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Yes, Size Does Matter But Make Mine Smaller, Please

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By Bill Primavera

Whenever I take stock of things or situations that please me, my home is always on top of the list as a source of contentment, whether a new but small studio apartment in Greenwich Village when I first moved to New York City, or a larger-than-needed six-bedroom home I purchased when my wife Margaret and I decided to move to “the country.”

A few years ago, as empty nesters, Margaret and I decided to downsize by moving from our 4,000-square-foot historic home to a brand new two-bedroom 1,780-square-foot condo. Considering our lifestyle today, it was the best housing decision we could have made at this stage of our more senior years.

Just the other day, I was walking through our current home and when I reached my wife in the bedroom, I declared how nice it is to be able to walk the space that we have, all on one level, enjoying an open layout and nine- to 12-foot ceilings. 

That was far from the case when our former single-family home involved four levels to accommodate us. The basement was for the laundry and utilities, the first and second floors were for living and the attic was visited on an almost daily basis for supplies to feed our on-premise public relations business.

Fed by a booming post-World War II economy, our parents and we grew up with the notion that bigger is better in all things – at least until recently.

It started with larger refrigerators that replaced tiny ice boxes, with cars that jumbo-sized to “woodie” station wagons, then minivans and even Hummers, and continued with watches that weigh down our arms, woofers that puncture our eardrums and ever bigger burgers, orders of fries and slush drinks that have made so many of us overweight.

But the most visible evidence of our obsession with size has been the increasing square footage of our homes.   

While the average size home in America in 1950 was 1,000 square feet, it had grown to 1,400 square feet by 1970, and today the average is 2,400 square feet.  Many of us live in much bigger homes, and during the McMansion craze of the past decade, it seemed as though house designs were on steroids, with four bedrooms more the norm and family rooms large enough to host bowling alleys. 

Perhaps the Great Recession more than a decade ago served as a wake-up call to rethink how big or small we want our homes, all things considered, such as a smaller footprint providing lower taxes, lower building and maintenance costs and lower energy costs.

Also, the call for smaller houses promotes better, more efficient design. I’ve seen wonderful examples of that recently. For instance, one of the houses I listed a short while back was a 1920s small cottage that had less than 1,000 square feet. The couple who lived there without children in tow opened walls and tucked storage space into every nook and cranny. It was a study in the smart use of space.

The cost for smaller houses is quoted at the same cost per square foot as any larger home – $250. So a typical 1,000-square-foot house would cost $250,000 for the house itself, not including the septic and well, if needed.

From my observation, what has been driving the trend toward smaller homes is the cost of energy, plus a scaling back to a preference for a simpler lifestyle.

On a personal level, when I moved from a 1,400-square-foot house in New York City to a 4,000-square-foot house in Westchester, I felt I had graduated to supersize heaven. In retrospect, I see that what I graduated to was a propensity to save everything I saw or touched, not to mention the constant maintenance work a large home requires.

But then, as a more senior citizen, I decided to downsize when I realized that our formal living room and dining room were rarely used, maybe four times a year at most, when we had our family gatherings for the holidays. But, even then, we tended to be more casual and congregate in my large home office, which doubled as a family room, and we most often ate casually in the kitchen rather than the formal dining room.

When I have worked with young couples as first-time homebuyers who either have or are planning a family, we looked for smaller homes to accommodate their budgets, but looked ahead by seeking a property that could best be expanded in the future, either with an addition to the side, back or a second story added to the same footprint.

There will always be the fabulously rich who want homes with more space than they need, but the rest of us may be saying, make mine smaller, please.

Bill Primavera is a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester (www.PrimaveraPR.com), specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

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