Declines in Home Sizes Seen Easing, AIA Survey Reveals

WASHINGTON, DC — The collapse of the housing market resulted in greater interest in smaller homes, but that trend appears to be leveling off, as there continues to be interest from homeowners in investing in their properties, particularly with regard to outdoor living space. Accessibility also remains a concern, along with ongoing demand for more flexible and open design within homes.

That’s the key finding of the latest in a series of quarterly “Home Design Trends” surveys conducted by the American Institute of Architects. The survey, conducted among a panel of some 500 residential architects, found that while downsizing has been the dominant theme for housing over the past several years, that trend is becoming less dominant “as the housing market indicates the beginning of a thaw,” and declining home sizes “may be finally hitting bottom.”

“As falling house prices pushed the number of foreclosed properties to record levels, new homes have been getting smaller and more affordable in an effort to compete with these distressed properties [and] home designs have not included much in the way of extras,” the Washington, DC-based AIA said.

According to the AIA, the few options included in home designs during the downturn have typically focused on green features (often to improve energy efficiency in an environment of rising energy costs) or accessibility, as an aging population looks for adaptations that allow them to stay in their current homes.

That, however, appears to be changing, according to AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker.

“Overall home sizes showing signs of increasing slightly indicates that the housing market is stabilizing after being in a downward spiral since 2007,” Baker observed.

Declines Moderating

During the run-up in housing prices through the middle of this past decade, home sizes increased dramatically, the AIA said – noting that, in contrast, home sizes declined sharply during the recession. However, the AIA’s latest survey, focused specifically on the first quarter of 2011, “suggests that this trend is moderating.”

While the latest figures don’t suggest that home sizes are suddenly and dramatically increasing, they reveal “that the pace of decline has slowed.

“Until home prices begin to accelerate, it is unlikely that home sizes and volumes will show significant gains,” Baker said.

Declines in home sizes at the upper end of the market appear to be stabilizing ahead of more affordable, entry-level homes, he commented. “In most markets across the country, lower-price homes have fallen further percentage-wise during the housing recession and, as a result, a high share of distressed properties are at the lower end of the new home price spectrum.

“Buyers of upper-end custom and luxury homes, therefore, may be a bit less nervous about further price declines,” Baker said.

Simplicity in Layouts

Reflecting the desire to keep homes affordable in the current weak housing market, home layouts have generally been simpler and floor plans more flexible, according to the AIA, which notes that the one general exception to this trend is a continued interest in accessibility into and around the home.

“As our population ages and household members prefer to age in their current home, accessibility has become a growing concern,” Baker says, pointing out that in-home accessibility was observed to be increasing in popularity by 58% of surveyed architects. Accessibility into and out of the home was another design priority seen as growing in popularity by almost half of the respondents.

An open space layout was another design priority seen as growing in popularity, Baker said.

“With more pressure on space in the home, interest has grown in designing homes with more open space that gives the household more programmatic flexibility,” he commented, adding that informal space is another lifestyle preference that remains popular.

Outdoor living also continues to be a popular lifestyle preference, and therefore a popular design option. Sixty percent of surveyed architects reported outdoor living spaces (like covered outdoor space, outdoor rooms and outdoor cooking areas) to be growing in popularity – one of the few items where popularity was reported as accelerating from the survey of a year ago. A related trend, blended indoor/outdoor space, was also reported as growing in popularity, the AIA said.