totals over 2,430 square feet, 74% percent more than those built in 1910, the study found. That means that people in the U.S. living in a newly built home now enjoy 211% more space per person than they did a century ago. The U.S. has even overtaken Australia in building the biggest new homes in the world, according to a study cited by the Sydney Morning Herald.

So how do we justify this ever-growing need for more space? Several factors might be contributing to this trend. First of all, as CNN Money put it a couple of years ago, ‘the rich have gotten richer’—and the growth in spending power has led to growth in home sizes. Furthermore, those who can afford to buy bigger homes also expect those homes to be highly-amenitized: air conditioning, swimming pools, fireplaces and multiple garages are some of the features they look for. Rising income inequality is also making it harder for young professionals to reach homeowner status—most Millennials can’t even afford to buy a home, especially in major U.S. cities, and instead choose to rent, according to Curbed.

There is also a big difference between the size of homes in the U.S. and the rest of the world. For instance, a study quoted by Elle Décor in 2015 showed that you could fit 11.5 Chinese homes in an average American one—now, that’s quite the difference. The average home in the U.S. is also more than twice the size of the average U.K. one, according to the study. Now, all these things are enough to make you wonder, do we really need more space or are we blindly following the trend?

So We Want a Bigger Home, but Can We Actually Afford It? #realitycheck

Home size preferences don’t seem to vary much across different regions, though home prices might. Most respondents living in 1,000- to 1,500-square-foot homes in Western U.S. said they would prefer a larger home. But just how realistic is that, really? Back in December, we took a look at how much space you can get for $300,000 in all the major U.S. cities. Extrapolating from that, a 2,000-square-foot home would cost roughly $1.7 million in San Francisco, and more than $900,000 in Los Angeles. Furthermore, according to an analysis by HSH, you’d have to earn $152,173 in San Francisco and more than $100,000 in L.A. to afford the median-priced home. And given that the average income in California is $64,500, that dream home might be more out of reach than we’d like to think.

The same goes for Northeasterners. Nearly 40% of respondents living in the Northeast would prefer a larger home, but the space they can actually afford doesn’t really cut it. The median home price in Boston is $435,000, as per CBS, and you’d need to earn $86,054 to afford the monthly payment—yet the average income in the state of Massachusetts hovers closer to the $70,000 mark. Consequently, it’s OK to dream big, as long as we keep our feet firmly on the ground.

Methodology:

  • Our survey was made in Google Surveys, and was accessible to visitors on Point2 Homes and other real estate websites in the 9 surveyed countries, as an optional pop-up.
  • Answers were tallied and analyzed in-house.

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