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It’s Not Easy Being Small: Marketing Fewer Square Feet in the Land of More

by Nic Darling on October 22, 2010 · 37 comments

in Development,Marketing,Philosophy

We have talked before about the unreasonable growth in American home sizes even as the average household size continues to decrease. We have also spoken about the need to understand houses based on performance rather than square footage. Often these conversations turn toward educating potential home buyers. Ideas like understandable metrics and car-style performance labeling are usually suggested as a means to teach buyers about benefits of smaller, more efficient homes. The thought is that proper marketing can potentially convert home buyers, but there is a larger more difficult problem which can trump this educational effort. That problem . . . how does one assure that buyers even see your smaller home project and marketing materials when the process of looking for a home is geared to steer them away?

Prior to beginning a home search there is a decision path that potential buyers take. This path whittles home options to a manageable number. Traditionally it looks something like this . . .

  • Step 1 -Price
  • Step 2 – Location
  • Step 3 – Square Footage
  • Step 4 – Beds and Baths
  • Etc.

Each step down this path eliminates homes that don’t match the determined criteria regardless of their potential other benefits. This is particularly problematic in the square footage category where a well designed smaller home can be eliminated before it even makes its case. Unlike price and location, which have outside factors (proximity to work, budget, etc.), square footage is almost solely a design concern, and a well designed, energy efficient 1400sf could be just as attractive as a 2000sf one. Unfortunately, the person looking for a 2000sf home is unlikely to ever see the smaller house.

One reason this problem might exist is because most real estate agents allow their clients to determine the criteria of their search. They seem to seldom offer alternatives based on their understanding of the market and home buying/ownership expertise. Real estate agents, in many cases, rely on the MLS (multiple listing service) to return search results based strictly on their client’s criteria without suggesting reasonable solutions slightly outside of their requested preferences. This means that even the most appropriate of smaller home projects don’t make it out of the mess of the MLS and in front of potential buyers.

Of course, this is not true of all agents. I’m sure there are many that do say something like, “have you considered a smaller, more energy efficient home?”, but I think those agents are still in the minority. This is not really their fault though either. It is a structural problem with our understanding of home value. The MLS itself makes it difficult to search on any criteria that consider efficiency, sustainability or design. Appraisers have to have their arms firmly twisted to take performance into consideration. Banks claim to offer energy efficient mortgages, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of anyone getting one. Size is still firmly in charge of the housing market.

Alright, now I know this post is a bit of a mess, but I wanted to get these thoughts out there so we could talk about them. Obviously we have some ideas about how to get our homes in front of buyers, but I want to hear yours. First though, am I right about this problem? Are good homes being ignored because they are slightly smaller? Who are the culprits behind the aversion to small? And then, how do we keep good, small homes from being ignored?

Let’s talk it out in the comments.

If you enjoyed reading this post I can promise you'll love our new writing over at Postgreen Homes. Yeah, we know that's the same thing your favorite band said and their new album is nowhere near as good as their early stuff, but seriously, we are actually still getting better.

There also isn't much conversation to be had here . . . at least not with us. So come on over to the Postgreen Homes Blog and tell us what you think of our new(ish) digs and crazy ideas. We will be sure to tell you what we think of your opinion.

{ 5 trackbacks }

More structural problems: how to shop for a smaller, better designed, more energy efficient house? « Erik’s Blog
October 25, 2010 at 11:33 am
Why Are American Houses So Big? | Ozzmoe's Universe
October 26, 2010 at 11:10 am
Why Are American Houses So Big? | WiredVilla
October 26, 2010 at 11:38 am
Why Are American Houses So Big? : TreeHugger
October 26, 2010 at 11:41 am
What I learned today, vol. 41 « Closer To Pittsburgh
October 27, 2010 at 10:47 am

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Curtis Olson October 22, 2010 at 11:57 am

The challenge I’ve run into: getting fair appraisals on small homes. I’ve had to fight tooth and nail for getting higher $/sf values applied to smaller high quality homes. The real estate industry of my little Prairie town of Saskatoon is firmly rooted in the “bigger is better” mentality.

