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November 10, 2017 | home-buying

Thinking Small: Is a Smaller Home the Right Choice For You?

For decades, larger houses have been sought after by Americans as symbols of success and prosperity.

Big, elaborate homes implied financial security and quality of life, and many families worked to upgrade their square footage as a sign of status. In fact, the average size of the American home rose 175 percent between 1950 and 2017 — from 983 square feet to about 2,700.

Partly because of environmental and demographic factors, however, that trend is now reversing itself. In a 2017 study of U.S. homeowners, 60 percent of those now living in homes larger than 2,000 square feet said they’d prefer a smaller one if they were to move this year. That’s especially true of baby boomers on the way toward becoming empty nesters, but also reflects a pattern across generations; among all ages, 37 percent of those surveyed said they’d prefer to live in a smaller rather than a larger house while only 23 percent would opt for a larger one.

What’s going on? In some cases, younger consumers are seeking smaller abodes that meet their ideas of environmental responsibility, sometimes influenced by popular TV shows such as HGTV’s “Tiny House Hunters,” “Tiny House Nation” and “Tiny House, Big Living.” In others, those living in bigger homes are simply coming to terms with disadvantages such as the higher costs and/or time suck of utilities, taxes, maintenance and furnishings and the greater likelihood of repairs.

“(One) reason people keep buying bigger and bigger homes is because no one tells them not to,” writes Joshua Becker on “The mantra of the culture again comes calling: 'Buy as much and as big as possible.' They believe the lie and choose to buy a large home only because that’s ‘what you are supposed to do’ when you start making money. Nobody gives them the reasons they may actually be happier in a smaller house.”

The greatest benefits of living in homes smaller than 1,200 square feet? Consider the following:

  1. Lower costs: In addition to more affordable purchase prices, they’re bound to cost less to heat, cool, furnish, decorate, insure and maintain. “Because a cottage's small size requires fewer materials, you may be able to indulge your heart's desire and upgrade from what your larger home might have allowed,” notes Becky Dietrich on “Or you could use your lower costs to focus on saving or reducing debt. That might also lower stress, which will enhance your quality of life.”
  2. Less elbow grease: Less space to clean, maintain and decorate means more time to spend on your other interests and passions.
  3. More togetherness: Many families find a greater sense of closeness when they’re less spread out in cavernous surroundings. The lack of vastness can encourage more conversation and interaction.
  4. Less materialism: By necessity, small homes disallow the collection of paraphernalia that serves no real purpose. They force you to be selective when it comes to spending money on decor items, unneeded kitchen supplies and other extraneous “stuff.”
  5. Smaller carbon footprint: Several studies have concluded building smaller houses goes a long way toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and waste generation from the residential construction sector. Factors include reduced electricity and fuel consumption and reduced material production.
  6. Uniqueness: Forget the rash of bland, cookie-cutter “McMansions” all over the country; smaller homes are often built in charming, individualistic styles in established neighborhoods with big old trees and sidewalks. Building your own small-scale house often allows you similar opportunities to express yourself in ways you may not otherwise be able to afford.
  7. Emotional wellness: Many health experts believe we’re held emotionally hostage to our possessions, touting the freedom that comes with a less materialistic life. “The more we own, the more they own us,” advises Becker. “The same is absolutely true with our largest, most valuable asset. Buy small and free your mind.”
  8. Investment savvy: One recent report indicates smaller homes represent excellent investments. In a 2013-2016 analysis of America's 20 largest metro areas between 2013 and 2016, researchers found the value of the smallest 25 percent of homes (most of which measure less than 1,800 square feet) grew by 8.9 percent annually in 17 territories — the largest percentage hike of all homes studied.

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