We're a nation of super-sized everything -- from food to homes -- but developers are scaling down in some areas of the country in an effort to make houses more affordable.

"Over the years the size of homes has expanded as the market grew hotter and hotter. But now that the market is going through an adjustment period and costs have ramped up, builders are exploring different ways of reducing costs. One of those is to reduce the size of the homes in terms of overall square footage in different sections of the home," says Joseph Narkiewicz, executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association.

According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, builders are shrinking homes. Some are scaling back from 2,200 square feet to 1,800. They are even building two-bedroom houses that only offer a little more than 1,000 square feet. The down-size allows for homes to be reduced to more feasible prices.

Lest you think the news is all bad, Narkiewicz says this is just a strategic move -- not a sign that times are taking a turn for the worst. "The state of the economy is improving somewhat so there is some degree of optimism that we're looking forward to. In fact, one of our economists in Florida estimates that as we work through 2008, things should get better as the year progresses," says Narkiewicz.

In fact, Narkiewicz says there will still be super-sized homes for those whose lifestyles demand it and incomes support it. However, for others things may be getting a bit back to normal.

"Some things may have gone to the extreme and I think buyers are now going through a realty check and [finding] they don't really need those huge bathrooms like [developers] were building. They don't really need all the extra space that [developers] were building and, to try to mitigate the higher pricing, they're bringing [the square footage] down," says Narkiewicz.

So is this a passing trend that will fade as market conditions improve?

"I don't believe it's going to be a passing fad. I think that homes will be down-sized somewhat and that will probably remain there until people decide they want more space. But this is probably going to become a more permanent thing," says Narkiewicz.

Also on the way out are some amenities, "The large clubhouse with the elaborate swimming pools in certain communities may be gone simply as a cost-saving measure as well as people may not want to have the maintenance costs of those facilities through homeowner's association dues," says Narkiewicz. He also says gated communities may be on the decline in certain markets.

He says buyers are also opting for less expensive materials in their homes. "There are some people who may forgo granite countertops in favor of the Formica tops -- the less costly countertops -- for the initial construction phase. Later on they can always replace them as money becomes more available," says Narkiewicz.

Another challenge adding to the current real estate conditions is dealing with growth management laws. Narkiewicz says some planners and neighborhood activists oppose land-use plan changes or zoning that would increase population density.

Narkiewicz says, "Sometimes it's a matter of the numbers game. At two units to the acre, the lot costs X. At four units to the acre the lot might cost half that amount."

He adds that some of the growth management trends are to establish urban service boundaries. "So that within those boundaries is where all the growth is to occur, which then artificially limits the supply of land that is available for development -- and when you limit the supply of something it just bids the price up. When you bid up the price of raw land, obviously, the price of finished lots goes up and therefore the price of the finished homes goes up. So government has a tendency, through its regulatory process, to artificially inflate the cost of housing and these are some of the issues that we've been battling throughout the country," says Narkiewicz.

Log in to comment