January 28th, 2010 3:01 PM by Lehel S.
By Steve Kerch
LAS VEGAS — New-home buyers responded to the tough times in 2009 by opting for smaller houses, driving down the average size of a house built in the United States for the first time in 27 years.
Data released Wednesday by the National Association of Home Builders found the average size of a new home that was completed in 2009 fell to 2,480 square feet from 2,520 square feet in 2008. The last time the average completed-home size fell by a statistically significant amount was 1982.
"You've heard the mantra 'downsize me' and 'small is the new big'? Well, last year was definitely a downer," said Carol Lavender, president of Lavender Design Group, a residential design firm in San Antonio, Texas.
Homeowners surveyed by Better Homes and Gardens magazine said downsizing was becoming a bigger priority; 36 percent said in November that they expected their next home to be "somewhat smaller" or "much smaller" than their current home versus 32 percent who said that in 2008.
"Not surprisingly, we see a 'cents and sensibility' approach when it comes to buying or improving a home, with practicality and price being the top priorities," said Eliot Nusbaum, the magazine's executive editor of home design.
While the small-house movement in the United States has been gaining steam for a number of years, the recession has accelerated it and homebuilders have responded, housing analysts speaking at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas said last week.
"The era of easy money is over. You really have to think before you go out and decide you need that five-bedroom, five-bath home," said Rose Quint, the NAHB's assistant vice president for survey research.
Although actual square footage of homes didn't fall until 2009, the percentage of homes with four or more bedrooms in them has been falling since 2007, NAHB data show. And in 2009 the number of homes with three or more bathrooms fell for the first time since 1992.
Two other trends in home construction are contributing to the declining square footages: The prominence of first-time buyers in the housing market and the increasing number of households with members 55 and older who are buying homes.