The Census Bureau recently released some data on the characteristics of newly built housing. There are some fun trends in there — about the increasing popularity of air-conditioning over time, for example — but perhaps the most compelling series has to do with the size of houses.
During the bubble years, American houses got bigger and bigger (especially relative to their counterparts in other rich countries). But guess what? Builders increased the size of new homes built after the bubble burst, too. In 1973, the median newly-completed single-family house was 1,525 square feet; forty years later, in 2013, it was 2,384 square feet. That is a record high.
That’s just the median, of course. But the share of newly built homes that are at least 4,000 square feet is now at 10 percent, equaling the series’s peak in 2008, after having dipped slightly immediately after the crash. The share of homes that have at least four bedrooms is also at a historical high, at 44 percent. That’s almost twice the share in 1973.
Some of the growth in the size of houses in recent years may reflect the changing composition of home buyers. If the kinds of people able to afford newly built single-family homes are increasingly higher-income, we would expect that the kinds of houses being built might be increasingly higher-end, and thus larger. The size of the typical unit in a multifamily building — which has had a much stronger recovery than the single-family home market, perhaps partly because so many Americans now can’t afford to buy or rent a standalone home — is below its peak in 2007.