2 Nathan October 22, 2010 at 12:28 pm

I wonder how to tap into the lifestyle/mindset conversion process, or how to become a part of it? On the surface you can appeal to the environmental, economical, pastoral/simplicity ideals, but this is a big decision. You need to find or create true converts.

Possibly investing heavily in a few promising real estate agents, or making sales a concentric expansion of your current operations? Communicating the hard economics of the home may help. Or, sponsoring housewarming parties for new buyers to invite friends to a better-than-average dinner in their new home?

What a fun challenge?! I can’t wait to read about the solutions you come up with.

3 GreenbuildinginDenver.com October 22, 2010 at 12:59 pm

The MLS in Colorado will soon incorporate energy efficiency features in their database:
http://rechargecolorado.com/images/uploads/pdfs/MLS_final_corrected.pdf

4 Brett Ballanger October 22, 2010 at 2:34 pm

How about focusing on energy prices and commute lengths?

Larger square footage often results in higher heating/AC costs as well as more utility usage.

Point out how money saved on energy can be put towards better designed renovations or more functional environments.

If you have only one living room to decorate you can afford to spend more on quality furnishings. You also get the opportunity to spend more time with your family/roommates.

Smaller properties also tend to pay less in taxes which is an added bonus.

Finally there are plenty of carbon/environmental footprint calculators out there. Talking about how much strain a McMansion puts on the environment compared to a smartly designed condo could put those looking for some eco-chic to reconsider their home buying strategy.

5 Carl C October 22, 2010 at 5:44 pm

As you said, invest in a knowledgeable real estate agent that understands your market. The transition of the consumer mind is happening. Great to hear CO Trend is incoorporating info like such time to get the PA Trend on the horn!

6 carri b October 22, 2010 at 10:52 pm

In trying to sell our own small, energy efficient home we have also run into difficulties. We find marketing to local “green” groups and friends to be a good resource. And we include all we can on the listing regarding energy use, healthy materials, flexible living.

I find more people, including myself, searching for bedrooms and bathrooms rather than square footage. If you can get 4 bedrooms and 2 baths in 1900 sf rather than 3000 sf, you are ultimately reaching the buyers’ needs.

Also, good luck with getting an energy efficient mortgage! Apparently they exist, but I have yet to find a bank that offers much of a conventional loan, much less something “outside the box.”

7 Brandon October 23, 2010 at 1:45 am

I think you’ll get much more mileage from the modern design of the Postgreen homes than you will from their efficiency. Imagine trying to sell traditionally styled homes by touting how much the buyer will save on utilities!

8 lavardera October 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm

You’re absolutely right Nic. Its in the DNA of the appraisel and lending to reward more square feet, and to penalize less square feet of higher quality. All of this is geared to put more value on size, which usually nets the developer more profit. Call me cynical, but I believe the whole rigamarole has been structured to make size the determiner of value, something that any schmuck can add to a house without craftsmanship, without skillfull energy management, without a design skill, while systematiclly robbing these areas of real value from providing any benefit in the marketplace.

We all know where that’s gotten us. You would think as they all try to stand up and shake the ashes of the housing market off their lapels that somebody would stand up and say – Sorry, you blew it. This time around we’ll tell you what matters and what does not. But it looks like we’re going to let them take the wheel again.

9 Mid America Mom October 23, 2010 at 4:20 pm

When I have, or talked to people that have, gone through a home search there is not such a focus on square footage for meeting needs.

Everyone wants a “decent sized kitchen”, nearby or in room dining, and spacious family room. Few mention that they want a formal living or dining room. Open concept is desirable and a place to put a laptop or PC.

One of the first things mentioned is how many baths and bedrooms. There is this focus that a home must have a master bath and that each child should have their own bedroom. But depending on the location the expectation as to the size of those, changes. People think if it was bigger it would be better. They look at all the toys laying around their own kids bedroom and the crammed closet and think this place is too small. But what they fail to realize that maybe it’s just designed poorly. Put in a closet organizer and a wall storage system for the toys and WOW what a change.

