What style of home do most Americans prefer and how big should it be? The National Association of Home Builders asked that question and got some answers. In a recently published survey, "What 21st Century Home Buyers Want," the NAHB asked thousands of recent or potential homebuyers a host of questions about what they're looking for in a new home. Among the basic questions:

  • Would you prefer a one-story, two-story or split-level home?
  • How large a home do you want, based on square footage?
  • How much land do you desire?
A majority of those responding, 52 percent, said they wanted a one-story home. About a third, 35 percent, said they preferred a two-story home. The remaining 13 percent wanted a split-level.

Age and income play a part in buyer preferences. As the age of the head of the household rises, so does the preference for a one-story home. Climbing steps tends to get a lot less desirable as people grow older. On the other hand, the desire for a two-story home rises along with household income.

Regional preferences also were evident in the survey. Two-story homes are most popular in the Northeast, while single-story homes are the clear winner in the South Central and South Atlantic states. The desire for a split-level remained relatively constant across the regions.

Buyers seem to share one thing in common. Most want more living space. The median size of the respondents' current homes was 1,770 square feet. How much space did they really want? The median response was 2,071 square feet. In 2000, the median size for new single family homes was about 2,070 square feet of floor space.

Now, how much land do you need for these bigger homes? Less than you might think. In 1976, the median lot size of new homes was 10,125 square feet. Last year, that median size had slipped to 8,750 square feet. Most people responding to the survey indicated they were looking for 1/4 acre to 1/2 acre lots. That translates to 11,000 to 22,00 square feet.

There's the rub. While lot size is on the decline, the desire for bigger homes is rising. Homebuyers want one-story homes, but builders have been responding to the demand for more living space by building more two-story homes. More stories allow expansion of interior space without increasing a home's "footprint" -- the amount of land it uses. This has become more important as land becomes less available and more costly in many metro areas.

Which home style works best for you? Consider such factors as:

  • How many people will live at the house.
  • Do you want a home office? (Always ask about zoning and other restrictions.)
  • How many bedrooms do you need? Think in terms of residents, a guest room, a home office, etc.
  • What style means the least maintenance and cost in your climate?
  • How much square footage would work for you?
  • Are stairs a current or future concern?
  • Would you prefer an existing or new home? Each has advantages.
  • How much land do you need? Generally, more property translates into greater upkeep.
  • Is it possible that no general style works for you? If yes, consider the use of an architect to design a custom-built home.

Carol Ochs is a Washington-based reporter who covers new home trends.

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