Recently I was watching one of the HGTV home buying shows, and the prospective buyer said she needed at least 3,000 square feet. She was a single woman with dogs, no children. My first thought was: why do you need a home that big? I grew up in a 2,000 square foot house with four bedrooms and 2 ½ baths. There were four of us. It was plenty of space for all of us. My new house is around 1900 square feet and it feels huge. Before you decide you need a big house, consider why that is and whether a small house has its advantages.

Why Do You Want a Big House?
In the 90s, McMansions were all the rage. People flocked to these massive homes with giant kitchens and expansive great rooms and three-car garages. I always wondered what the appeal was. On HGTV, people say they want a house where the family won’t be on top of each other. I certainly never felt like we were on top of each other in 2,000 square feet.

Will You Really Use All that Space?
Often, you’ll see homeowners with a room that’s simply abandoned. It’s the junk storage room. It might even be empty. My husband knows a couple who don’t use the top floor of their house at all. If you plan to expand your family quickly, buying a 3-bedroom instead of a 1-bedroom is wise, but be careful of overbuying or overbuilding. I saw a family on TV that expanded their house to 5,000 square feet – more than doubling the original size – about a year before their kids started to leave for college. What are they going to do with the space after everyone moves out?

Many families are actually downsizing to smaller homes after discovering that the huge dream home was too big to clean or manage.

Advantages of a Big House
I can see some advantages to a big house, but it’s still hard for me to imagine needing that much space. The advantages are:

  • Dedicated office
  • Large kitchen
  • Bedroom for each child
  • Space between parents’ and children’s bedrooms
  • Room to enjoy individual interests
  • Ample storage space
  • Modern updates and design (most larger homes are newer)

Advantages of a Small House
Okay, maybe it’s just because I live in Los Angeles where the majority of homes are under 2000 square feet, but I don’t feel a need to have a huge house. I see these celebrity mansions with seven bedrooms and wonder what anyone needs that much room for (Brad and Angelina excepted.) In fact, a smaller home has three distinct advantages:

  • More time spent together as a family
  • Lower heating and cooling costs
  • Less wasted space

The choice between a large home and a small home is partly one of personal preference. Of course, it also depends on your region. In areas with recent development, large homes are close to business centers. In older, built-out regions, larger homes are either very expensive or far from urban centers.

It’s common to fantasize about living in a mansion, but when it comes down to it you have to ask yourself whether you’ll really use all that space while evaluating the home.  Also consider the challenges of a small home before you try to squeeze into 1000 square feet with a family of four. Discovering a home is too big or too small after you move in is a surefire path to discontent.


3 Responses to “Big Home vs. Small Home: How Much House Do You Need?”

  1. Bucksome on August 19th, 2009 6:04 pm

    Great food for thought. I agree people had gone overboard with the average size of homes in the past decade prior to the recent economic downturn. Lots of San Diegans lived 40 miles away so they could get a bigger house. I don’t want more space for a lesser quality of life (lost time while in traffic, more wear and tear on the car and higher cost of gas).

  2. Festival of Frugality | Frugal Upstate on February 15th, 2010 9:24 pm

    [...] presents Big Home vs. Small Home: How Much House Do You Need? posted at Sound Money [...]

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