One-quarter of homebuyers said that the pandemic has affected what features are most important to them in a buying a home, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ report, “What Buyers Really Want, 2021 Edition.” Notably, only 9% of homebuyers who had did not have to transition to remote work or remote school said their home design preferences were impacted by the pandemic. Remote school played a significant role in buyers’ reprioritization, as 19% of households with at least one remote worker but no remote students reported changing home design preferences, compared to 28% with no teleworker but at least one student and 43% with one of each.
“Few events over the last century have had as profound an impact on our economy and society as this health crisis, when homes became the first line of defense for many Americans, as they sheltered in place in an effort to avoid contagion,” Rose Quint, assistant vice president for survey research for NAHB, wrote in a summary of the report.
Households with virtual students and, to a lesser extent, virtual workers were more likely to say they wanted a bigger home. Among the one in five buyers who were looking to increase their square footage, 10% of those with no virtual workers or students at home said they wanted to size up, compared to 15% of those with a virtual worker only, 23% with a student only, and 35% with one of each.
Shrinking of average home sizes stalls
The average square footage of single-family homes has been shrinking since 2016, but as the pandemic forced people to work, school and do everything else from home, that’s beginning to change.
“An expected impact of the virus crisis is a need for more space, as people use their homes for more purposes. And while this measure has not increased significantly yet, new home size did level off in 2020 after years of decline,” according to Robert Dietz, chief economist at NAHB.
The median square footage of a new single-family home was flat at 2,274 in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to an NAHB analysis of the Census Quarterly Starts and Completions by Purpose and Design. Mean square footage was down slightly to 2,475.
Looking at the one-year moving average, homes are 4.5% larger than they were during the Great Recession. While average square footage hasn’t increased significantly yet, Dietz wrote in a blog post, he expects that the change in consumer preferences will continue to drive home sizes up in the post-pandemic environment.
Danielle Andrus was previously the managing editor for Colorado Builder, and is currently Editor for the Journal of Financial Planning.