How Many Square Feet Should Our Home Have?

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Housing bubble concerns aside, we’re starting to look at some homes on the internet to get an idea of what prices are like right now. One thing we need to decide is what size of place to look at. I was going to title this post “How big a house do we really need?”, but I realized that too often the word “need” is used when we really mean “will be satisfied with as the spoiled people that we are”. :)

I mean, I spent the majority of my childhood living in an 800 sq. ft. apartment that is smaller than where we live now with half the people. And now I’m complaining about clutter! What happened?

There’s also been some rumblings about the backlash against so-called McMansions, so I decided to look up some stats on average home sizes versus the average number of people in the household. The results were very surprising to me:

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau

So from 1970 to 2004, the average household shrunk by 27%, but the average square footage grew by 66%. (Using median numbers gave similar results.) Now numbers can be misleading, but just by looking at the layout of older houses, people really do seem to expect more space now.

Right now it’s just the two of us. Kids are a big unknown, it could be a couple years, it could be more. Hard to predict. Our parents are also hinting that we should have an extra guest room too (ahem). Initially, we are looking at detached homes of about 1,500 square feet, which usually results in a kitchen, one living room, one dining area, 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. No formal dining rooms, family rooms, or other such extras. Since I want one room to be a home office, that leaves one bedroom for us and one flexible bedroom that could be a guest room or for children someday. In the future, I could conceivable make the home office convert to a guest room at night

We know the “average” person moves in less than 7 years, but all of our siblings have settled down in their first homes. And the whole reason we are moving is to be near family, so this home might just last us a very long time. Still, we could go smaller and get a 2-bedroom condo for now. This would save some money now, but we’d have to move again later.

It’s a tough decision! Homeowners: How did you decide how much space you wanted to buy? Was it limited to how much you could afford, what was available in the neighborhood you like, what your friends had, or other considerations? Did you buy what you need right now, or did you look ahead to the future?

Comments

  1. We just purchased our first home last summer. With all our friends purchasing 2500+, we saw how useless a lot of their space turned out to be. A full bedroom dedicated to storage, etc. What was worse, all felt compelled to “fill” their space which means unnecessary furniture purchases. One even hired a maid to clean once a week, feeling overwhelmed.

    When we decided on a 1700 sq. ft. home, we were teased. But we have consistently been able to keep it cleaner and keep energy costs lower. Plus we were able to afford a larger yard at 1 acre…which was very important to us.

    The decision was more practical than financial. It is exactly what we need now yet roomy enough for several years to come. We plan to move when we grow out of it in 5 years or so when the fourth or fifth little one comes along.

  2. The decision is farther away from me, I’m just graduating college and moving for my first job. Will be in apartment for a year, but that is when it gets complicated. After a year, I want to buy either a house or a condo because they are pretty affordable in that area and I do not want to waste much on renting. On the other hand, my significant other is in the military for the next 3-4 years. So getting a house just for myself I think will be too much at this time. On the other hand, if I get a condo, it won’t be enough in 5 years as we are talking about having kids soon after we get together. From what I have heard, condos are not that easy to sell in that area because houses are pretty cheap. Maybe I should just stay in apartment, but throwing money away for 4 years just does not seem right. I know the decision is at least a year away, but my savings strategy depends on it.

  3. I?m looking at an older home with 1600 ft2 and a garage in the back. I can open the windows instead of running the AC all the time.

    My main consideration was to find something I can live with but keep the mortgage payments less than $600 per month since I still have taxes and insurance on top of that.

  4. Well, Every market is a little different, but I work as a Realtor in the Delaware and SE PA area and would agree with you ideas? I would definitely get at least a 3 bedroom no matter what type of home you decide to go with. Just about every client I have ever worked with preferred 3 small bedrooms to 2 larger ones. Your resale will be a lot easier as well. I tend to look at sq-footage less than how that space is used and have been in 2500sqfters that felt like 1000 because of the layout.
    I tend to warn my clients against buying a condo unless they are the ?I don’t want a lawn to mow? type. Condos are more of a liquid asset compared to other realty and will be the first to loose value if the market heads south. McMansions will be the second home type that will loose out in that instance. In my area there has been a huge explosion of mcmansion building and the market has far too many of these types of homes available. Buyers have no problem low balling these types of homes already. With HVAC costs going up people are getting eaten alive by their bills trying to heat and cool the larger sq footages.
    The type of home your talking about sounds great though. If homes in your area have them, you may want to find one with a finished walk out basement. The extra room and versatility is Very popular in my market.
    Personally, I went with a foreclosed 3 bedroom Town house. The price was right, I was able to do all the repairs myself, and it is close to a university so that I can rent it out at a later date if I wanted. Large enough to be comfortable, but nothing glamorous.
    Cheers

  5. Don’t get hung up on square footage, it’s misleading. In fact, I would suggest you ignore the number entirely and just look at what each house has to offer.

    When you actually start getting into the houses to poke around, you’re going to see that one 2,000 sq ft house has just as much livable space as some other 1,400 sq ft house. Except it has a 600 sq.ft. walk-in pantry (or whatever, you get the idea). The number itself means nothing.

  6. Anonymous T says:

    For our first house, we limited ourselves to 2x salary for just me and left my spouses income out of the picture, se we bought an older 1200 sq. ft. house in a urban (but nice) area. This turned out to be a financially wise decision as the mortgage payments were quite small and easy to handle. My salary grew faster than expected and we were able to sale a LOT of money. The smaller house was good for our needs for a while, but after we had 2 children we felt the need for more space and better schools. We polanned to have kids so we knew we’d only be in the house for at most 7 yeasr which we kept in mind while we remodeled it. So after 6 years we bought a much bigger house (at a much bigger price of 3x of my new salary.) We really like the new house, but we are not able to save nearly as much as before so there are trade-offs. Luckily with our crazy saving from before, one month of investment earnings is now more than we used to save in a year! Pretty neat stuff. Our way paid off nicely for us but may or may not work for you. It has allowed my wife to stay home with the kids and not have to worry about money all the time.

    Good luck to you. You’ll do fine whatever you choose.

  7. the payment will be with you forever, good times and bad. for this reason, i decided to find a good value buy at a price that was easy to afford. much less than what we could qualify for. the extra hundreds of dollars a month, every month, makes us able to have a much more fulfilling life than a larger house for the next couple of years would.

    plus, in our case, all of that extra money goes to investment properties. i could really care less about how small my house might be to other people, i have others, they dont.

  8. theguapo says:

    Last fall, we purchased a 2500 sq. ft house (4 bedroom). At the time we were only 3 in the household, but soon we’ll be 4. Also, we both work from home at times, so we’ve converted the formal living room into an office. That leaves us 1 spare bedroom (for guests – which we probably have 10% of the year), and a dining room we hardly ever use (our only truly wasted space).

    This should be our house for the next 20 years, and we got it at somewhat of a discount – $92 per square foot, so I feel good about its size for our “needs”. A neat website for looking at actual sale prices is http://www.wikibroker.com. It can give you a good idea of what houses are actually selling for in your neighborhood.

    I think our parents were just willing to do with less. My family (6 people) spent all of our growing up years in a 1200 sq ft ranch.

  9. It really depends on how old a house you’re looking for and what part of the country you live in. Here, if you want a house

  10. Stephen says:

    Short answer = you can’t.

    You can look for “x bedrooms plus y baths plus a family room” but looking for square footage can be problematic.

    1. MLS listings often aren’t accurate.

    2. Basements or the bottom floor of a raised ranch often don’t count.

    3. Layout makes a HUGE difference.

    My old house had 1200 square feet. My current house has 1400 square feet. Yet this current one is literally twice as big as the old house.

