The 2008 housing market collapse saw a number of casualties, with thousands either losing their homes or being unable to purchase the homes they had been planning on. Recent surveys show that there may have been another casualty of the housing crisis – the McMansion. Most builders say that those 4,000 square foot homes are quickly becoming a thing of the past, with the average home size expected to fall from 2,438 square feet to 2,152 square feet by 2015 according to the National Association of Home Builders. It’s not a huge drop, but it’s certainly a start, and still larger than the 983 square foot average seen in the 1950s.

Merry HDR Christmas
Trey Ratcliff via Compfight

It does, however, raise an interesting question for potential home buyers, both first time and those buying their second or third home – how much home do you really need? What’s reasonable from both a size and financing standpoint? How do you make sure you get just what you need?

The Changing Home and You

Part of the change in average home size is due to the changing of what’s included in homes versus five to six years ago. While a large foyer, living room, and formal dining room were almost standard features in the McMansion era of the early 21st century, these days those features are often merging into a single area or even disappearing altogether.

What does this mean as a potential home buyer? It means you should evaluate what rooms of your living space you actually use. How often do you eat in your dining room versus that table in your kitchen? When was the last time you sat in your living room as opposed to the family room with the large TV and surround sound system? If you’re anything like me, they get used around the holidays and not much else.

Even bedroom use is worth questioning, especially if you have children. Do the kids really each need their own room? Are you actually using that home office, or just storing your laptop there when it’s not being used on the couch or kitchen table? These assessments need to be made before you begin the process of looking for a new home since it will influence your choice in location, community, and even builder.

How Much Home Can You Afford?

Some of what led to the housing crisis was buyers taking on more home than they needed, and thus more home than they could afford. The banks were certainly complicit in this with questionable lending practices, but let’s keep this on the buyers for the moment.

An honest assessment of your finances is vital to knowing how much home you can afford and how that lines up with how much home you think you need. You might be lucky in that they line up perfectly, but odds are that they won’t, and that you either can’t afford the home you think you need or, possibly worse, you can afford more home than you think you need, which requires some hard questions.

Getting Just What You Need

So how do you make sure that you get only the house that you need, even if you’ve been approved for more home than you really need, or can truly afford? The simplest answer is to be sure to shop around and look at a wide range of homes, finding one that fits within your budget and your realistic needs for a home. This can be a long process, and you may be limited by what’s available in the area you want to live in, but there is another option as well.

An alternative to purchasing an existing home that fits within your space and budget needs is to work with a custom home builder to create the home you want, one that fits within your budget and space requirements. Most custom home builders will have several different models to choose from which can be tailored to your needs, and they should all work from any plans that you bring them so that the home is truly yours.

The one thing to keep in mind when working with a home builder like this is that they may require you to already own a piece of land to build the home on. This can be an additional expense that influences your home decision, so be sure to weigh your options carefully.

How Much Do You Need?

And so we circle back to the original question of how much home one truly needs. Unfortunately there’s no cut and dry answer, despite everything we just discussed, mostly because everyone has different needs. The best answer is to say that potential homeowners should sit down and do an honest assessment of their lives as they stand, how they think that may change in the coming years, and and talk with their financial consultant to get a clear picture of where their finances stand in relation to this decision.

Whether you decide that you need a small ranch-style home for two, a townhouse, or a large three-story home for your growing family, be sure to get what you want and what you need so that you’re happy with your home for years to come.

Scott Sleeme is the President of Mitchell Homes, Inc, offering built on your lot homes in Richmond, Fredericksburg, and throughout most of Virginia, offering more than 30 fully customizable floor plans.

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