Could Millennials Kill Off the McMansion?

September 10, 2014

During the recession, the average new single-family home was 2,135 square feet. However, by 2013, the McMansion was back, with square footage blooming to 2,598 square feet, as more builders looked to cater to luxury home buyers.

But some analysts are questioning whether it’s the millennial generation that will reverse this trend, a generation that has already grown accustomed to more cramped corridors. After all, apartment sizes have been shrinking. In 2000, the average newly built apartment was about 1,003 square feet, but by 2010, the average had shrunk to 976 square feet, according to Axiometrics, a research firm. Also, micro-apartments – which are as little as 250 square feet – are growing in popularity, too.

Millennials, through housing surveys, have already shown a preference for walkable convenience with smaller living spaces, and many builders are starting to question how that will influence the design of future homes. Many renters have already shown they are willing to sacrifice space in order to be in a certain location or to have more amenities outside the home.

“They’re willing to live in smaller spaces because the community areas of the assets that we’re building now are so sophisticated,” Bradley Cribbins, COO and executive vice president of Alliance Residential, based in Phoenix, told BUILDER. “They have beautiful common areas where you can collaborate with other folks.”

But not all housing analysts believe that millennials living in smaller apartments will translate into a desire for smaller homes when they’re ready for home ownership one day. As their priorities shift, millennials will eventually want more yard, increased space, and a good school system for their children in the suburbs over a cramped place in the city, some builders and analysts say.

“They don’t really want what mom and dad have until they get married,” says Nick Lehnert, executive director at the architectural firm KTGY, based in Santa Monica, Calif. “Then all of a sudden things start to revert. They start getting realistic about what they need for the children and what they need for themselves. [Right now,] Gen Y is used to living in small spaces or with roommates because that’s all they can afford.”

However, some architects and builders are betting that millennials’ apartment living will influence their single-family tastes for more efficient designs over the McMansions their parents' generation preferred and are already working on designs to cater to this age group’s changing desires.

“I’m hoping this is the generation [that pulls in house size] because our generation went gigantic,” John Thatch, principal and director of design at Dahlin Group, based in Pleasanton, Calif., told BUILDER. “It’s a chance for architects to get back to design smaller, more thoughtful spaces that are flexible.”

For example, architects are exploring making kitchens and dining rooms smaller and creating more flexible spots, such as with a kitchen island instead of a table (a design common in apartments).

“People are disregarding the traditional formalities that once were considered essential staples,” says Howard Englander, who oversees architecture for Shea Homes. “For instance, the living room is obsolete, dated, and archaic. Very few builders are delivering the traditional living room.”

Open floor plans can help make up for lower square footage. “When you open up spaces and don’t define everything by three walls, you’re creating a bigger visual sensation, and buyers want that,” says Englander. “They want to see expanded vistas throughout the house.”

Other builders also see the more infusion between indoor and outdoor spaces, such as with outdoor area access being offered off the family room, kitchen, and master bedroom. And some cases even borrow from apartment design, such as using the rooftop as your backyard on smaller lots.

Source: “Inner Space: Is the McMansion on its Way Out?” BUILDER Online (Sept. 2, 2014)