  11. I have been helping people buy homes for five years as a Realtor and have been a careful observer of the home buying decision process. I have been a part of the selection process for close to 100 transactions. Here are some of my observations:

    1) Most buyers don?t start with the finished sq feet (FSF) requirement, but instead focus on a price range with a comfortable monthly payment. After the price range is selected, we start at the lower end and see if their needs (number of BRs/BAs) can be met at that level. I strongly suggest that buyers do not start looking at the top of their price range. It is difficult to accept less when you have seen more. While we might put a minimum on FSF, I never have people select a home based on that number. There is a difference between the value above and below ground FSF that makes it a difficult number in which to place a lot of importance. 2) I have watched people make the choice to purchase homes over and over again. It is fascinating to see that the final decision is based on an emotional response that the buyer has immediately upon walking in the front door. I like to think that the buyer is able to make this decision comfortably based on our study of the local market and what is available in their preferred price range. 3) It makes the most sense for buyers to look into the future and make sure that they will not grow out of their home too quickly. For example, if someone is planning on having more than one child, they will most often prefer that they have 3 BRs on 1 level. It is the most common reason that I see for people deciding to sell their homes.

    Personally, my husband and I decided on our last home based on the view. I didn?t need to see the inside and I knew we were going to buy it. One thing that we have found is that it is actually too much space for us (1750 FSF) and that we prefer a smaller home. We do love the home and will be here for awhile.

  12. My wife and I just purchased our first home in October. We already knew we wanted a decent size home since children are hopefully going to be in the picture in about 2 years. Our process:

    First we decided how much we wanted our payments to be. From there we went to our bank to see the amount we could borrow and keep the payments at or below our predetermined level. Our final decision was whether to buy new construction or an older home. We decided that the value was in older homes in our area. So we ended up purchasing a foreclosure with cosmetic problems (we are not inept but not builders either). Due to this process we ended up with a 25 year old 2300 square foot house and a 1 acre lot. That is the average size for homes in our neighborhood and some of the smaller homes that have just sold in the area are going for 50 thousand more than we paid for ours. Once we are done with the repairs and changes that need to be made there should be about 40 thousand in sweat equity. Also because of the low payments if we decide to stay in the house for 10 years we should be able to pay it off.

  13. Jonathan-
    Congrats on getting to the home shopping stage! My square footage decision was mostly decided by price and location (commute) considerations.
    Having gone through the experience, I think my advice would be: buy the house that you want for the immediate long-run (5 to 10 years), buying a house is so much hassle and there are so many costs involved, it doesn’t make sense to buy a house you can’t see yourself living in, in say 7 years. So space wise: what kind of house would you want to be living in in 7 years?

  14. Don’t wait until you have a kid to realize you need about 2k sq. feet (that can include finished basement) for two adults and a baby. Open houses are added stress to having a baby. Old houses with sandstone basements gets dust on your stuff, a large poured concrete basement is better. Remember to make sure there are closets!

    Also important, a large kitchen that opens onto as much living space as possible. If you might want to garden, huge trees can put an end to that. One nice thing about having bedrooms upstairs is you can leave the windows wide open. It is nice to get a house where someone else just put all the money in, new windows, mechanicals, etc.

    Make going to open houses a hobby.

  15. ttfitz says:

    Our first house was largely determined by what we could afford – and NOT what the broker and mortgage people said we could afford. We both had 1 bedroom apartments and our combined rent was enough for the kind of house we were interested in, although a little farther out in the suburbs than we originally had thought. Like you, I had one bedroom as a home office, and when we decided to start a family, we decided we needed more room and moved up then.

    The big difficulty I see for you is the kids question – a couple years is probably too soon to be moving again (given the unlikelyhood of the kind of price appreciation we’ve seen in the past few years). One kid would be fine in a 3 bedroom house for a few years, anyway.

  16. Are you considering the house in the picture above? Wow, nice lookin place. Not even for the size, but the windows. My grandfather founded a window business back in 1949, so I’m a little partial to windows. :-)

    I would not aim for some particular square footage number. We were looking for a three bedroom home in a particular neighborhood, and that’s what we ended up with. We paid top dollar in 2000 for the street we bought on, and now the house has appreciated $50,000-60,000. So in other words, 2000′s “top dollar” looks like a steal today.

    My wife had some very rigid ideas in her head about the house we were going to find. I call it “the formula.” She’s say, “I want a house with xxx square feet, this many bedrooms, this many baths, this size yard, for this price.” Unless you go live in the cookie cutter suburbs, not all houses are going to come in the exact shape you want.

    The key is admitting to yourself that this is not just some investment, but a very emotional decision. It’s OK to fall in love with a house – you are going to have to spend untold number of hours in it, you had better love it! Sounds corny, but find a house that charms your socks off, and if you have to pay a little more, that is OK.

  17. Also, I’ve been through alot of open houses in our neighborhood. I have admired many of these houses for years from the outside. Then, you finally get a peek at the inside, and it’s laid out all funky. Not the decor, the actual rooms, hallways, etc. Just really choppy, not suited to comfortable living. Hard to put into words, but you’ll know it when you go thru such a house. Some houses just have bad bones, both inside and out.

  18. Our house is too big. It’s 2700 square feet and my wife is always saying we should sell it and buy a smaller house. I don’t disagree but it is nice to have an extra large room for our daughter to keep her toys in (and play) so the house doesn’t get cluttered.

    That said, I wish our house was a bit smaller so that the cost of maintenance was lower. We had to reside our house which was double the cost because it’s double the size. The roof is next. Same story.

    The main reason we picked our house is because we wanted to be in a nice neighborhood with quality neighbors. I wouldn’t discount that. Our first house was more affordable and we suffered with rentals behind us and hillbillys next to us. Never again. We also chose this house because it is on a dead end street. It’s VERY nice not to have tons of cars going by all day, especially now that we have a child.

  19. I would suggest three things :

    1. buy a home in an established neighborhood in the best school district that you can find. These homes will always hold their value because besides money the thing people value most is that their kids are taken care of to the best of their ability and that includes getting them in the best schools possible. You don’t have children now but guess what the wife could bring news tomorrow and your world could be turned upside down.

    2. buy a home that is dated on the inside that you can build equity in through sweat-equity. You are both young and although you may feel strapped for time the fact of the matter is that w/out kids you have more time then you know what to do with. Most folks in nicer neighborhoods hire everything out because they can afford to so if you have the time and patience to do it yourself you will save a boat-load and build equity fast.

    3. buy something that once you’ve fixed up a bit you could sell quickly. You certainly want a home that you both love but you also want a home that when the time comes others will love too. You are correct you aren’t going to live in your home forever and quite possibly shorter than you think so you always have to keep resale in the back of your mind

    good luck and enjoy the process

  20. Jon,

    To answer your question, our decision was based moreso on what was available in our price range and what we felt would give us extra room to “grow” if needed. We could have gotten some huge houses (we are in TX) but decided to stick with a 1-story since the 2-story 2400 sq ft homes that are everywhere would cost more to heat and cool than the mortgage payments. :) We went with a pretty typical 3/2, although it has a lot of sq ft (1960) and also has an outside 2-story storage shed, and a 2-car garage. I think the storage shed is one of the best features – it gets rid of the need to keep gardening equipment, paint, bikes, etc. in the garage and really frees a lot of space. But keeping it at 1-story really saves on a/c and heating costs, in comparison to other folks I know who have larger, 2-story homes (we’re talking like $500/month savings during summer months in TX).