Ask someone how they really live. If you can get someone to visit a well staged smaller home they can see the possibilities. Even 3/D room renderings are helpful.

Mid America Mom

10 Seth Neal October 24, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Are good homes being ignored because they are smaller (good, as in well designed, energy efficient, etc)? Absolutely.

Who are the main culprits? Everyone! Builders. Consumers. Real Estate professionals. Lenders. Etc, etc.

So what’s the solution? Well, I honestly do not think there is a silver bullet. You have to attack this issue on all fronts. Obviously you are the builder, so no problem there. But you should be supporting other builders who want to do “green”. Educate, encourage, etc. You also should be spending time trying to educating the consumer. Cynically, this is called marketing. Get in front of consumers in different venues and offer them something of value while educating them about the benefits of Postgreen homes. The last two are the biggest. I’m a real estate agent, I know the influence I have over my clients. Fortunately for them I place a high value on things they may not be thinking of when searching for a home such as energy efficiency and good design. You HAVE to identify Real Estate professionals locally who “get it”… or, who want to get it. Build relationships with them. Help each other grow your business. Also, find out who the RE agents are who are the top producers in your area, they probably aren’t the ones who “get it” but you need to know them and have them know you. Finally, I’d suggest building relationships with local and regional lenders. The system is setup to value homes based MOSTLY on square footage. In fact, the difference in value between a 1900 sq ft home and a 2100 sq ft home is pretty surprising… just because one is over 2000 sq ft and the other isn’t. But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t work with some local lenders who are willing to finance your homes appropriately. Obviously you’ll still have to deal with the appraiser… which is a bummer, but the bank does still have some control over that.

Anyway, my comment is as rambling as your post… this whole thing boils down to building relationships for you guys. Its a national issue but a local solution could be found. I’m not saying building all these relationships is going to be easy or expedient, but it will pay off.

Alright, enough rambling…

Now, appraisers

11 T.C. October 25, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Home size is currently shrinking in the marketplace, but I am dubious that we will see that trend continue as the economy improves and/or tax credits expire for first-time buyers. A properly educated consumer is a beautiful thing; and lazy RE agents and inaccurate MLS reporting are the ofsetting badness. Philly’s MLS has started trying to populate some green ingo into their database, and we have found that to be good, and bad. Misuse of these inputs will gonfuse the consumer and degrade the content’s worth. Tracking home sales and value with regard to energy efficiency, green certification, what have you, is critical to making the added value argument to an appraiser. This may take a while.

12 mike eliason October 25, 2010 at 2:25 pm

i think that talking about homes in metrics is super, however after passivhaus takes over, i think the next step will be a max watts p.p. or per household (e.g. 2000 watt society).

though i don’t see how real estate agents will come around without proactive education and incentives. 99% of us housing stock is highly energy inefficient, and i’m sure a majority of the RE business is frightened of perceived penalties for non-efficient houses. there has been a green appraiser course here in the NW, though.

not all small homes are ignored… the transformer in hong kong has seen lots of airtime.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-iFJ3ncIDo&feature=related

13 Lloyd Alter October 26, 2010 at 10:40 am

I just wrote a long response to this post on TreeHugger, click on my name. The gist is:

I think Nic misses the root of the problem: American builders have been hugely successful in building cheap houses on cheap land. When you build with carpet, drywall and vinyl windows, extra square footage is incrementally almost free. When land is cheap, the footprint isn’t a problem. When heating costs and cooling costs are low, (and natural gas is going cheap these days) operating costs are barely a consideration.

I do not think you can blame real estate agents or the mortgage brokers, they are just symptoms of the problem, which is that there is simply no economic incentive to build or buy a smaller house in most of North America.

14 Nic Darling October 26, 2010 at 11:56 am

Lloyd – I certainly agree that there are root economic causes behind our home sizes. These are at the core of most of our wasteful activities, products and policies. Cheap resources combined with an emphasis on short term profits drive our more, more ,more economy. We are trapped by our own requirement for unstinting economic growth. Less is never an option.

I also agree that there will be no large shift in our housing market until there is an incentive to build smaller, more efficient homes. Economics trumps everything on a big enough scale.

