The average size of newly built homes decreased in 2016 – a sign that the home building industry is preparing for the coming wave of first-time buyers as millennials begin to dip their toes into the market, according to research and survey results released today by NAHB.
In 2015, the typical new home had 2,689 square feet. In 2016, it dropped to 2,634, U.S. Census data show. That’s the first drop in size since 2009, said Rose Quint, NAHB’s assistant vice president for survey research.
“The data on new home characteristics show a pattern,” she said. “2016 marked the end of an era that began in 2009 when homes got bigger and bigger with more amenities. I expect the size of homes to continue to decline as demand increases from first-time buyers.”
These homes must include specific amenities: Just as in 2015, a separate laundry room tops the list of must-haves across all income groups. Energy-efficient features like low-E windows, Energy Star-rated appliances, ceiling fans and programmable thermostats are also at the top of buyers’ wish lists. Home buyers also want their homes to include a patio, exterior lighting and a full bath on the main level.
Not as popular among buyers in 2017: cork flooring and solar and geothermal energy, as well as features such as pet-washing stations, outdoor kitchens and sunrooms. “Builders are not going to include them in the average home,” Quint said.
A majority of home buyers prefer a new home to an existing one, and 65% want that home to be in the suburbs. Size preference goes up as income goes up, with buyers in the $150,000-plus income bracket preferring homes just under 2,500 square feet. No matter what the income, buyers overwhelmingly prefer a smaller house with more features and amenities over sheer size. “More than two-thirds are willing to trade size for high-quality products and features,” Quint said.
New research from Better Homes & Gardens targets a subset of these home owners: “First Millennials,” those between the ages of 22-39 who have purchased their first home.
These buyers generally purchase older housing stock in need of fixing up, said executive editor Jill Waage, which means “88% of them are very interested in learning about home improvement and repair.” They don’t want to spend too much money, and they are willing to compromise on high-quality products and finishes, saving them for their next home. “They’re scarred,” from the recent economic downturn, “but they aren’t scared.”
Surrounded by a culture that watches home improvement reality shows and how-to videos on social media – and remembering their parents’ experiences in the Great Recession – First Millennials overwhelmingly prefer do-it-yourself projects, said Waage, even if they ultimately have to turn it over to a professional to complete.
Watching these shows, seeing what’s shared on social media and learning from the experiences of their friends and neighbors working on similar fixer-uppers inspires these young families to get out not only their paint brushes and hammers but even their mitre saws and other specialty equipment – and to work on these projects together. And they aren’t just making home improvements, Waage said. “They’re creating a style, a statement – decorating and remodeling at the same time.”
Amenities for outside living continue to be popular and increasingly include “she sheds,” stand-alone buildings from a kit or built onsite to be used for outdoor entertaining, crafting, reading or just to get away, Waage said. “Seventy-five percent of millennials want relaxing outdoor spaces,” and vegetable gardens, fences and decks top their list of projects.
But it’s all about value, as this group thinks ahead to building equity to enable them to purchase their next home. And when that happens, they aren’t looking for oversized master suites or over-the-top finishes. They want mud rooms, that important separate laundry room, and plenty of gathering space. “This generation likes being together. They don’t want to be separate,” Waage said.
The NAHB Home Buyer Preferences survey is available from BuilderBooks.