    Seeing as we don’t have any kids now, though, we really don’t use very much of the house. Of the 3 bedrooms, one is for us, one is a “guest” room (which is rarely used so mostly our cats just sleep there) and another is our computer room/office, which I really like having and use a lot. We also have a formal dining room which rarely gets use as well, as well as a hall bathroom which rarely gets used unless we have visitors. We probably only regularly use half of the house! I can imagine that if we had a child, though, then the guest room would become his/her room, and the computer room could also be a guest room, but we would still have plenty of space. 1960 sq ft really is a lot of space for only two people, and would be plenty for three. With 2 kids, though, I could see how the space would start to run out, but mostly since I really like having the separate computer room/office area.

  21. JTMurdock says:

    I bought a condo, and I honestly went out to find the biggest one I could find for the money I could afford ($220k). I got a 900 square feet of living space, and a condo built in the 1970s. In my area, that’s massive for a one bedroom condo in the Nothern VA/DC area. The reason I went for it was resale value. I don’t plan to live here forever, five years to ten years at the most. I want to make some nice upgrades to it, nothing huge, but I want to be able to get $275k out of it if possible.

  22. Heather says:

    I’m not a homeowner, but the rent-vs-buy calculator from the NYT really leaned me against “starter condos”. My happy homeowning friends are all living in houses similar to what you describe. Hardest part is when family is over, not enough bathrooms!

    I’m working on a backup home office for when mine is taken over by guests. Basically, I want to add a desk in my bedroom, for my laptop. I might get one that swings over a lay-z-boy like chair… :-)

  23. Remember that you have to “clean” the square footage that you buy. We have a 1300 sq ft house, a 6 month year old daughter, both working and maybe, maybe the vacuum attacks the dust dinos every two weeks…..space is nice, (this is also true with the acreage that you “need” e.g. mowing a 2 acre lot is a LOT of work) but clutter and a housekeeper will certainly follow.

  24. Our decision was based more on needs than how much we could afford. A few years ago when we began looking we saw a wide range of houses in our price range, from 3,000 sqft ranches to 1,200 sqft cottage type homes, some were sitting on 5 acres of land and others on city plots.

    Anyway we decided on a 1,600 sqft home and even now we only use about 800 of it. It is a two story 3 bed 2 bath with a finished walkout basement yet we only use one bedroom and only ever step foot into the basement to do laundry or for when guests stay over.

    While it would have been nice to have some amenities of a larger home this is more than enough for the two of us and some other features make it more attractive. For example coming off the first floor is a large 40×20 elevated deck that has a nice overlook of the lake. While not included in the square footage of the home it is a tremendous outdoor living space that gets used everyday in the warm months.

    Combine that with a sizable yard with the ability to have a garden and that is worth far more than the extra square footage or prestigious location. There is much more to consider when buying a home than size and location, unfortunately a lot of people today will pay a premium just for something bigger or in a well-off neighborhood.

    So in a roundabout way of answering your question, we bought based on need and desires, not how much we could afford, yet planned ahead enough so that we could accommodate one child initially. Given we aren’t too thrilled with the school system we would move before a child would turn 5 anyway so it really wasn’t an issue in our decision.

  25. We first bought a condo because it was ALL we could afford where we lived. We really stretched, but we got the most we could afford (trying to go for resale) so got an end unit and 3 bedrooms. This upped its re-saleability and also gave us plenty of room in case we could never afford a $500k+ starter home. ;)

    We then got sick of ridiculous housing and moved. We never asked a broker how much we could afford the second time around – wouldn’t want to know – would have been WAY more than we felt comfortable. We knew we wanted kids and hubby wanted a dedicated theatre room. We didn’t know if kids would be in 2 years or 10, but we knew we didn’t want to move again if we didn’t have to. So we decided $300k was our limit – if we could find all we wanted in a house for that – we’d go for it. We had a lot to put down and figured at the time we could afford the mortgage on $40k a year, or on slightly less than 1 income. It was key that we would never have to depend on 2 incomes for the mortgage. To me this is a true measure of affordability. We knew when we had kids we would go down to 1 income.

    Overall my advice is go for the MOST you can afford, that is well within reason of affordability. Better off buying a smaller home in a nice neighborhood than a bigger/fancier home in a worse neighborhood. Protect your investment, think ahead to resale. Around here we notice starter homes are not selling at all in this downturn (no new buyers in the market so all the 3-bedrooms sit and sit and sit) and the high-end homes which were very affordable a few years back are now out of reach of most. We bought middle (2600 square feet) and one of the smaller models in a very upscale neighborhood. Our house hasn’t gone down in value. Overall if you can pull it off without much financial strain, I say it is the way to go. Go medium, go for neighborhood, etc. It will greatly depend on your situation. The only downside is we bought our dream home figuring we would never want to move, and 5 years later we have 2 kids and enjoy all the space still. BUT this house is twice as big as our last home, and it is amazing how fast we have grown accustomed to it. Though we never wanted to move again, we have been considering it (for more land than anything) but all the same, moving presents much stress and problems and I am glad we don’t feel like we have to – still very happy here. It’s nice to be settled somewhere you want to be for the rest of your life so young (we bought this house at 25).

    I don’t think our house is too big because we brought brand new to limit repairs. Something to consider. I am not sure I would buy such a large house is it was older and had many repairs on the horizon. A new roof and replacing pipes (common around here with 30-year-old homes) will cost you a pretty penny. Going newer the roof and plumbing, etc. is expected to last 50 years plus, and very energy efficient (average gas/electric bill is $50/month). All stuff to consider. We understand for the long run everything will cost more, but we limit repairs and maintenance in the beginning while we build up cash reserves and investments to cover future maintenance.

  26. theguapo says:

    A word on utilities:

    Our 2500 sq. ft 2 story house is (I think) more efficient than a 2000 sq. ft ranch. We average about $160 per month in gas + electric. Peak in winter is $290 or so, peak in summer is $190.

    In the summer, the downstairs (which has only one south facing window), stays very cool and rarely requires AC. The bedrooms upstairs are warm during the day (which is fine), and we either open the windows at night, or turn the AC on for a few hours around bedtime. Our old house (1200 sq ft, lots of south facing windows) cost about as much to cool as our new house.

    So, something else to consider when thinking about utilities is how your house and windows are oriented to the sun, especially if you live in a place with climate extremes. (We are in Atlanta – so hot summers and cool winters)

  27. My choice boiled down to location and cost. I was coming out of a teeny condo w/homeowner’s association fees, and decided that I didn’t want either. So, even though I was single, I got a 3-bedroom out in the burbs. 9 miles to work (about 30 minutes,) prodigious closet space (I’m a packrat,) and a reasonable mortgage.

  28. You can hardly go wrong with a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom, 2-car garage in a good school district.

    Age of a house doesn’t matter much if the house’s maintained well and is renovated. For a first time home buyer, it’s always best to buy a rehabbed house.

    I was looking at some 1700-2000 ft and settled on a 1500-ft with a partial finished basement. A partial finished basement gives us a lot more space – an additional home office and an entertainment room. My wife said this size’s perfect because it’s well managed. Unless one day my wife becomes a house wife OR I can afford to hire a housekeeper/maid, I’m perfectly fine with the current size of my house.

    Let the budget decide what you can buy. I only bought a house that’s 1/3 of what I could afford. As a result, the mortgage payment’s just 10-15% of our household income. We’re feeling so FREE.

  29. Saving Diva says:

    For my first home purchase, I would like to get a two bedroom condo. I would prefer two bathrooms. However, I could live with one. I really one need one bedroom, but I would like to have the option of renting out the additional room if money was tight. Also, I’m not a huge fan of living alone, so it would be nice to have space for visitors. I don’t really want a big house to have to deal with lawn maintenance and things like that.

    I guess in your case, you would have to consider whether or not the real estate in the area you’re moving is going to increase, decrease, stay the same, etc. However, I understand moving into a smaller place if it is just the two of you–less to clean and maintain.