The problem for me is that this situation seems, at times, to be a untreatable disease, a sickness without a cure. So, rather than pursue what seems to be a nearly hopeless campaign against the actual illness, I am tempted to address the symptoms. At least in this way we might find a way to show one or two people a different type of home.

If anyone is foolish enough to build small homes with no incentives in a down economy (like us), then I am interested in getting those homes seen. I think there is a larger than imagined demand for these types of professionally designed smaller homes, particularly in cities, but there are gatekeepers that limit their exposure to the market. I’m merely wondering if we can do something about that.

As I said, this was a rough post and I really appreciate you taking the time to write a response it. I think your critique is excellent and on the whole, correct, even if the truth of it makes me just a little ill.

15 Dave Fuller, Realtor, CSP October 26, 2010 at 6:11 pm

It comes down to education, education, education.
It comes down to needs, wants, desires and budgets for buyers.
It comes down to home buyers and Realtors asking the right questions. Like ‘Mid American Mom’ suggests ‘Ask someone how they really live.’ Leave it to Mom to be the nurturer but she is on track! The answers aren’t as easy to quantify,but help to lead buyers to the best choices for them within their needs wants desires and budget. *It may lead to the smaller more energy efficient home you want them to find Nic and then again it may not.* *Let’s face it there are many more traditional homes (energy inefficient) than the others.*

You can’t show off your features if you aren’t in the dance.

So what needs to happen? Change. Change in the way computer programs direct consumers to homes that meet their input. ie x beds, y baths, z sf in Happyville USA.
We need to design a new or additional sets of criteria.and ask different questions so the homes Nic is talking about get on the radar and thus get invited to the dance. Will they be wallflowers or wild flowers? It depends how easy they are… to finance. How fluid the floor plans and how the space makes the buyers feel. Realtors will show them if asked and if they show up on radar Realtors will ask to show them.

That’s my take and I am open to discuss.

16 AlxSF October 26, 2010 at 9:07 pm

well, my wife and I have been looking for months for our first home in the Sand Francisco bay area…. HA! you’d think this would be the first place green homes would come into play….NOT!
Granted our tiny budget has us looking at 1000sqft ‘fixers’ for 500,000! All I want is a piece of land so I can build my own home from the ground up, fully passive or at least energy efficient. Every home we’ve seen so far is basically a gut job, one was even a grow op for weed :-\, they are old, moldy, and many still have nob and tube wiring. I’ve looked into grants for deep energy retrofits but they are all in other states or Canada. I make decent money(140,000+), we have a 19moth old and are paying 2300 in RENT! SF sucks! but that’s where my job is so I’m stuck. Not even tree hugging Berkley has a green home market… What’s up California????

17 Goran October 26, 2010 at 11:06 pm

If you’re building/buying a Net Zero home, why is a smaller home better than a large one, apart from initial price? Sure it needs more materials (money) initially, but if recycled and ecologically friendly materials can be found, you could argue that spending more on eco materials will help nurture fledgling industries.

I don’t think I’ve heard a clear argument why smaller, for the sake of smaller, is better.

Brett B.’s arguments that a smaller home is easier to to furnish well, and place on a smaller lot, presumably in a better location, makes sense me. I’d add that smaller homes are easier to maintain (clean, paint, etc.).

But beyond that, I’m afraid I still don’t get why else smaller is better, if a home is designed to be net zero, and uses environmentally friendly materials.

Do smaller homes create better neighborhoods? Smaller properties lend themselves to denser neighborhoods, which can (but don’t always) create a sense of community. Other things are needed to create neighborhoods: perhaps community space, parks or gardens, playgrounds, local stores. Certainly there are very dense apartment blocks in NYC (project housing), with little sense of community.

Larger homes, or at least homes with more stairs, can be healthier for the occupants who get more exercise living in the home. Are there any psychological benefits to living in a smaller home? Does living in a smaller home make you a better person (perhaps in a similar manner to children growing up with siblings becoming supposedly less selfish)?

