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August 17, 2009

Small is the new big?

Sunday's Dream Home feature shines a spotlight on Ken Smith's six-room house in Kingsville. Not six bedrooms. Six rooms, total.

The size was part of the appeal for Smith, who liked the idea of an equally small heating and cooling bill and less space to clean.

This reminded me of an interesting conversation I had recently with appraiser Michael Casella, a partner with Muller-Casella Associates in Towson. Small -- or at least smaller -- is where the action is, he said.

"Two years ago, it was all about building a bigger one," he said. "'I can build a bigger one than you can.' Really in a relatively short period of time, it has stopped. There are areas where the 2,800 square-foot houses are selling for what the 4,000 square-foot houses are selling for."

He figures people are pricing in the electricity costs, taxes and maintenance, and opting for less than buyers did a few years ago. He also thinks a lot of people are downsizing.

(Want to look at Smith's small house? The photo gallery is here.)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:37 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Housing market experiences


I think the era of "keeping up with the Joneses" may be over for a little bit. The idea of a family of 3 living in 5,000 square foot house with 6 bedrooms, library, game room, etc, is finally seen as impractical. Especially if that new fancy home makes you house poor.

I agree, people are looking at total costs, such as taxes, electricity, and upkeep when deciding on a house. With the cost of electrically on the rise all over it doesn’t make sense to have a HUGE house unless it’s required. I also believe a lot of this trend has to do with the large numbers of baby boomers selling their larger empty nester homes for smaller, more affordable homes with less maintenance. However, my hope is that people have finally looked into the mirror and realized that they have to live within their means. Just because you neighbor or brother in law just bought a new huge house or car doesn't mean you have to as well.

Bottom line is that living space is a luxury - but quite a nice luxury if you can afford it (and a painful one if you cannot)

I've never been a fan of big houses. cozy and well built is more my style. the McMansion thing, besides looking tacky and poorly built, always made me feel cold. they've never felt like homes, just houses. So I'm glad we're getting back to this.

Its been killing me watching a lot of HGTV and seeing fiftysomethings "downsize" to 4 bedroom, 4 car garage acreage homes. You're supposed to love the people you live with, not want to be as far away from them as possible.

I just bought a new house that was about 2650 sq ft. and I'm glad that my wife objected to all of the 3000+ houses. The BGE bill isn't too much more since the house is very efficient but I wouldn't want any more space. I can't imagine cleaning a house any bigger. It will be a longer time before 4000-5000 sq ft. house come into fashion. I would much rather have a 2500 sq ft house with a nice layout. Who really needs a formal living room - I have one that's filled with a toy box. Do you really need an office and a library?

I have a family of four plus a large dog. We live comfortably in a 1500 sq. ft. home.
I would like a bigger kitchen and idealy about 2000 sq. ft.
When the kids are older and have moved out, I am sure the house will seem big enough.

I definitely agree with the idea of small being the new big. I've never understood the desire to live in a house the size of a convention center. Room redundancy, extra wasted space, and high maintenance doesn't appeal to me. What's important is the use of space and the scale of furniture put in it. Some people buy furniture that's far too big or have rooms that don't flow from one to another. A lot of people, particularly mcmansion owners, also neglect outside spaces/rooms in favor of vast green lawns. I've learned through house hunting and also studying the professional designs that small spaces can feel bigger than others with more square footage if you use the space well. A lot of people don't, and our area is a little hampered by the small windows and compartmental designs found in older houses. Ken Smith seems to know what he's doing.

I have a big house and a big yard and it can be a real pain to clean/maintain.

There aren't many things in life that I really need when it comes down to it, I suppose.

Nevertheless, I regularly indulge myself.

In fact, many of the people I know personally who moved into McMansion style houses were couples with no kids (or were empty nesters), so could afford the cost and additional upkeep; but what were they doing rambling around in all those rooms?

Some of these couples were smart enough to sell and move on before the slump went into full swing and have already downsized, in some cases to condo apartments.

What does one really need beyond a place to sleep, hopefully a workspace, and possibly a (little used) guest room. I've always loved the idea of of the separate living/dining rooms offered by many of turn-of-the-century Baltimore townhouses. But I must admit that my friends and family who live in suburban homes with a separate family room virtually NEVER use their formal living room, and use the dining area/room as a workspace.

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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
Baltimore Sun articles by Jamie

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