  30. Ted Valentine says:

    When we last shopped for a home, I made a master spreadsheet with all of the things we wanted. This included bedrooms, location, yard, sidewalks, garage, etc, etc. Then I would give a +1, -1 to score the house. This helped us quickly sort through the dozens of homes we saw.

    Don’t let the mortgage people and realtors push you into a max budget house. Get something reasonable in a good area. Set your budget BEFORE you go shopping and do not let your eyes and desires wander.

    Both times we intentionally bought houses that we could afford on one income. Crazy these days, I know. But at least we’re not in any debt except the mortgage.

    Also, if you can afford the 15 year mortgage, that is an amazing way to build real equity fast. Run the numbers all you want, but you will come out well ahead even if you move after 5 years.

    When I bought my first house it was about 1200 sqft, 3 BR with an unfinished basement we used as a hobby space. With no kids it was a perfect size. We live in 2000 sqft, 4 BR now with 3 kids and its perfectly fine. Even if another kid came along, we could bunk the boys and still be ok. I drive by the newer houses in our surrounding neighborhoods that have the same BR and bath set up but twice the sqft and twice the price. The only difference is the rooms, hallways, closets, and foyers are slightly bigger. You don’t get much more for your money IMO.

  31. I agree with Cory regarding not paying too much attention to square footage and focus more on the floor plan and utilized space in a home. In our last home, we had significantly less square footage than both of our parents’ houses. However, we had a fantastic, open floor plan which actually made the house ‘feel’ bigger than our parents’ houses. Nearly every person that visited our home, including our parents, would comment on how spacious it felt.

    Also keep in mind both the emotional and financial costs of moving. My husband and I have both moved around quite a bit since college and frankly, were pretty tired of it. Since we plan on putting down roots where we recently moved to, we opted for a house that is really bigger than our needs right now, but can accomodate a family in the future. We decided that we would rather have a bit higher mortgage for the time being than to have to move again in a couple of years, which would also entail realtor fees, taxes, moving expenses etc. along with the emotional drain of moving.

  32. I have an older house, it was built in 1912. We have 1900 square feet finished, plus a full basement (poured concrete) and a full attic that are unfinished. Many people comment that our house seems much bigger than 1900 square feet because the layout is so space efficient. I’ve been in much bigger houses that seem very small because a lot of the space isn’t usable (large foyers, tons of bathrooms scattered about, laundry rooms that are huge and wastes of space, kitchens that are very open, but lack storage).

    We also have huge walk-in closets and TONS of windows. I love it because we never have to use air conditioning. I think they really knew how to build houses in the old days for maximum functionality and comfort. We have two porches and a huge deck, making summer living very enjoyable.

  33. From my experience – I’ll tell you the major things I wish I could change about my 1st house;

    (1) Like Del said, my #1 is to try as hard as possible to be in the school district you wouldn’t mind sending your child to. This will let you stay in the house the longest amount of time, if you so wish. You could actually stay permanently. Even if the house isn’t perfect, you can always spend lots and lots of money (;>) fixing it up and be happy where you are. I feel very un-relaxed in my home, knowing that I want to move my daughter to a new school district. It makes all the home improvements bittersweet and the money I spend on the little things (the mouldings, new thermostats, etc.,) all just a big waste.

    (2) I’ve seen lots of beautiful styles of homes and originally pictured myself in a nice big beautiful, center hall colonial with tons of square of feet., etc.. My current house isn’t so large by most peoples’ standards, but at 1900 sq. feet with a 400 sq. ft. garage extra. Downstairs I have 1100 ft., upstairs 800. But it’s TOO MUCH TO CLEAN! Especially With a baby!

    Now, I would have chosen (what I thought was too plain then), a nice, one-level ranch. Preferably with the laundry on the the main level. A basement is always nice, but a good one (like another poster said), a nice clean one. No old ones that invite in dust and worse. I would even forgo the basement for a little more room on the main level. And just one level would be so beautiful right now. Easy to maintain. No stairs to be concerned about for baby. My house would be much cleaner and easier to take care of. And you could grow old in a one level ranch and still get around (though I know that’s a long way off). I’m kind of looking forward to retiring already and could picture myself staying in a nice, simple house.

    (3) Don’t do major renovations!! They stink!! Even if you get that “sweat equity”, unless things can be done very swiftly (and it’s often not the case), you will spend months in muck. It doesn’t do anything good for a relationship either. Believe Me. Never Again!

  34. My wife and I are currently facing the same issue. We are newlyweds and know that children will be in our future soon. We would prefer to move before we have children because it will be much easier to do so now as opposed to later. We currently have a 2 bed condo, but we would like to expand to at least a 3 bed house, preferably with a basement and office/den.

    I’m not certain the sq. footage is the most important element to measure our needs. Our condo is around 1400 sq ft, but it feels small because of the layout. Our condo is a narrow 2 story with a loft that does not have very usable space, but counts for sq ft.

    As long as we have enough rooms to comfortably house children, guests, home office, etc., and a basement to store things, I will be happy. To me, the layout and usable space are more important than total sq footage.

  35. I would caution against paying too much for a house, in order to have a “good” school district. IMO, education is at least 75% the responsibility of two involved parents, not the school system. If you’re working all the time just to pay the mortgage, you can’t be focused on your children’s education. The book “The Two-Income Trap” is a good read which touches on this subject. The author contends that overextending the budget to get your kids into a good school can lead to foreclosure when unexpected expenses (e.g. medical) arise. Don’t over-extend. Get a mortgage that’s no more than 15% of your monthly income, then pay enough extra to kill it off in 5 years! That’s our plan and its working great. Soon we will have no more mortgage payments! Woo hoo!

  36. M. Woodward says:

    As a person that owns a 1500sq. ft. 3 bedroom, 2 bath I will tell you that the most important things, are not necessarily the square footage as they are closet and storage space.

    I bought the house when I was single. I slept in the Master Bedroom, used one of the bedrooms for an office and the other was basically empty.Then I got married. Overnight, my wife and I blew out the smaller walk-in closet in the master bedroom, she had to put a couple of clothing racks in the previously empty room for clothes and we just called it her “dressing room”. Then…the baby.

    Now, we have to find room for the crib, changing table and all of the other things that come with babies. Can’t put that kind of stuff in the office, there are desks, bookshelves, and filing cabinets in there. So, we began consolidating her clothes to one clothing rack and put the baby furniture in the “dressing room”.

    Now..oh crap, the baby has a lot of clothes too, and he is outgrowing them every two months, and we can’t just get rid of the clothes that are too small, we will probably have another child. Then there are bassinets, baby swings, bouncy chairs, playsets, play pens…you are going to need some storage space for all those things when they are not in use, or the baby outgrows them (if you plan on having more than one). So, now we are wanting to find a larger home because the feeling of clutter from not having enough closet or storage space is becoming stressful.

    If you have any plans to have children, buy as much house as you can comfortably afford, you don’t want to wake up two years after purchasing a house and realize that you need more house. If you buy a 1500 sq. ft. house with 3 bedrooms, the rooms are not going to be all that large and the closet/storage space not very plentiful because the usable living space being optimized at that house size. By the time you realize that you don’t have enough room (say after the birth of a baby), it is too late. you don’t want that to happen, trust me, learn from me. :-)

    If you have plans for a family, get a larger house initially if you can afford it.

  37. I have owned my first home for about 3 years now. Many of my peers were purchasing “starter homes” with plans of reselling and moving in 5-10 years. Fortunately I saved up a little extra and went with a house that I could see myself living in for decades. It was more expensive, but still modestly priced, and I am so thankful that I went that route, especially with the housing market as it is now.

