Smaller families, but bigger residences
Homes are not only larger, but more elaborate inside than they used to be.
By MARY ELLEN PELLEGRINI
At a time when nuclear families have become smaller, residential living quarters have gotten noticeably larger.
Whether it is the supersizing of America, pride in the most important investment a consumer will make or reaching a dream, home ownership today is all about convenience, luxury and space - lots of space.
Walk-in closets, home theaters, computer rooms, home offices, formal dining rooms and loft sitting areas have stretched the dimensions of our humble abodes.
"A generation ago, families would raise five kids in a 1,500 square-foot house. Today, they're raising two kids in a 2,800 square-foot house," said Dan Becker, owner of Becker Builders in Struthers.
An average size home in 2005 has increased from the 1,400 square-foot standard of 40 years ago to 2,000 square feet for a ranch and 2,500 square feet for a traditional two-story, according to John Sudon, an officer of Sudon Bros. in Liberty.
Rationale behind larger homes
The trend toward grander habitats escalated locally in the 1990s said Joshua Aikens, executive director of the Sales and Marketing Council of the Home Builders Association of Mahoning Valley.
Homeowners want more room to host events and accommodate extended family gatherings. That includes expansive kitchens where one can cook and entertain simultaneously.
"Consumers are looking at the whole picture instead of their immediate needs. They're taking more interest in the building of their homes," said Aikens.
That interest leads many Valley buyers away from the modest cookie cutter models of the past to roomy detail-oriented custom built homes.
"People are looking for more amenities, comfort and low maintenance," said Rob Reilly, owner of Reilly Construction in Austintown. "Buyers constantly want something new and different and something no one else has," added Sandi Bates, certified new construction specialist with real estate company Howard Hanna's Canfield office.
The latest innovations include Roman showers (walk-in units with no doors), multiple showerheads, swing faucets above cook tops, see-through fireplaces in the master suites and manmade waterfalls in the back yards, Bates said.
The demand for more usable and luxurious living space isn't limited to new construction in upscale developments. Existing homes in modest neighborhoods are experiencing growth spurts as well.
Making more of staying put
Homeowners with families as well as empty nesters are opting to expand within their established neighborhoods rather than relocate. "They've decided they're staying in that home so 'let's do it the way we want it'," said Becker.
The average addition for Becker runs from 500 to 1,000 square feet, though he has built additions the size of a home. Family rooms and in-law suites are the most requested projects.
Experts attribute this phenomenon to home-improvement programs on cable TV, industry home shows, more savvy consumers, lower interest rates and dual income households.
When Bates started in real estate 20 years ago, the interest rates were 173/4 percent, making small starter homes more desirable. Presently, "they don't have to do that starter home because a lot of the women work and interest rates allow them to build a bigger home," Bates said.
As to what can be built into a home, "There are no limitations anymore," said Aikens. He cites the 'smart home' - a specially wired system whereby homeowners can use a laptop computer to turn on air conditioning and heating units before they arrive or use a bar scan system to report when food items are low in the refrigerator.