Lew Sichelman

A recent survey of 1,250 American adults found that 43 percent plan to start their own business this year. The poll by Digital.com, which reviews the websites of small businesses, didn’t ask whether these entrepreneurs would be working from home. But it’s a good bet most of them will start out there. 

Perhaps that’s why Jacksonville, Florida, architect Deryl Patterson is hearing more requests from her builder clients for four-bedroom units, even in apartments and townhouses. She suspects the work-from-home phenomenon is at least part of the reason. 

She calls it “a post-pandemic shift in the market.” 

Patterson, whose firm, Housing Design Matters, works all over the country, is telling her clients to take it slow before adding another bedroom, even in the current white-hot market. “Get real market data” rather than relying on gut instinct alone, she said. 

If buyers of these larger homes intend to actually use all their bedrooms as sleeping spaces, then an extra bathroom is necessary, the architect points out. 

“It doesn’t add that much cost to add a bedroom,” she said, but a bathroom is second in expense only to the kitchen. 

On the other hand, if people are just looking for more space, perhaps to use the extra bedroom as an office, Patterson suggests other alternatives. In one recent project, the firm supplemented the unit’s three bedrooms with a 7-by-7 “Zoom room/pocket office.” 

Even that may not be enough, though. So, Housing Design Matters is drawing plans with extra-large kitchen islands with seating on three sides in hopes that the dining room won’t be “hijacked” as someone’s home office. 

Three-Bedroom Demand Soars 

Meanwhile, some of her apartment-builder clients have given up on two-bedroom units in favor of at least three. One builder told Patterson that demand for three bedrooms was so “off the charts” that he could lease an entire project of just three-bedroom apartments. 

What Patterson’s firm is experiencing is in line with what the National Association of Home Builders said is going on nationwide. In the hunt for more space, houses are being built larger, with more amenities packed both inside and outside their walls. 

Between 2016 and 2019, newly built houses were shrinking ever so slightly. But since the pandemic hit in 2020, square footage has been increasing. Last year, the average new house was 2,561 square feet – the most since 2015, when the average was 2,689. 

That 128-square-foot difference is the rough equivalent of an 11-by-11 space – or, as it happens, a small bedroom. And 46 percent of new houses had four bedrooms last year, which is second only to 2015 (47 percent). 

Of course, builders aren’t putting more space just in the bedroom. According to the NAHB, more new houses had three or more full bathrooms and three-car or larger garages than any time since 2015 – 34 percent and 19 percent, respectively.  

Why the Sudden Need? 

There’s not a simple COVID cause-and-effect here, researcher Rose Quint told me. But it’s partly the case. Another example, she said, is the fact that patios now come standard with nearly two-thirds of all new houses.  

“This is not a new trend. The demand has been there for over a decade,” she said. “But COVID certainly accelerated it, because people want to spend more time outside.” 

This year, builders say they will be giving features other than bathrooms and bedrooms more importance. Shoppers are most likely to see more walk-in closets, energy-efficient lighting and windows, and better-designed kitchens. Other likely features are 9-foot first-floor ceilings, programmable thermostats, front porches and two-car garages. 

Interestingly, home offices are not on the list of the 18 features builders will probably include in their products going forward. But that’s not because buyers don’t want them. Indeed, according to another NAHB survey, a whopping 80 percent of homebuyers are searching for dwellings with a home office, with 29 percent fervently doing so. 

Consequently, most builders are probably going to offer to carve out space for home offices for those who really want them – and can pay for them. “A lot of builders will offer them as an option,” said Quint. “Not everybody can afford a home office.” 

Demographics Alter Desires 

Much of the quest for more space is driven by younger buyers. Folks age 50 and above are usually looking for smaller residences. Baby Boomers (age 57 and above) want to drop down to 1,800 square feet, they told the NAHB. But Millennials (ages 25 to 40) are searching for 2,310 square feet at the median. Moreover, they would opt for a longer commute rather than settle for a smaller house or lot. 

Inside, 74 percent of Millennials are searching for a home office, 61 percent for an exercise room and 45 percent for bedroom No. 4. Among their most sought-after features: patio, laundry room, walk-in pantry, front porch, two kitchen sinks, table space for eating in the kitchen and a separate dining room. 

A large, green backyard used to be the only outdoor request, but that’s not enough anymore. So, architects and designers are making outdoor amenities a top priority, according to industry publication Professional Builder. Connection to the outdoors and outdoor entertaining both ranked high on the top 10 list of design drivers in a recent survey conducted by the New Home Trends Institute in collaboration with the magazine. 

Consequently, people shopping the new spring models are likely to find, among other features, more roof decks, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, firepits or fireplaces, outdoor kitchens and hot tubs, if not entire swimming pools. 

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com. 

The Quest for More Square Footage Continues

by Lew Sichelman time to read: 4 min