Median House Size in U.S. Hits Record High

Median House Size in U.S. Hits Record High
June 19, 2013

Wendell Cox

Wendell Cox is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute; a consultant to public and private... (read full bio)

There have been numerous press reports about the expansion of micro housing, and expectations that Americans will be reducing the size of their houses. As the nation trepidatiously seeks to emerge from the deepest economic decline since the 1930s, normalcy seems to be returning to house sizes.

According to the latest new single-family house size data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the median house size rose to an all-time record of 2,306 square feet in 2012. This is slightly above the 2,277 square feet median that was reached at the height of the housing bubble in 2007. The average new house size (2,505 square feet) remains slightly below the 2007 peak of 2,521 square feet.

‘Perhaps We’ve Not Changed Our Minds’

There was little coverage in the media, with the notable exception of Atlantic Cities, in which Emily Badger repeated the expectation of many: “It appeared after the housing crash that the American appetite for ever-larger homes was finally waning. And this would seem a logical lesson learned from a recession when hundreds of thousands of households found themselves stuck in cavernous houses they neither needed nor could afford.”

But she concluded, “Perhaps we have not changed our minds after all.” Well stated.

This is very revealing. I believe that all over the First World, there is a repugnant lie being spread about "reduced demand for traditional family homes". This "reduced demand", where there seems to be evidence for it, is in every case the result of distortions to supply that have reduced people's choices.

There is Orwellian "newspeak" to be heard everywhere in this racket. "Smart growth" is actually "stupid suppression of growth". "Reduced demand" is actually racketeering of supply, and price gouging, resulting in houses being priced out of people's reach -- like there is "reduced demand" for food in North Korea.

High-Density Theocracy

Sadly, in some nations there is no escape from the "high-density living purifies the soul" theocracy. Pity the first home buyer in the UK, for example, where the prices of "houses" relative to income have risen inexorably for decades even as the size of new houses has indeed fallen.

At least in the USA people can move somewhere else in the nation that is not run by this humanity-hating theocracy. The ironic result of this is that almost all the new construction occurs in places where there is affordability and freedom of choice, so that the forced diversion of housing market resources into apartments and condos in some places, is swamped in the national aggregate data by all the decent family homes still getting built elsewhere.

Property Out of Reach

And even people who want to live in an apartment close to a central business district job can do so in Houston for a fraction of the cost involved in this in a "smart growth" city. Like all theocracies with mindless mantras, "smart growthers" are incapable of seeing unintended consequences like the pricing of centrally located and efficiently located property out of the reach of more  people after their policies are enacted, reducing the likelihood of people making efficient relocation decisions.

In fact, as Alain Bertaud, Patrick Troy, Peter Hall and others have noted, you end up with higher-density development happening in inefficient locations, because that is all people can afford. They have had to trade off "location" as well as house size. As Bertaud points out, this will tend to increase average commute-to-work distances.

"Unintended consequences". Hayek proved right, yet again. When will humanity learn?

Used with permission of newgeography.com.

Wendell Cox

Wendell Cox is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute; a consultant to public and private... (read full bio)