  38. we live in a 1600 sq. ft home and there’s 4 of us. can you say tuna can! :)

  39. Like everyone has commented, space probably shouldn’t be your primarily consideration – focus on function. As a childless couple, we went for a 4 bedroom with basement. More room than we need now but plenty of room to expand so we won’t have to move. I have friends that spend 50k-100k more with the same basic 4 bedroom with basement house. They both are nicer and larger but have the same amount of functional space. Do I really need a wider hallway, bedrooms that are a few feet wider in each direction? I do like nice houses but remind myself of my financial priorities and feel I made a good middle ground decision.

    But, I did find that the square feet can usually help judge price. Prices in my area of the Midwest averaged around 100 sq ft.

  40. Look for a layout that can be expanded through renovation in the future if needed. Four bedrooms is pretty good because you could have 2 children in their own rooms and a spare as an office or guest room. A family room or decent basement is a big plus.

  41. Simply went big enough so we wouldn’t have to move, 4 bedroom/2100sqft, for just my wife and myself.

    Worked out well because completely unexpectedly had a nanny move in with us after our first baby. Room for a guest is always good.

    Second pregnancy we had twins (man did that throw off plans). We are “full” now and someday may have to move home office out of a bedroom and into formal dinning room, if the twins want their own bedroom.

    Formal dining room is a waste of space for us, its been used maybe 4 times in 10 years.

  42. We bought a 1970s ranch before we had kids, 1150sf 3 bed 1.5 bath. It was mostly original 1970s decor and had been used as a rental before we bought it. We lived in it for 7 years and redid almost everything on the interior for just a few thousand dollars (paint, carpet, fixtures). I used a bedroom as an office until kid #3, then turned half of the 6×12 “mud room” (back entrance + laundry + water heater) into a small office. Worked perfectly. You don’t need a lot of space for a home office, you just need dedicated space. Find a house that has a nook or cranny somewhere for a desk & filing cabinet and that frees up the other bedroom when you need it.

    We refinanced to a 15 year mortgage then bought a 1980s colonial, 1950sf 3 bed 2.5 bath and have kept the old house as a rental (going great and only 9 more more years to retire the mortgage). New house is mostly original 1980s decor and we’re in the process of updating it (paint, hardwoods, fixtures, etc.). There are six of us now (2 adults, 2 boys, 2 girls). We would have liked 4 bedrooms, but didn’t find a place like that in our price range. The bedrooms in both houses are large enough for 2 kids to share, which is critical. Bedrooms + 2 bathrooms are upstairs, downstairs has living room, eat-in kitchen/sunroom combo, formal dining room, and a half bath. We turned the formal dining room into a combo kids’ play room/adult office.

    As some others have said, layout can be much more important than raw footage.

  43. Here in Eastern MA, we were looking at 3/1.5 homes around 1600 s.f. because that was all we could buy for $350k and 20% down. We’re now relocating to Dallas and have translated that same budget into a 5/3.5 w/4000 s.f. Now we’re looking at ourselves saying, we really don’t need or even WANT that much space. We could easily find a 4/2 2000 s.f. for around $175,000 and use the same $70k down payment we already saved for the Boston home to get a super small $100k mortgage. Then we’ll put the $1300/mo we save on a mortgage into our retirement fund. $1300/mo compounded over 30 years is something like $2 million!

    So basically for us, we’re getting the largest house we think we’ll need (i.e. master bed, 2 kids rooms, and an office/guest room) even though we only have 1 kid now. No point in keeping up with the Jones’ if we can live below our means and literally turn the money we save into our retirement fund.

  44. Has anyone else noticed that as we require more and more sq.ft. of living space, we require fewer and fewer sq.ft. of lot size? And by the way, when did we start advertising lot size in sq.ft? I guess it sounds better than zero point something acres, but come on, even carpet is advertised by the sq.yd! I bet in some of these new developments you could actually find a two-story house with more square footage of living space than the lot…

  45. We’re in the process of building our first home so we’re just a few months after having asked those same questions! We went for best $ for sq. ft, 3 bedrooms were a must, and we had our eye on a particular community that has tons of ammenities including more efficient houses (the entire house is energy star approved). We also looked for house that we could live in while I finish school, but still be happy if we’re there for 10+ years and 2 or 3 kids if necessary. What we found is 3 bedrooms, loft, full basement, and nice open floor plan. For a grand total of about 3200 sq. ft. (only 2200 finished) for my husband and I, but we know that we’ll be able to sell it relatively easy if need be, but we could stay for a long time too.

  46. Not to sound sexist…but from what I have seen women dictate how bid the McHouse will be.

  47. Thanks for all the helpful suggestions!

    Hmm… smaller house = potentially bigger yard. That’s a good point. A lot of the lots are smaller than I expected, and a decent-sized yard would be very desirable for us (and the dogs).

    Yeah, we would like to qualify for the loan on the house with only one of our incomes. But that’s another post :)

    Being able to add onto the house is a very good point. Our family members have added bedrooms both on the top and to the side of their existing houses. Where we are looking, the land is so much more expensive than the actual house.

    “I think our parents were just willing to do with less. My family (6 people) spent all of our growing up years in a 1200 sq ft ranch.”

    I think so too. If you look at the just the bathrooms and kitchens in a 1950′s built-house and a newer house, they are so much bigger now. Just by themselves that’s an extra 200-400 square feet.

  48. DO NOT BUY A CONDO OVER A HOUSE–EVER.

  49. Excellent post! I bought my first house last year. I picked my high price range and started by looking at homes at the low end of the range. I didn’t like what I saw, so I starting visiting homes higher in my price range. I looked at condos and rowhouses/townhouses. I leaned away from condos due to the high condo fees in the area and I wanted a yard. Now I’m cutting grass and pulling weeds. Also, I have much more space inside than I need. I have an empty bedroom and half of my finished basement is empty. But my mortgage is less than what I can afford, which is great.

  50. Goldfish says:

    Maybe the appliances and furnitures are also bigger nowadays which make it hard not to buy a bigger house.

  51. What a coincedence. We just put an offer on a house an hour ago. For us, the criteria was 3 bedrooms and a family room is a must. Initially we wanted a basement, but we threw that out due to our budget.

  52. I think we have grown fatter over the years hence the need for more space.

  53. No matter how much house you buy, you will expand to fill it!

    -Grant

  54. SallyC says:

    I think my situation is different than most here, particularly because I live in a very expensive area of California and could not afford a house in a nice area even though my husband and I both make great salaries. When we bought in 2004, we set our price range and locations and started looking based on that. What we could afford was a small (1050 sf) starter 2 bedroom condo. We knew we were planning on having kids within 5 years, but figured we would live here as long as possible, then move on, and rent this place out. Turns out, everything so far has gone according to our plan and we are having a baby in August. I find I am grateful that we can comfortably make the payments on our current home while I am on maternity leave, even though we might not like everything about our home. We plan to buy a new place by the time our child is around 1 year old and rent this one out. The new home will be a little larger — maybe 1400 sf — and will still be a condo, but I am not comfortable paying as much as it would cost for a house around here! My advise, and what I plan to do, is much different than everyone elses I have read here. Buy what you need at the time, so that you are not spending extra money on wasted space you aren’t using. Use the money you aren’t spending on the larger house to save for a down payment on another house. Move into your new house in 5 years and rent out the first. Buy and never sell, but don’t stay too long in one home.

  55. Wojtek says:

    I lived in a 900 sq foot studio with my wife and son for two years and recently upgraded to a 1100sq foot 3 bdroom condo to accomodate an Au Pair and infant. Id’ say we have plenty of space, so it depends how you look at it. It is definitely easier to move up and size than down. Living in our new place I could not imagine living in our previous place, but when we lived there we were very happy.

