Some stats to think about

by jhwygirl

I came across an article in an architectural periodical today as I sat in a waiting room. Got me thinking, so I went googling – you know me and affordable housing. Consider the numbers below as some food for thought.

Average size and cost of an American home:

1950 – 983 square feet/$14,500

1970 – 1,400 square feet/$26,600

1973 – 1500 square feet/$32,500

1974 – 1,695 square feet/$34,900

1984- 1,780 square feet/$227,000

2004 – 2,330 square feet/$274,500

2005 – 2,434 square feet/$297,000

Average bedroom size today – 12 x 12

Average bedroom size 30 years ago – 9 x 10

Average family size today – 2.6

Average family size 30 years ago – 3.1

If anyone wants to bother factoring in inflation, that’d be interesting.

  1. goof houlihan

    “Litttle pink houses for you and me..”

    Levittown has now got historical preservation requirements. It’s still a good answer for affordable housing, but remember, it is a “cookie cutter subdivision”

  2. matguy

    OK, I’ll take a stab at it using the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator:

    Average size and cost of an American home:

    1950 – 983 square feet/$14,500/ $125,440 /$127 (2007)/square foot

    1970 – 1,400 square feet/$26,600/ $142,933/$102 (2007)/ square foot

    1973 – 1500 square feet/$32,500/ $152,610/ $101 (2007)/ square foot

    1974 – 1,695 square feet/$34,900/ $147,592/ $87 (2007)/square foot

    1984- 1,780 square feet/$227,000/ $455,507/ $255 (2007)/ square foot

    2004 – 2,330 square feet/$274,500/ $302,967/ $130 (2007)/ square foot

    2005 – 2,434 square feet/$297,000/ $317,058/ $130 (2007)/ square foot

  3. Whoa, that was quite a jump to 1984, wasn’t it?

    How to interpret these statistics, I wonder? the result of a booming economy? or more people being driven out of the market?

  4. matguy

    Well, judging by the numbers here:

    That 1984 figure is off. That table shows the average price in 1984 to be $97,600. At 2007 inflation, that’s $ 195,848, or about $110 (2007)/ square foot.

  5. Thanks matguy….

    I pulled those numbers from a variety of sources – really kind of grabbed them pretty quick (as I didn’t put in the links).

    The square footage info was interesting.

    Communities that have inclusionary housing regs – like Aspen, Vail and Jackson Hole – that build homes for essential community people that make the median and even greater (Aspen and Vail go up to 200% of the median I believe) build small homes in the 900 square foot range – I remember one trailer park that was bought in Aspen or Vail and rebuilt with 700 foot homes.

    The idea behind that is to get people into ownership to build equity. Then they eventually move “up” in the system to slightly bigger homes.

    Lots of the older homes around this town are 900 to 1100 square feet – and I don’t know why everyone seems to have to want to build to max height and max out the footprint on the lot. It was those types of ‘design’ aesthetics that killed single-lot development on lots that don’t meet the minimum lot size in the zoning district.

    Development was happening on those sub-size lots for years, but it wasn’t until people start maxing out every proportion on the structure that neighbors took notice – and Ballas sued.

    I am NOT making a judgement on Ballas having sued, either. Obviously he had a valid legal point, as I believe indications are that the court will be siding with him.

  6. matguy

    I think the reason people tend to max out building sizes is that it allows them to get as much bang for their buck when it comes to the price of land. In zones that allow multifamily housing, this is great, (for example, stacking three or four affordable 900sf homes on a single acre lot) but in places zoned for lower density that high land price can only encourage McMansion-Style bloated houses.

  7. multi-family housing isn’t like that anymore…the one down the street has granite countertops, and rakes in at about 1500 square feet. It sold at $227,000 a piece. Not affordable.

    There are other examples like that.

    I believe we need to do regs that allow building on single lots without obnoxiously impinging on the building pattern of the neighborhood. And if only a 900 square foot starter home can be built, that allows someone to build some equity, then so be it.

    It’s better than not allowing anyone to build on single lots at all – which is currently the situation in some zoning districts – which translates to quite a number of lots.

  8. Jordan Hess

    I’ve charted the housing data and posted it online at (I’m not sure if there’s a way to post images to this list…) The chart is Census data for median new home size (available since ’78) and median new home price, indexed with the BLS Consumer Price Index. Would probably be more appropriate to use the Census’ Construction Price Index, but this is a good starting point. It’s interesting to note how linear both trends are for the most part. The construction cost per square foot (again in 2006 dollars) holds fairly steady around $100/sqft. So something other than cost is driving people to build these huge houses. Do people not like their families anymore, or are they just trying to fill up a huge lot?

  9. Jordan – thanks for all of that work. I find all of it, when visualized, extremely interesting.

    I’m trying to get to a point to make an argument for allowing, for accepting, smaller homes as a tool for affordable housing. And accomplishing that through design standards – you’d really have to go read back on all the stuff I’ve tagged “affordable housing” to see the trend.

    I wonder – just like you (“Do people not like their families anymore, or are they just trying to fill up a huge lot?”) – why homes have to get bigger and bigger. Why development on a lot – large or small – has to be maxed out.

    Planned Neighborhood Clusters (PNC) are considered a “tool” for the market to provide affordable housing. The basics on PNC’s is that setbacks get varied within the interior of the “PNC”, thereby allowing for larger buildings.

    On Phillips&Burton is a PNC – and those are selling for $283,500 (recently dropped to $274,000, I hear. They are individual homes (not multi-family,not townhomes, not condos). Divide that cost by 3 and you know the household income needed to buy that house.

    The median income for a family of 4, here in Missoula, is $54,500.

    I know it is only one example, but there are others around my neighborhood – PNC’s, condos, townhomes – that tell me that maxing out the building isn’t helping the market provide affordable housing.

    And if the market only wants to buy big houses – I dare say that isn’t true – then regs are needed that would allow only small homes to be built on small lots.

    A contractor, an architect are going to max out the square footage – they get paid based on that. Government needs to create an environment that only allows small homes in some cases.

    There are a bunch of lots around town here that do not meet the minimum lot size of the zoning districts of where they are located – and are now “unbuildable” because of lawsuits that have flown around here concerning “infill” (a dirty word.)

    I’m trying to get to the root of the problem with “infill” – and make a case for allowing development on singular lots that are, say 25 by 125 feet.

    I am shocked, really, that the cost to build per square foot hasn’t changed.

    As many times as I’ve run numbers on housing every which way to everywhere, I’ve never considered doing it that way.

    I know that was pretty long – but if you are interested in the housing issues here, you might want to get a taste for where I am with it by browsing the “affordable housing” tag at the end of this post.

    Also – Discovering Urbanism has an interesting perspective on the size of homes over at his place. YI think you’ll find that interesting.

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