These buyers want bigger homes, and these want smaller ones

by James McClister

preferred home size millennials boomers trulia larger smaller move up downsize

Americans live much larger than they did 30 years ago, despite families being slightly smaller. But that doesn’t mean Americans want bigger homes. As a recent Trulia study showed, homeowners suffer from widespread “grass-is-always-greener” syndrome, in which small home owners want to move up and big home owners want to downsize.

In 1978, the average home size was 1,750 square feet and the average family size was 3.33 people. But after three decades of redefining comfort and the nuclear family, those averages have shifted to 2,745 square feet and 3.14 people, respectively.

But that’s not the most compelling insight to come from Trulia’s study. This is: In a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, 60 percent said that if they were to move within the next year they wouldn’t buy a house of similar size – 37 percent would want a larger home and 23 percent would want a smaller one.

The divisions, as might be expected, fall along lines of current house size an age. For homeowners living with less than 2,000 square feet, the majority want a bigger home; and the reverse is true of homeowners with more than 2,000 square feet, as our below table shows.

Home size (in square feet) Majority would want larger or smaller? Majority share (in percent)
<800 Larger 69.30%
800-1,400 Larger 65.90%
1,401-2,000 Larger 23.90%
2,001-2,600 Smaller 32.60%
2,601-3,200 Smaller 34.70%
3,200+ Smaller 56.30%

The age division is a matter of people younger than 55 wanting bigger homes and people over 55 wanting smaller ones. When more specifically comparing Millennials to Baby Boomers, Trulia researchers found that regardless of current home size, Millennials wanted bigger homes and Baby Boomers wanted smaller ones (apart from Boomers living with less than 800 square feet. They wanted bigger homes, as well).

Home size (in square feet) Majority of Millennials would want larger or smaller? Majority Millennials share (in percent) Majority of Boomers would want larger or smaller? Majority Boomers share (in percent)
<800 Larger 80.50% Larger 83.80%
800-1,400 Larger 79.80% Smaller 15.70%
1,401-2,000 Larger 66.30% Smaller 67.10%
2,001-2,600 Larger 59.40% Smaller 95.20%
2,601-3,200 Larger 95.40% Smaller 2.10%
3,200+ Larger 100.00% Smaller 100%

Millennials were so in favor of larger homes that even those already living with more than 3,200 square feet would want more space if they were to move, as the above table illustrates.

Trulia provided no analysis to explain the size preferences, but it’s a safe guess they have something to do with lifestyle and income.

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