  56. My first home is a condo. I could have afforded more at the time, but thank goodness I didn’t buy more because I was laid off 3 years later. Because it was much less than I could afford, for 3 years I doubled the payments (had roomates), then I got a good job that allowed me to continue to double the payments. So now…it’s up over 100k in apreciation and I in about 4 years (if all goes well) I’ll have it paid off! It’s 1800sf. Since I travel for a living, there is no way I could keep up a lawn and landscape. I’m very pleased with my condo.

  57. Anonymous says:

    My family lives in a 1400 square foot home. The kids’ rooms are a bit small, but on the other hand, we’re terribly cluttered. When we do take the time to clean up, the rooms seem bigger.

    I firmly believe that sometimes square feet is just a number – what’s more important is the layout of the house and how the square feet are actually used. Our current house has some weird nooks and crannies. I think the space could have been designed better.

    And DON’T FORGET ABOUT SCHOOLS! We live on the outskirts of a bad school district. This is going to sound horribly mean, but our middle class kids are bussed into school in a poorer neighborhood – one with a 20% drop in grades over the past year.

  58. SunKing says:

    I’ve come to realize that you’ll always expand to fill any size house you buy. When I first graduated from school, we bought a 1700 square feet home. Our next house, three years later was 2600 and we filled it up. Three years after that, we now are in a 4300 square foot home — and it feels about the same. I guess we just collect too much stuff.

  59. sfordinarygirl says:

    I’m far far away from buying a home or even a condo. But my parents started out small and bought a tiny house in the suburbs with three bedrooms. My sister and I shared a room and the third room was used as a guest room/office.

    I think you should buy what will suit your current needs and worry less about the other stuff such as kids. My parents upgraded to a bigger home in a nicer location for double the price ($300K in an upscale suburb with excellent public schools) when my mom had her third child. But then with all the extra space we ended up with a ton of clutter -boxes of books, sportsgear, junk from family and etc. And I’m going to disagree with John who commented no not paying too much for a house in a good school district.

    My parents paid $300K at the time (a bargain) so my sisters and I could get a solid public school education. And the value of the house has more than doubled … similar size houses in the area are going for $900K +. There’ll always be demand for houses in good school district locations, at least that’s what I’m seeing in some suburbs.

  60. Gates VP says:

    OK, you asked one focused question… but it always brings up all of the related questions, which of course, always leads back to lifestyle. So before I venture into lifestyle discussions, let’s start easy:

    Each additional square foot that you purchase is an additional square foot that you will need to maintain. More maintenance = higher monthly payments = less money saved. And the people on this board can all appreciate that renting is NOT “throwing your money away”.

    Which brings us to the lifestyle question and thus a different approach on selecting a home: “What is my time worth?”. Selecting a “fixer-upper” is only any good if you feel that it’s a worthwhile investment of your time. Spending 400 hours and 1k to earn 10k in “sweat equity” has a break-even point of about 22.5/hour, so the lifestyle question bodes, “is this worth my time”.

    Location is much the same. Saving 15 minutes on a commute saves about 125 hours/year! We’re on a board talking about saving $100 here or there or making a 0.5%, but picking a good location costs you a couple thousand / year (at $20/hr). Of course, maybe you use this time to read on the bus, but most people don’t. If you have kids, living close to a school may be useful (or disruptive) and being in a good school district/division can pump the value of your house for both your kids and prosepective clients.

    Again, condos are a measure of time as well, if your condo fees are $200/month but they save you 10 hours of work/month then are they really too expensive?

    So back to square footage. What’s your time worth? Every square foot you own is one more that you must clean. When it comes time to repair, that’s another square foot you must wallpaper / paint / recarpet / retile. That’s another square foot that you will heat / cool / vent every month. It’s another square foot that you will pay taxes on every month, insure every month.

    If your square feet start adding to the cost of the house, then that’s also more interest you’re paying on the house. So again you’re adding to the monthly overhead.

    Your original numbers show it, but we’ve heard it elswhere, North Americans keep getting bigger houses to house less people and more “stuff”. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, then buck the trend and buy small. Buying a smaller house will shave dollars off every month and it will allow you to accumulate equity faster b/c you’ll be able to pay it down quicker (effectively, taking a shorter mortgage term is like taking on a lower interest rate).

    So follow your own advice for pretty much everything else. Live well within your means :)

  61. Oh – I have to disagree with E too. If you are in a hot market, a condo is a wonderful investment. In the San Francisco area when we owned a condo, they depreciated faster than houses for a time, because no one could really afford houses. Historically, not great investments, but if real estate in your area is insanely expensive, it can be a much better investment than a house. Like anything it really depends on many factors. The old adage to never by a condo is just not true in today’s real estate market, which has become extremely overpriced in many areas.

    I totally agree too that sf is less important than layout. A good layout can be better than an extra few hundred feet – indeed!

  62. A thought on Jonathans articles…If he posts something on asset allocation, there will be 6-8 comments. If he posts something on real estate, 61 posts. I dont know whether or not we are in a true RE bubble or not, but this is another data point. RE is “Real” and seems to provoke such passion from people it seems hard to believe it will decline too far in value – RE is so tied up in peoples emotion that it becomes less of an efficient investment and therefore maybe the recent price run-up will hold?

  63. When we bought our condo, there were two primary motivating factors. One was we wanted to be in a neighborhood where we felt safe to walk around at night, and two we needed to be able to afford it. Even with a very close to six figure income, in the California (LA area) market, we were severely limited. We ended up in a 600 square foot condominium in a great neighborhood, but in this market, that cost us – the price was over $300k. We have our first child on the way now, and we figure we can be in this space until the second one comes along, and maybe even a bit longer than that.

    The pricing here is sad to think about sometimes because I don’t know whether we will ever be able to afford a house, even with our very good income. But when we do look for one, we will be looking for a small house with a large yard. We live in California – we want to spend time outside, we want our children to play in the yard, we don’t want them to sit in front of the TV all day. And we want them to learn to share; a small space is the perfect place to do that.

  64. Richard says:

    Cost was the main factor in deciding my first home. When the rent on my downtown apartment started to get into the $900 range I thought geez I get a house for that much. Since I was single I had to keep the cost manageable, but sure enough, I found a nice quiet area where they were building, picked a 1,248 sq/ft floor plan and picked out a cul-de-sac lot and 3 months later I’m moving in. However I’m looking at a 2,100 sq/ft house now. Since my soon to be fianc? is living with me, we find we are strapped for space these days… so “we’re moving on up.”

  65. Ted Valentine says:

    I am laughing at the people in Cali. Why do you put up with it? I live in an NFL sized city in the south. You can get a very nice 2000 sf house in a great neighborhood for UNDER 200k if you look hard. For what you pay for a tiny house or congested condo, you could practically have a castle with land where I live.

    I don’t get the excitement over home value appreciation either. It’s funny money. You always have to live somewhere. Unless you move way down in size, style, and neighborhood (and nobody does that) you have to roll your equity into the next property. And just about everything goes up proportionally, so you’re not going to be able to move way up without an income increase. A home value increase is inflation, not appreciation.

    This inflation is driven primarily by new home sales and new development. Builders buy up the land, and build bigger houses, closer together as fast as they can. The local government bends over backwards for the tax revenue. Local governments need to put the breaks on because it is hurting the people they serve with inflation, pollution, and overcrowding.

  66. My husband and I bought an 1800 sq ft concrete block house with 1/3 of an acre a few years ago in a great neighborhood and a great city for under $100,000. We were really lucky, and it was a great investment. It has more than doubled in value. While it looked run-down, the major issue was just dirt, leaves, nasty decor, and other cosmetics (the inspector assured us that it was solid-built). It goes to show that if one looks past the surface, you can still get great deals.

