On Real Estate
January 11, 2013
Reports of the death of the McMansion appear to be greatly exaggerated.
In the early days of the recession, it became the new mantra of the homebuilding industry that Americans had renounced their fondness for the ever-bigger houses that had gotten many of them (along with much of the financial industry) into mortgage trouble and that had become a symbol, for some, of excess. Wiser American homebuyers were entering a new era, the builders reasoned, of yearning for houses that were "just big enough."
Not exactly, according to Valerie Dolenga, a spokeswoman for PulteGroup, the Bloomfield Hills, Mich., parent of the Centex, Pulte and Del Webb homebuilding companies. As one of the nation's largest builders, PulteGroup pays particular attention to consumer attitudes — and other builders, in turn, follow its lead. A recent PulteGroup nationwide survey indicated space is still the next great frontier for housing consumers.
Dolenga said, in an edited interview, that downsizing doesn't appear to be on many people's radar, even among baby boomers, where moving to smaller quarters is supposed to be a rite of passage:
Q: You surveyed about 500 adults of varying ages and they told you that they're not thinking about getting small(er)?
A: Across all demographics, the millennials (age 28 and younger), Generation Xers (born from the early 1960s through the early '80s) and baby boomers (born 1946 through the early '60s) said they want their next house to be the same size or larger. An overwhelming majority, 84 percent of homeowners ages 18 to 59, said they don't intend to downsize.
Larger homes are what people dream of. People told us they yearn for large spaces, for large backyards and big patio spaces. Large closets. A nice master suite. They yearn for large kitchens, oversized mudrooms. No, I don't think the McMansion is dead. People want that square footage.
Although (in the first years of the recession) the federal government was reporting that the size of newly built homes was decreasing, it's increasing again — the average size of a new home was 2,480 square feet in 2011, which is 3.7 percent bigger than in 2010.
I know it's been said for quite a while that formal living rooms and formal dining rooms are "out," but nowadays there's definitely less interest in them, and in many floor plans we're taking square footage from there and putting it into the spaces that the consumers felt was more important to them.
Q: What else did they tell you they want?
A: They want to maximize the use of every nook and cranny. They expressed a strong desire for homes that are designed in such a way as to make them feel organized. They want smart use of the space. Take those bigger mudrooms, for example. They've come to be called the owner's entry, off the garage, and though they may contain the laundry equipment, they're also places to stay organized — they're drop zones for the laptop or the kids' backpacks and all that other stuff we carry in through the garage.
In the kitchen, we're seeing planning centers, which are sort of a mini office — some people call it a mini mom cave — within the kitchen. It's a place for homework, perhaps with a computer there. The parents can monitor the homework and they can also surf there. Some version of it is in all Pulte Homes, and in some of the Del Webb and Centex homes, usually in a smaller space.
They want open layouts where they can have a combined eating and entertaining space. They can do without a dining room, but what's more important to them (in the designated dining area) is to have ample seating.
Q: Isn't it sort of housing industry dogma that the baby boomers are going to be downsizing in droves?
A: Only 28 percent of those ages 55 to 59 said they want their next home to be smaller.
One reason for this is that they have a lot of stuff, and they don't want to let go of all that stuff. And stuff has to have a place to go. In our Del Webb properties (for residents 55 and older), we've installed fixed stairways from the garage into the attic, instead of the rope that pulls down stairs to the attic, because it's safer for the homeowners — they want that unused attic space for their stuff. We call it a storage loft.
Another reason they're not downsizing is that the boomers love to entertain — they want to cook in a nice kitchen and to be able to showcase it, with a kitchen with an open layout.
Q: And the historic retirement exodus to warm-weather climates?
A: Well, I'm not sure how this translates to retiring to Florida or Arizona, but across the demographics, they were willing to give up some things in order to get their dream home, but they don't want to give up being close to their families. They're willing to move, but they told us in a prior study that they intend to stay in the same state. They don't want to be too far from their families and grandchildren.
The top three things they said they'd be willing to give up were being close to public transportation (52 percent said that), being close to entertainment and shopping (35 percent) and being close to parks and better schools (28 percent).