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Who Lives Largest? The Growth of Urban American Homes in the Last 100 Years

It’s a common grievance by now that living quarters in the most popular cities across the nation have been shrinking, with people paying ever more money just to save some time on their daily commute. In fact, a recent analysis found newly built rentals span the least number of square feet since before the market crash.

However, in spite of this recent trend in the rental market, only partially reflected in the newly-built single-family home market, US homes have shown a steady and quite remarkable rate of growth in size over the past 100 years. In the following, we’ll take a closer look at just how much they’ve expanded and which were the cities that have seen their living space sky-rocket the highest.

Overall, city-living is more spacious than ever before

Pulling in data for properties across 32 of the largest and busiest US cities, we’ve been able to determine the local building size trends for each decade since 1910. We then compared local trends with the evolution in size of the average American home to see whether urban living does indeed mean sacrificing larger living spaces found in the suburbs and smaller cities in exchange for convenience.

With a few notable, though not altogether surprising, exceptions, the average size of homes, by which we mean houses, condos and co-ops, has gone up significantly across America, with Las Vegas and San Diego leading the pack in terms of growth.

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US-wide homes now larger by 74%, personal living space went up 211%

US-wide, homes built in the last 6 years are 74% larger than those built in the 1910s, an increase of a little over 1,000 square feet. The average new home in America, be it condo or house, now spreads over 2,430 square feet. It is also important to note that, parallel to the rise in living space, households have been getting smaller over the same period. In 2015, the average number of people in a household is 2.58, compared to 4.54 in 1910. This means that today the average individual living in a newly built home in the US enjoys 211% more living space than their grandparents did, 957 square feet in total.

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Only 4 cities now surpass the national average

Looking at the data for these 32 cities, it seems there’s credence to the claim that big-city life means small-space living, at least in relative terms. Of the 32, only 4 cities rank above the national median in terms of size of homes built between 2010 and 2016 – Orlando, San Antonio, Nashville and Dallas. All of these can boast a median home that spreads over more than 2,600 square feet, a generous space by any account.

Select and unselect city data sets for increased visibility and comparisons:

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Boston still has the smallest homes in the nation

While a century of ever-increased comfort in the American lifestyle managed to squeeze in an extra 90 square feet in the typical new Bostonian home, it’s still no mansion: the average home built today spans “only” 909 square feet, ranking at the bottom of our list. Builders were actually far more generous in the 1990s, when the average new home span 1,360 square feet – however, construction volume at the time was very limited. A small and densely populated city, Boston draws in a lot of people, while construction lags behind, therefore buyer competition is high and prices are surging.

The Southwest and Texas saw the highest increases, as regular homes turned into mansions

While Texan homes have always been known for their grandiose proportions, they have still managed to come a long way from their not-so-humble beginnings, and those being built nowadays in San Antonio and in Dallas are about twice as large as a century ago, and are some of the largest in the nation. See more details about the average home size in the 6 largest cities in Texas.

Barely established as a city at the moment when our analysis begins, Las Vegas is nothing like its early days and that shows in the way people live now. The average home of the 1910s and 20s only spanned about 800 square feet, but homes being built now have almost triple the space. The city’s average residential square footage is about the same as the national one, a little over 2,400 square feet. The fact that the vast majority of all construction here was executed late in American history surely helped, together with the availability of land, making Las Vegas one of the most accommodating cities in terms of living spaces.

The second largest home size increase on our list was recorded in San Diego, a city that at the start of last century had an average home of a little over 1,000 square feet, the third smallest among the cities we covered. In the span of 100 years, new homes here have expanded by 124%, reaching sizes on par with those in Las Vegas and coming in at just under the national average. Growth in living space of newly built homes accelerated starting in the 1990s, and shows no signs of decline in the current decade. Home prices followed, rising throughout the 2000s up until the market crash, and then rising again since 2012, according to The Economist.

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Homes in these 4 cities are actually smaller than a century ago

 

People’s growing love for city life overcrowds downtowns in NYC and Washington

New York City makes a predictable appearance on the list of modest homes, as any long-time resident would have you know – inner-city dwellings are getting smaller all the time and micro-housing is becoming more and more popular. The average NYC home being built these days is 11% smaller than in 1910, spanning 1,230 square feet. Still, today’s homes are a little larger than those built in the 2000s, showing some signs of amelioration, though most of it is the result of a strong wave of luxury building with high square footage per unit. Meanwhile, prices for units in new developments, which make up the vast majority of newly built homes in this city, have been rising sharply over the past 3 years, as reported by Douglas Elliman.

Washington, DC recorded a similar drop in new-home sizes, though no particular trend could be seen throughout the time frame, and this is largely due to the construction of apartment buildings outpacing that of houses.

Nowhere left to build in popular Miami and San Francisco

A little more surprising, at first glance, are the figures seen in Miami, a market known for its thriving luxury segment. However, the high demand and the lack of available land have driven new developments upwards, and living space down. Almost all new homes built in this city over the past three decades have been condos. Therefore, the average home built between 2010 and 2016 was 25% smaller than that of the 1910s, having close to 1,200 square feet.

The epitome of a bull real estate market, San Francisco’s home prices are by now notoriously out of reach for most people. And it seems the space they get for the money isn’t looking much better: with 1,150 square feet to go around in the average-sized new home, it took Boston to keep it out of the number one spot as the nation’s most thrifty city in terms of living spaces now being developed. What’s more, a century ago San Francisco’s average home ranked 7th in size among the 32 cities analyzed, and while the rest of nation decided they needed more room to expand their lifestyle, residents of the Bay Area buying new homes today actually enjoy 28% less living space than contemporaries of the reconstruction following the 1906 earthquake.

 

Take a look below to find out the current median home size in your city:

CITY2010-2016 New-Home Median Size (sq ft)Full Housing Stock Median Size (sq ft)
Atlanta, GA2,3001,469
Austin, TX2,2002,068
Boston, MA909920
Charlotte, NC2,2461,704
Chicago, IL1,4501,344
Cleveland, OH1,6241,259
Columbus, OH1,8451,352
Dallas, TX2,6131,433
Denver, CO2,0221,193
El Paso, TX2,3242,089
Fort Worth, TX2,1661,660
Houston, TX2,3161,713
Indianapolis, IN2,0431,428
Jacksonville, FL2,3261,706
Las Vegas, NV2,4192,075
Los Angeles, CA1,8001,488
Memphis, TN2,3731,435
Miami, FL1,1791,160
Nashville, TN2,6782,221
New York City1,2301,238
Oklahoma City, OK1,8521,298
Orlando, FL2,9882,237
Philadephia, PA1,9191,200
Phoenix, AZ2,1571,506
Portland, OR1,9681,528
San Antonio, TX2,9472,175
San Diego, CA2,4171,407
San Francisco, CA1,1501,330
San Jose, CA1,8621,507
Seattle, WA1,7901,590
Tucson, AZ1,7711,438
Washington, D.C.1,1891,218
US2,4301,632

Methodology:

Data used in the study included square footage for all single-family homes, condo and co-op units built in each decade, inside the city limits (i.e. excluding the metropolitan area). Data was gathered from public sources, except for Chicago, IL and Austin, TX, where square footage found in for sale listings was used. National averages were calculated across all 50 states. All figures shown in the article represent the median value for each data set.

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