After greed and excess torpedoed the housing market a few years ago, Americans understandably began favoring more modest homes instead of pricey palatial abodes.
But it seems old habits die hard.
Reverting back to a "bigger is better" mentality, interest in mega-mansions 3,200 square feet and larger has almost doubled from a year ago, according to new data from real estate website Trulia. About 11 percent of today's house hunters say they want their own McMansions, up from just 6 percent last year.
Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko attributes part of the renewed interest in bigger homes to growing confidence in the housing recovery. The combination of a slowing flow of foreclosures, more home sales, and rising prices has buoyed faith in the housing market, making consumers more optimistic about making one of the biggest purchases of their lives.
Builders are taking notice, and responding to would-be buyers' growing appetite for more space. The average single-family house completed in 2011 was about 2,480 square feet, according to the Census Bureau, higher than figures reported in 2009 and 2010. According to the National Association of Home Builders, more than a quarter of all homes completed last year were larger than 3,000 square feet.
"Developers are actually on top of this trend," Kolko says. "They've seen the increase in demand for larger sized homes, especially in markets that were hit harder during the housing bust, and they've been responding to that."
But dreaming of a McMansion and being able to find and buy one are two different things. According to Trulia's data, there's a mismatch between what house hunters want and what's currently available on the market.
About 16 percent of those surveyed said their ideal home was in the 2,600 to 3,200 square feet range, but according to listing data from Trulia, homes currently on the market skew much smaller, with only 10 percent of homes listed falling within that range. Nearly 60 percent of homes listed are 2,000 square feet or smaller, which means many house hunters' hopes will be disappointed.
"There's not enough higher-end inventory to fulfill those dreams," Kolko says. "Optimism by consumers is outpacing what the reality is of what's available on the market."
But what consumers say they want doesn't always end up being realistic for them and their budgets. For starters, getting a mortgage continues to be a hurdle for most house hunters, which makes financing a home purchase—super sized or not—one more flaming hoop to jump through. Also, surveys that try to gauge consumers' desires tend to be a little skewed, according to some experts.
"You have to take [consumers'] desires with a grain of salt," says David Crowe, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders. "It's human nature when you're filling out a form to say, 'Would I like that? Yes.'"
Meg Handley is a business reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @mmhandley.