    As for the size, it’s not bad. We have three bedrooms and two baths. Right now, two of the bedrooms are used for work – one is an office and the other is more of a workshop. Because my husband and I do work a lot from home, it would be nice to have some more space. All the bedrooms are a bit small, including the master. We also don’t have a large dining area or large kitchen, or large bathrooms. A lot of room is lost because of our large foyer which stores the kind of stuff that should be in a shed. We also have a nice large den, but also a smaller living room that doesn’t get used much. I wish I could combine the two spaces.

    I love our house, but I do hope our next house will be larger and better laid out. Part of me still has hopes of just adding on (since I love the location), but that will almost certainly be much harder than it’s worth.

  67. we got a 2000 sq ft single family home in the sf bay area. it seemed a bit big for just the two of us, but we invited over a lot of family over to stay and it seemed just right. when the kids are born, it will actually seem smaller.

  68. SallyC says:

    Ted Valentine, (slightly OFF TOPIC)

    As one response to your question about why people live in California. I have lived all over the USA. Mostly in the midwest, but also in the south. I just moved to Southern California 4 years ago. Before that, in Chicago, I owned a home that was twice the size and half the price. I did not want to move here (mostly because of the cost) but it turns out, I love Los Angeles! I have gained so much more than material things out here and am willing to give up a little in the size of my home and extra spending money for the wonderful weather, nearby awe inspiring natural areas, great ethnic food, and being able to go to the beach year round. I also love the diversity of people out here. It’s not for everyone, but it sure is for me!

  69. Hi everyone! ;-)

    After reading this blog for this particular subject about “how many sq ft …” I realized that I had valued something that I had never known before.
    sq ft does not matter, how much you had learned from that home to pave your life path later on in your real life smoothly is all matters.

    Bigger house but not efficiently usage, bigger house with bigger debt and a 30 yr mortgage in a uncertainly way of life (divorce, broken home children, loss of affordable income to pay bills, ect ….) could add more streesful into your daily life. Which way should I prefer to go?

    I prefer going with purchasing a house that I best suits my need at my present time, a small house (with big land, possibly), and pay it off early, then start saving more on $ (that I would spend on paying ins bill, HAC bills, cleaning, maintenance, and taxes, etc) for the next house purchase (If I wanted a nicer house) or for property investment.
    I believe that I would move up the ladder of building my wealth faster and fatter, what do you think? ‘-)

    Here is my story and I witnessed it from my parents’ lifestyle. It might not work for everyone but so far, it worked for my parents and I am ready for it, as I do believe it would work for me as well.

    I grew up at my parent’s tiny home, a townhouse with no yard, 2 storey high, 2 BR and 1 bathroom, a small kitchen, a small living room which has a dinning table for daily meals and would be our table for doing homeworks. This house located at the best school district and we walked to school every day, safe and sound.

    As a kid, I had learned how to share space, toys, etc with my brother and sister. What I had learned from this growing-up time is sharing and caring attitude and money wise spending on living space.

    In short, I did not deny that was a tiny house at the block, however, it is a very sufficient and efficient space usage house that I had spent my childhood there.

    My parents did not spend much for electricity bills for cooling off the house and cleaning, maintenance, etc …. I had learned that doing chores and cooking, cleaning, doing dishes, doing laundry is a part of the kids’ responsibilty and obligation at home after schooling.

    The more working together as a team (teamwork attitude) with my siblings to get the chores done, the more growing closer we can get between siblings, the better interaction skills and social skills naturally developing along the line. My siblings are my best friends and my parents are my mentor, and I am proud of them, vice versa.

    My parents often told me that they saved 8% of their monthly income for each of their kid for the college fund, since the day we were born.

    They also often told me that $$ that I would spend on the needs of education (Knowledge is power, the key to be the global citizen trend in the 21st century) and the needs of eating/dinning (means eating healthy for a long healthy lifestyle, to enjoy a fulfilling life)
    is tremedously huge and bigger then spending on the needs of living space.

  70. For our first home, we bought a 2 bedroom, 2.5 bath 1200 sf condo a mile from the University in 2004. In 2006, it appraised for 100k more than we paid for it. Then, I found out I was pregnant. Living in a huge metropolitan area (Phoenix), we had to make the choice whether or not we wanted to commute to our jobs, both within 3 miles of our condo. My very good friend, and many of our co-workers, made the decision to move to the outer fringes to find “affordable” housing, and what they got instead was 3-4 hours in the car each day commuting in awful traffic…how is that for quality of life? If you divide out your commute time each week versus your hourly wage…well, your housing just got MUCH more expensive…

    I’m a looky-loo by nature and since buying the condo, had been doing my homework and scouting neighborhoods and doing open houses. I knew what we could afford, and I knew that with the possibility of kids, pets, and family coming from out of town that we’d need a decent sized home. In the end, we chose a 30 year old, very solid home in a great neighborhood, in the same city. My commute to work is now 2 miles, his 5 miles. Decent school system, a neighborhood elementery is less than 1/4 mile away from us. The house is 2000 sf, 4 beds, 2 baths, 2 car garage with a detached 3rd car garage/shed. We are on 1/4 acre corner lot and have beautiful trees and a pool. The layout of the house is wonderful – it just flows, and everyone comments on how “comfortable” it is. The bedrooms are decent sized, and the previous owner had done some recent updates to the kitchen and bathrooms. The best part is that I can come home for lunch every day if I want to…

    We decided not to sell the condo, and are now renting it. Even though there were a couple of tight months before it actually rented, we plan on hanging onto it for as long as possible to take advantage of the tax breaks and the appreciation.

    At first I thought we bought more house than we needed for the two of us and three cats. But now, with a baby on the way and a steady stream of out of towners – the place feels comfortable and spacious…but not like those huge homes that feel like an empty cavern that echoes. We’ve hosted a few poker parties on our patio, and have enjoyed our yard, trees and garden. It feels “just right” for us, and we plan on being here until retirement…

  71. Ted Valentine says:

    SallyC (off topic) — One thing we should all agree on is that you can’t put a price on happiness. Cheers.

  72. In a stagflation-threatening economy, where interest rates may go lower and inflation is creeping higher, buy the biggest house on the most land you can qualify for. This may not sound logical, but in inflationary economies, hard assets, such as land/houses/precious metals increase in value the fastest of all investments. ALSO, inflation makes debt cheaper.

    The economy is slowing down as we speak (the Fed/Uncle Sam are desperately trying to hide that fact) and interest rates aren’t changing and may actually go lower. We are positioned precisely for stagflation. Keep your eye on the headlines because the Fed has to make a decision – save the dollar or save the U.S. economy. You can’t have both at the same time thanks to foolish years of cheap money (Yen Carry Trade). If the fed starts raising rates, then sit back and let the foreclosures come to you; if the fed keeps rates steady, goodbye sinking $ ship…

  73. Don’t buy more house than you need. Buying a house is such a hassle, and such an effort, and such an expense that there is an urge to buy one that you will be happy with for many years. But there is just no way to know what you’ll want 10 years from now, or what you’ll be able to afford. So buy the 2br condo, you’ll be happy there for 5-10 years, and then you’ll know a lot more about what you want.

    It’s just shocking how much more a house will cost you – there is so much more maintainance to do or pay for, so much more cost in taxes, heating, etc. If your heart is set on a house, buy the smallest one that meets your needs for the next 5 years.

  74. ohsusana says:

    If I had it to do over again, (I’m 53) and had no kids, I’d buy a fixer-upper, fix and hold for the required 2 out of 5 years, sell at a profit, and do it over and over again.

  75. We lived in a house with 1700 sq. ft. with four kids from 1984 to 2000. It seemed fine at the time for the most part. In 2000, the year the youngest was a senior in college and the other three were on there own, we moved to an old farm house. Thirty acres and a 3600 sq. ft. house. We wished we had found and been able to afford this place when the kids were young. We are probably skewing the numbers of the house size per person but it’s great to have the room.