Does being forced to have drastically less “stuff”, because you no longer have room to keep this “stuff” around, have psychological benefits? I like to imagine it does, but I can’t offer any references, scientific or religious. Are there any? Certainly clutter addiction is debilitating. Does a smaller home prevent clutter, or does clutter depend upon the person, and some people will clutter whatever space they have, regardless how small?

Is living in tighter quarters better for us? Why, exactly? Is it just because of the additional materials used, or are there other reasons?

18 Goran October 26, 2010 at 11:30 pm

PS. We live in a home with 1200 SF of conditioned space, with an open floor plan, 1 bath and small bedrooms, and we’re very happy with the size, even though the house next door is 6000 SF :-) The only thing I’d wish for is more stairs, and a roof garden so I wouldn’t have to battle shade, deer and pests.

19 T.C. October 27, 2010 at 8:34 am

Hi Goran, I’d like to take the bait on whether smaller is better; I agree that a net zero small home and a net zero larger home may not financially cost any more to operate, but that does not mean the larger home is not more ecologically impactful. Let’s address energy use first; all other things being equal, a larger home will have more energy needs, period. Offsetting these needs with renewables is the approach to net zero, so you need a larger solar array, a bigger turbine, etc. The construction and maintenance of those items has its own environmental impact, and using more energy in the first place does little to reduce overall energy use or change usage patterns. Use reduction of the resource should be the first step. The other arguments for a smaller structure in the first place are many. I would point to larger land allocation, more water runoff to control, more initial ecological penalty for materials resources to build, more resources to maintain, and a larger amount of waste to dispose of at the end of its life cycle for starters. Although the energy use to operate a building dwarfs the energy needed to build it, the ecological impact of building is not insignificant.

20 GreenbuildinginDenver.com October 27, 2010 at 10:35 am

This debate is really simpler than it seems. Dollars are the units with which we can measure and compare everything in a home’s cost. The home uses more land? That equals more dollars in purchase price, property tax, storm runoff fees, etc. It uses more resources to build because it’s bigger? Well, it costs more. The only thing that can improve the accuracy of dollars is a carbon tax that is allocated and implemented perfectly. I realize that won’t be easy.

Recurring costs are a little more difficult. That’s why the EPA created a standard MPG rating for cars, and the Energy Guide rating for major appliances. With them, people could compare their future costs of operation of their purchase against the other competitive products.

I submit that the only worthwhile rating system for homes will be in dollars per year. An accurate HERS score can be converted to $/yr with a standard set of conditions.

Another significant metric for a house is the cost of transportation incurred by the residents. Walk scores and other ratings can be standardized and converted to $/yr, and reported on the MLS. This is already starting to happen.

Now, with a purchase price and a $/yr rating in hand, the consumer will be motivated to buy small, because it’s cheaper. If they can still afford a 3,000sq.ft. house, they should be able to buy it, there is no reason to put an artificial cap on size. Markets forces work well if the consumer is educated.

Unfortunately, LEED scores and Energy Star ratings are a confusing mess: http://greenbuildingindenver.blogspot.com/2010/10/leed-for-homes-rating-system.html

21 Goran October 27, 2010 at 11:36 am

An elegant solution that puts the emphasis back on the question of whether energy efficient housing can cost less to build, buy and operate than traditional housing.

22 Dave Fuller, Realtor, CSP October 27, 2010 at 1:10 pm

AlxSF if you are still out htere reading. I do not know that market or your situation other than your description. Have you looked into alternative housing like Condominiums, Co-ops, Co-Housing and multi-family rental housing like two units (duplex). Maybe even find a single unit in a rental zone where you can create a rental unit. Look for mortgages that allow for structured rehab which allow purchase and provide monies for fixing up not easy to find but they used to be out there. Talk to your Realtor if you have one. Just a suggestion.

