Are Suburban Homes Too Big?

Based on the typical number of occupants, suburbanites might not deserve the bad rap for mega-mansions.

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Suburbanites often have a reputation for owning homes too large for their needs. But do they really deserve the bad rap?

According to the data, no.

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Housing demand is fundamentally tied to factors such as age, marital status, whether a family has children, and whether the household is multigenerational. Yet even given this wide variety of family types, individual homes are often judged without considering who resides in them.

While it's true homes in non-urban areas tend to be larger than those in what the Census Bureau calls "central city" locations, a closer look at the average number of occupants living in each of the setting changes the picture dramatically.

Homes located in the central city of metropolitan areas have a median square footage of about 1,680 feet according to data from the American Housing Survey, compared to an average of 1,900 square feet for homes in located in the outer suburbs. But measured on a per person basis, the size of homes across various locations becomes virtually the same. In fact, the median size per person is 800 square feet nationally and for all types of locations, except for the central city, which is only slightly smaller at 767 square feet per occupant.

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Thus, the data show that while suburban homes may be larger, they are structured this way because they typically house more people, particularly children. This is an important fact to keep in mind in the housing policy debates this nation will have in 2013 and thereafter.

Housing is a life-cycle good, one that provides services to families and households of many types with differing needs. And homes may serve multiple roles, including the need for home office space as telecommuting becomes more common. For these reasons, protecting the principle of consumer choice is fundamental.

Robert Dietz is an economist with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Previously an economist with the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, Robert writes on housing and policy issues at NAHB's economics blog Eye on Housing. Follow Robert on Twitter at @dietz_econ. The information presented here does not necessarily represent the views of NAHB or its membership.

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