  76. My husband and I were very blessed. His parents never sold their first home. It is a 2 bedroom one bathroom. I don’t even know the square footage, but it is just perfect for the two of us. There is also a dining room, and I guess what was a breakfast area has been converted into a home office area for him. The second bedroom doubles as a guest room and my office space. What was a back porch when the house was originally built is now a laundry/mudroom.

  77. I strongly disagree with everything that Del wrote (sorry, Del). It is common advice, but here is why I disagree (so strongly that I didn’t read any posts after that):
    We did this. We bought in one of the best areas in the U.S.-our school district is considered to be one of the best in the country. The area is very wealthy.
    We bought a very small, solid house on a decent lot on a beautiful, simple, peaceful block at the edge (but in) this beautiful suburban town.
    We are sorry. We should have bought something bigger in a mediocre town. Our house is too small, but we are settled. I find change hard and it is difficult to move up around here. We saved a lot and our house value more than doubled, but to buy up is just as expensive & the taxes are through the roof on houses w/higher value.
    Our house is a fixer-upper. We never added on because: a. permits-a pain & taxes will go up, up, up; b. sweat equity???? Who has time? Do you have that talent? Oh, FYI, it’s next to impossible to get a contractor around here: the prices are outrageous (i.e. $450,000 to redo kitchen and add two bedrooms and a bath on second level-it’s now a ranch).
    We made a mistake following this kind of advice, and now, we feel stuck.
    Unless you’re loaded, just buy in a simple middle class area. Buy something already finished, unless you’re very handy AND have the time.

  78. Oh, the one good thing, one could say, is that we made $$$. Who cares? We have not enjoyed it here.

  79. I realise that most of the people are writing in from paved-paradise areas, but I thought some perspective might be necessary. Having grown up in population-dense South East Asia, I thought I should point out that there, most people are in high rises, and, what’s more, 700 sq ft is considered ample for a family with 2 kids. Layout is a lot more efficient, prioritising functional rooms as opposed to copies of a room with a certain function (eg living room/family room/den/rec room) in one house. One relative I know lives in a two-bedroom/two-bath apartment less than 1000 sq ft with her husband, two children who share a room and a lodger (for several years), yet still hosted our family of four whenever we came on holiday. Even over here, college students and young couples are managing in these walk-in closet sized (or so *someone* must think) apartments.

    I’m sure this sounds dreadful and shocking to anyone reading this – though it’s not – but my point is that we should get out of the trap of needing so much space… because we don’t. It blows our ecological footprint even further out of proportion by thinking that 600sq ft is “necessary” per person. The sprawl of suburbs encroaches on good farmland or ecosystems that can never be retrieved, thus ruining nature even further. Hopefully someone will consider this when buying a house.

  80. 2totango says:

    Oh, Clicclic, you sage, you prophet! Maybe you should be running the bailout.

  81. The final decision to buy the house we are in was greatly an emotional one. However, our criteria that led us to the house in the first place was price, location, we wanted 4 bedrooms and 2+ bathrooms and really *preferred* at least 2000 sq ft. Then again, we were leaving a 3600 sq ft home that we had rented from my in-laws for the last several years. We wound up getting a 2200 sq ft, 4br, 2.5 ba home with an eat-in kitchen, formal living and dining rooms, family room and 2 car garage. The emotional part of the decision was because this house just reminded us so much of the house we were moving out of. It may sound silly to some people, but that sense of familiarity made the move a lot easier on us and in the end we are happier for it.

  82. Our home is a bit too small for my tastes: it is 1770 sf. My husband says we are never moving. So, I am learning to continue loving the home I was so excited to move into.
    When we were looking for a home, back in 2003, I quickly realized that it’s not the sf, it’s the way it’s laid out. Ours is laid out nicely but the bedrooms (3) are a bit too small. That’s ok. Here is the biggest problem and one I would warn about: The Laundry Room! Our laundry room is actually in our HVAC closet, which is about 3 ft wide. It is also in the center of the house, so it vents up the wall, across the attic, and then outside. It takes 3 hours to dry a load of laundry and forget towels-they smell mildewy before they ever get dry. So, pay attention to the Laundry room! Otherwise, I can live with the house. We remodeled a bathroom for 1500.00 because it is so small and we didn’t need a lot of paint and flooring. One tip I think will help you overall: if it bugs you a little when you walk through the house, it will bug you a lot when you live there.

  83. If it bugs you a little when you walk through the house, it will bug you a lot when you live there. So true. When we got married 20 years ago, my husband wanted to buy a small house 2 beds 1 bath with a walkup attic and basement because it was in a good neighborhood and across from a large city park. I balked, as we had a combination of 4 beds and 2 baths between us before we got married. But I gave in, and it was a great deal in a hot market because the previous owners were getting divorced (probably fighting over the house did them in) and in a hurry to sell and move. The house is also old, built in the 40s. We did a major renovation and added a bed and bath and small laundry room, but the house is still too small for us. Less than 1700 finished square feet. It has a bad layout, and we’ve never remodeled the kitchen. We don’t have space for overnight guests, not enough closets, and no space to entertain. I believe it’s less expensive in the long run to buy a large enough house for your needs from the start. The renovation was expensive (we had to move twice to other places for a total of 6 months) and was a total PITA. I was ready to fire my husband and the contractors by the time it was over. I highly recommend buying as much as you can afford without going overboard. And never buy a house with just one bathroom if there is more than one of you.

  84. Gates VP says:

    @Lilleth: Less than 1700 finished square feet.

    Wow talk about rich people problems :)

    But I gave in, and it was a great deal in a hot market… The renovation was expensive (we had to move twice to other places for a total of 6 months) and was a total PITA

    It sounds to me like you had a complete reality disconnect here. At one point you cite “a great deal” and then you complain about the cost and time for renovations that you obviously wanted in advance. I mean it can’t be both a “great deal” and “expensive to renovate”.

    We don’t have space for overnight guests, not enough closets, and no space to entertain… And never buy a house with just one bathroom if there is more than one of you.

    Again with the rich people problems. Space for overnight guests typically means a full bedroom that sits empty 340 days / year. That’s a big luxury. And you have a giant park across the street, sounds like you have tons of space to entertain.

    I believe it’s less expensive in the long run to buy a large enough house for your needs from the start…

    That’s a great anecdote, but it’s not clear that this was really the case. If the place was such a great deal, why not just sell it when you had more money and then upgrade. I mean you underpaid for it start with right? So even market price would have netted you a profit towards the bigger place.

    Based on your complaints around renovations and space it sounds like you simply overpaid for the place in the first place.

  85. With three kids, we sold our old house and bought a 3,200 sq. ft. two-story. New construction so it is really energy efficient (average $140/month to heat/cool). It has 6 BRs (one is a den and one a playroom), 2.5 baths and a 2 car garage. Paid 2x annual salary and got a fifteen year mothgage. We have been paying extra so after 5 years we have only 7 years to go. great school district and great neighborhood. Doctor on one side and another across the street. Cannot get that kind of neighborhood in a tiny house. Sorry.

  86. I am in the process of buying a 1800 SQFT new home with a finished walkout basement that will make the home 2000SQFT of living space 3BD/ 2.5 BA with space for an extra bedroom and bath in future . I wish I had read this before buying I would have bought an older home and gotten a 15 year mortgage

    I come from a culture where people build houses so buying an old house was not even a thought for me . Well now that i know I will buy at least a 10 year old home next time

  87. I have 4 adults and a 6 year old child and a new born living in my rental property how much space does it take for each person is this house over crowed what are the parameters for people vs house space

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