23 AlxSF October 27, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Hey Dave,
yep still here, we have ruled out condos etc for several reasons:
HOA fees, if I’m going to spend half a million dollars I do not want to share a wall/floor/etc with anyone, they’re a really bad real estate investment right now(most are selling for less than half of what they were 2 years ago), I have a child and don’t want some stranger living in our basement and need a yard of some sort. We looked into the rehab loans, but they are rare and the house needs to be in really bad shape in order to qualify, which means months and months of renovations before it’s even livable. I would do that IF those renovations included energy retrofits, but they only cover basic construction up to min code. Plus it’s still 500,000 for the base(rotting pile of trash) house and another 100+ grand to fix it up. So the idea of a 100k home here is so far gone it’s not even funny. Land alone is 200-300g’s per lot… IF you can find one…

24 Brandon October 27, 2010 at 4:21 pm

As an SF homeowner (or intending homeowner), we have to accept certain basic facts:

1) SF is a highly desirable location (not for everyone, but demand generally exceeds supply)
2) It’s bounded on three sides by water and to the south by pretty well-developed cities, so there’s no outward expansion available to take the pressure off prices
3) The regulatory bias is in favor of maintaining existing housing stock
4) Money and patience win out eventually

According to the MLS via Zephyr’s site, there are 15 single-family homes in San Francisco sub-$300K available right now, 3 of which are less than $200K. You can’t live in Noe Valley for that money, though, but affordability and desirability are inversely related.

25 Matthew @ Slow Home October 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Great post and discussion here. I have just tuned into the conversations on this site – maybe a little late but I’m really interested! I think the fundamental problem is that real estate metrics only provide a limited means of evaluating houses – they look at square footage, location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms etc. – and do not take into account livability, overall design quality or environmental performance. The crazy thing is that real estate metrics will give a badly designed 3,000 sq foot house a higher value than a well designed, high environmental performance 2,400 sq foot house (assuming other attributes like lot size, age and location are comparable between the two). The larger house will be valued higher even if it has significant design flaws that make it difficult to live in such as rooms that don’t fit furniture, poorly laid out kitchens and baths and wasted space. At the end of the day, the smaller well designed home will be more livable long term – and one could argue, ultimately more “valuable”. As Mid American Mom has alluded to in her comment, there is currently no way to factor in livability or design quality to augment real estate statistics. This is an area where a fundamental change needs to occur given the current state of the real estate market and our current environmental angst.

26 AlxSF October 27, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Brandon thanks for the comments although obvious,
As a family, is not so much a matter of any house under 500, it’s a place to call home for at least 5 years with a child or 2. So a whooping 15 so called “single family homes” in SF is not the issue, besides I can garrantee that those 15 are piles of garbage that have mold, dangerous wiring, leaky roofs and no yard.
We are actually looking for something in the sunny part of San Mateo county, sunny is important, my wife and son are home all day, and currently the foggy/cold place we live now is just down right awful to be in everyday. I’m not asking for opinions, I’m simply stating that finding a Home, not just a house is VERY hard to do in this area. We are already sacrificing school zones, square footage and airplane noise to get closer to a reasonable price range, but Sun, crime, neighborhood and some usable outdoor space are concerns. SF proper has ZERO of those…

27 Brandon October 27, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Not trying to insult your intelligence, just suggesting that there are options in the city for building the kind of house you want without having to start with half a million’s worth of house you don’t want or can’t use. A couple of those are in the Excelsior, which is a reasonable neighborhood, and if you bought the house/land for $250k and spent another $150-250k on a gut remodel, you could have a great house with a yard in a sunnier part of the city.

SF can be tough on families, but for many of us, the trade-offs are worth it. We live in a small 2-bedroom/1-bath house with two boys, and it’s poorly insulated like most of the old housing stock, but the climate is so mild that we rarely need to heat. As a consequence, our energy consumption is way below the national average for a family of four.

Bottom line, I think SF needs families, and I want to encourage the ones we have to stay. But the peninsula’s lovely, too! Good luck.

28 David Fuller Realtor CSP October 28, 2010 at 4:03 pm

AlxSF
Although I empathize with your plight I agree with Brandon’s assessment and it sort of coincides with yours too. House and land 15 or so homes under 300K is about land value so if location wokrs do a retrofit or knock down. I know back i the 70′s CA was doing that in Monterey and Carmel. Best of Success.

