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Though bathrooms may be smaller in new homes, owners still want a spa-like atmosphere through amenities. Smaller footprints are the norm in home construction according to area builders.
Though bathrooms may be smaller in new homes, owners still want a spa-like atmosphere through amenities. Smaller footprints are the norm in home construction according to area builders.

Buyers scale back on size, not perks

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The days of the McMansion may not be over, but they appear to be fading, as Ozarks home builders and designers say they’re seeing a growing number of clients scaling back on square footage.

“There’s certainly a movement away from extremely large houses, but that has to be qualified,” said Jim Baker, owner of B&G Drafting.

“There are still people building what would be considered very large houses,” he added.

Nationwide, the median floor area of new U.S. homes fell to 2,094 square feet in third-quarter 2009, compared to 2,309 square feet at the start of 2007, according to Census Bureau data.

While financial considerations lead some homeowners to choose smaller house designs, for others, that’s not the only reason for trimming square footage.

Designer Ron Hill, owner of Euro World Design, said many of his clients who are trying to stay below the 3,000-square-foot mark are driven by the desire to invest more in leisure-time pursuits and less in their homes.

“People’s priorities are changing,” Hill said. “They’re wanting to spend more time out traveling.”

Builder Rusty MacLachlan – who is president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Springfield and serves on the boards of the state and national HBA groups – said that while many of his clients are scaling back, there are certain things they simply aren’t willing to do without.

“The housing industry is going through a shift where we don’t need massive spaces. We need spaces done well,” he said.

That means open floor plans, dining spaces that can serve multiple functions and kitchens that may be smaller in size but still packed with amenities such as commercial-grade appliances.

“Some of these kitchens that we were building, I think people found out they were overbuilt,” MacLachlan said. “They had cabinets to store things that they never got to.”

But having certain kitchen amenities makes sense, Hill said, particularly as more people want to do their own upscale cooking at home.

“Instead of a pantry, we do more of a butler’s pantry or a bigger pantry with all the different elements where you can cater and still keep your areas clean, ” he said. “We’re seeing a lot more fancy appliances, a lot better equipment and specialty lighting – things that create atmosphere.”

Essentially, consumers are staying home to enjoy foods they used to go out for, meaning their kitchens must accommodate espresso machines and professional-grade appliances.

A March 2010 Home Trends survey conducted by the American Institute of Architects that found functionality is preferable to bigger kitchens and bathrooms.

B&G’s Baker said the challenge is to design homes that fit clients’ lifestyles without blowing the budget on square footage.

He cites the trend toward bigger flat-screen TVs, which require larger seating areas.

“You can’t sit 4 feet away from a 6-foot television and still see it. The living room has to meld to the lifestyle,” he said. “We don’t make the whole house bigger. We just make that room do what we want, and we share spaces.”

Even bathrooms are being affected by the downward trend in home sizes. While those may be somewhat smaller, builders and designers say homeowners still have plenty of interest in creating a spa-like atmosphere through amenities.

The AIA Home Trends survey found that popular bathroom features are radiant heated floors, linen closets and storage doorless showers and accessibility/universal design.

MacLachlan thinks walk-in showers will continue to be something homebuyers seek.

“In the back of their minds, as people start to age, they think, ‘I’m getting older and may need a wheelchair or a walker,’” he said.

On the other hand, Whirlpool tubs – which MacLachlan classified as a threshold item – are on the way out.

“If you didn’t have it on the listing sheet, people wouldn’t even come in the house,” he said of the changing trend.

Regardless of square footage or amenity choices, one trend on all buyers’ minds, according to these local builders and designers, is energy efficiency – and national interest in green home building also supports the idea that green home building is gaining a foothold.

Data from the National Association of Home Builders, which held its 12th annual National Green Building Conference in May, shows that NAHB’s Certified Green Professional designation is its fastest-growing professional designation, with more than 5,200 builders, remodelers and other professionals now certified.

To date, more than 1,000 homes, remodeling projects and developments have are green-certified through NAHB.

Baker said that because science is finally catching up with the trend that sprang from the 1973 oil crisis, home builders are getting the tools and materials they need to make houses very energy-efficient.

“It’s not a guessing game. It’s actually a science now,” Baker said.[[In-content Ad]]

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