One of our readers commented recently “It’s sad that municipalities force people into huge homes, by refusing to let people build small homes. It’s all about the money (taxes) that they want to rake in.”
but now help is at hand, in the suprising shape of the National Association of Home Builders. The size of new homes shrank in 2009 for the first time in three decades, figures from the NAHB show.
The recession has driven the trend, but financial necessity isn’t the only reason behind the move to downsize.
Whether from economic realities or a desire to reduce one’s ecological footprint, more people are seeking to downsize their living spaces, according to architect Duo Dickinson.
“I have a client who’s going from a 5,000-square-foot home to a 2,000-square-foot condo,” he said. “They’re completely changing the way they live.”
Dickinson was ahead of the wave. Five years ago, at the peak of the McMansion era of relaxed borrowing and cheap energy, the architect advocated building smaller in his book, “The House You Build”
He sees several factors powering the movement. “I think it’s a triple threat. There is a downsizing because of the economy, but there’s also the right-sizing philosophy of the Green movement,” Dickinson said. “The third factor is what could be called ‘amenitizing,’ boomers who don’t want to worry about home maintenance anymore.”
The old forces that led people to downsize — finances and the graduation of children from the home — are still behind many decisions, people in the industry say.
Tom Abbate, with William Raveis Real Estate, said his clients are much more budget-conscious today, which often leads them to choose smaller homes.
“People are definitely more conservative today,” he said. “The nuts and bolts is that it’s all about what they can afford to spend.”
And, Abbate added, buyers seem satisfied with that new reality. Architect William Cowan believes in small houses. His mere 950-square-foot, post-and-beam retreat — which he built himself, largely with hand tools — perches on a rocky, wooded bluff at the edge of a state forest in upstate NY. Cowan completed the house in 2007, along with a 750-square-foot barn, which he says “is where we put all our stuff.”
In this forested setting Cowan, his wife, Lisa, and their huge, bouncy Newfoundland, Angus, have lived for the past three years off the grid, relying on solar power, immersed in nature.
“This year, we’re hearing lots of owls,” Cowan said. “It’s very dark. You can hear coyotes howling.”
Cowan says the choice to stay small was both economic and ecological. “Of course, it’s cheaper to build small,” he said. “The taxes are lower and so is maintenance. We also didn’t want to disturb the site too much. We built on piers and we don’t have a lawn. My yard is forest.”
On a tree-lined street in the village of Deep River, Woodside is snug as Winnie the Pooh in her charming, 1,200-square-foot, two-story Victorian. She moved there in 1992 with her husband, Nathaniel Eddy, a Westbrook schoolteacher, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Annie. Until they went off to college, the girls shared a bedroom; Woodside does her writing in a closet-sized space she calls “the garret.”
“My friends would come over and say, ‘This is a nice starter home,’ which is funny because we never thought of it that way,” she said. “We always seemed to have enough room. Really, how much space do you need?”
For Guilford gallery owner Kathryn Greene, her 1,350-square-foot apartment in a 100-year-old barn feels about right. “We had a global economic collapse,” Greene says. “That changed the way we see things. A house today is more about what it does for you than what it says about you. It’s the very opposite of the McMansion. We need places that embrace us, a refuge from the uncertainty we all feel.”
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