29 Travis Slow Home November 3, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Nic, I agree in general with your issue.
To me, homebuyers need to see Step 4 as a more important question than Step 3. This is because bedrooms and bathrooms tend to have a set size – for example, 10 x 10′ for a basic bedroom – and have a set impact on the size of a house. In my experience through the Slow Home Project I have noticed that there is a lot more fluctuation in the size and disposition of living and dining spaces. A 3 bedroom home can vary substantially in size quite easily by including the often redundant formal living and dining spaces. Homebuyers should really see these spaces as ‘features’ that aren’t essential to the overall footprint of the house. A bigger bedroom, has a much smaller impact on the overall square footage of a home than a bigger or second living space.
Further, in my experience, the tendency of condo marketing websites is to promote the number of bedrooms and bathrooms first. Square footage comes afterwards, as there is often a choice of floorplans with that number of bedrooms and bathrooms. When presented this way, it is a lot easier to see how differently a two bedroom corner unit, for example, is laid out compared to an ‘internal’ unit. Houses don’t seem to be marketed this way. I really believe that the marketing has a strong role to play, and as you’ve pointed out the options presented (selectively culled from the glut) by a professional.
On a different note, square footages are simply misleading anyways. Are we talking gross square footage, usuable square footage, do we count outdoor space? Only a well-educated homebuyer can see through the mess of wasted space that appears as square footages inflate (ie. the unnecessary duplication of uses or internal hallways).
Thanks again for a great post.

30 Gayle Fleming, EcoBroker November 15, 2010 at 10:25 am

Just two days ago I told clients of mine that I really felt they should consider a beautifully renovated and smaller home with very high performance and space efficiency, selling for $765K, over a very large also beautiful home selling for $1,279 million. So I am one of those Realtors who encourage my clients to lessen their ecological footprint and to consider space efficiency over square footage.

31 lisa November 25, 2010 at 3:29 am

Personally, as a first-time home shopper (in the SF Bay Area, wish us luck), I know that I use sq footage and number of bedrooms as a screening process for homes. My family of 4 could get by with a 2 bedroom house, but my search pattern starts at 3 bedrooms, because I know we need an office space. My husband and I spend more time on our computers than watching TV, so we need a place to put our desks. Most online photo tours do not show the functionality of the house. If I could rely on realtors to say “living room large enough for a home office space” then I might look at 2 bedroom listings (although, realistically, I know 2 bedroom houses are going to be old, and therefore not laid out that way).

As far as bedrooms are concerned, I would like to be happy with the idea of my daughters continuing to share a room (which they will probably have to), but in reality I WANT them to have separate rooms. Not for status, not to indulge them, but to give them a chance for some alone time. They are very close in age, and unlike children from the 1950′s, they are not going to have the ability to just leave the house and wander the neighborhood. Even if I allow that, where are they going to go? No other children will be out, available for play. Unless they are in a scheduled activity, my girls will spend most of their time in their room, in the living room, or in the back yard. That doesn’t give them much sanctuary from each other (even if they do continue to get along). Separate bedrooms are much important than they were 50 years ago, even if our families are smaller.

Finally, I think it is dumb to downplay the importance of status. I am a full-fledged hippie in the view of my friends, with the Environmental Studies degree, and plans for a victory garden, backyard chickens, etc. For me, a small-footprint, efficient house is a status symbol. For most people, that would not be the case. People need something that tells their friends and family “Hey, I’m doing okay! I am a provider!” We cannot expect people to give up the notion of status symbol. It is hardwired into us to want to dominate our peers. What we need is something that is just as “cool” as square footage. This already happens in urban areas, where location is more important than size. In a country with as much space as the US, I’m not sure that is going to happen.

32 LadyHawk February 27, 2013 at 3:20 pm

“Small rooms or dwellings discipline the mind, large ones weaken it.” -Leonardo Da Vinci

“Simplicity is an acquired taste. Mankind, left free, instinctively complicates life.” -Katharine Fullerton Gerould

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction. -E.F. Schumacker

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” -Socrates

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” -Will Rogers

“Any half-awake materialist well knows – that which you hold holds you.” -Tom Robbins

“Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.” -Frederic Chopin

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