The American Dream used to include a house with a white picket fence. And then, at some point, expectations grew larger and more grandiose (perhaps coinciding with Dallas, and Dynasty, two wildly popular prime time TV soap operas with the wealthy, sprawling settings). Some single-family homes rivaled hotels or B&Bs, and had four- and five-car garages, several separate wings, and even rooms that the homeowners themselves were quite sure how to use.
However, it appears that the popularity of these mass-produced, oversized homes may be waning. A report by Opendoor reveals that consumers are moving away from such opulent homes in favor of something more streamlined.
According to the survey, 60% of respondents say they have changed their definition of a dream home:
52% want a smaller home
81% want a simpler style/design
57% say the top priority is a quiet and secluded location
67% would move to a quieter place
61% would move to a smaller space
Maureen McDermut, realtor at Sotheby’s International-Santa Barbara, isn’t surprised by the findings. “Overall, I have had more buyers express that they want to find homes that are further away from urban or suburban settings, with many wanting smaller homes in general,” she says.
Opendoor refers to this as “simple-sizing,” or a less-is-more approach to where and how Americans live. In fact, 87% of survey respondents rated simple living as important, and 66% took intentional steps in the past year to live a simple life. In addition, 75% said they were willing to downsize, and 79% planned to actually downsize in the next 12 months.
So, what’s fueling this trend toward smaller homes? Brett Ringelheim, licensed real estate salesperson at Compass in New York, NY, says he’s currently working with potential homebuyers who are looking for smaller homes. “They do not want a large yard that they need to take care of, and many of them prefer being in a community with an HOA fee that’ll cover many of the upkeep items so they do not need to worry about hiring their own people for the job,” he says. “Having a large beautiful home is always something special to have, but after moving in, the amount of upkeep for the property and the cost can be drastic.”
In fact, the OpenDoor survey also found that Americans want to declutter, reduce personal spending, focus on what’s needed now, and prioritize self-care.
And according to DeLisa Dawkins, realtor with Realty ONE Group Freedom in Greenville, SC, it’s a multi-generational trend. She says the current generation of homebuyers wants a small or midsize home, regardless of the price. “This is a generation that is in constant movement; therefore, they desire minimal upkeep and maintenance, and the idea of a McMansion is not a part of their plans.” But, if the Boomer generation is trying to downsize from McMansions, and younger generations don’t want to purchase large houses, it can further strain the housing market.
In addition to less maintenance and lower upkeep costs, there are other reasons that buyers may prefer smaller homes. “They also have less of an environmental impact, lower energy costs, and other factors homebuyers are taking into consideration, especially Millennials and Gen Z,” says McDermut. In fact, she believes the cost of the home itself isn’t as much of a factor as these other considerations.
Also, a smaller home may offer other, more important amenities. “Exterior space has become just as important as interior space, which has led to more relaxation at home while entertaining or even working,” explains Greg Forest, senior global real estate advisor at Sotheby’s International Realty in Palm Beach, FL. And he says smaller homes with larger yards can provide the type of well-rounded living experience that many people are craving.
In addition to a smaller home, buyers and homeowners have a desire for simplicity when purchasing a home.
“We age in our homes, so the comfort and convenience of a space is critical when we know we’ll often be in it for the long-haul,” says Opendoor broker Jennifer Patchen. “As a result, buyers are looking to not only find a home that helps them prioritize their health from a future-planning perspective, but also encourages healthy habits in the near-term.”
In terms of neighborhoods, Patchen says buyers are looking for easy access to outdoor recreation like parks, bodies of water, and bike lanes.
Also, those COVID-19 lockdowns may have contributed to the current mindset. “Our homes became our everything: our gyms, our offices, our restaurants, our movie theaters,” Patchen says.
And there’s nothing like being in your home 24/7 to figure out what’s really necessary – or not. “The focus shifted to reducing the size of the home and creating space with multiple uses that increase functionality while eliminating less-used space,” explains Kristina ODonnell, associate broker and realtor at Realty ONE in Collegeville, PA. “An open floor plan encourages togetherness with an easy flow for entertaining and being able to keep an eye on the kids while in the kitchen or working from home.” In addition, a smaller home requires less time and effort to clean, which results in more time for enjoyable activities.
There’s also another reason why simplicity is back in style. According to Forest, simple is the new luxury. “Simple designs are increasingly seen as luxurious because they often focus on quality over quantity, they prioritize function, and enable homeowners to create spaces that are both aesthetically pleasing and personally meaningful.”
Quiet, Remote Locations
The rise of remote work may have also spurred the rise of remote living. Since work can be done from anywhere, people are no longer forced to live within the confines of the city – or areas with a “reasonable” commute time. So, the question becomes, ‘If you can live anywhere, where do you want to live?’
And for first-time homebuyers who were previously living in cramped apartments during COVID-19, the desire for privacy and solitude could be especially strong.
“While cities and even some suburbs offer amenities, many homebuyers are more focused on solitude and space,” says McDermut. “A home should provide a retreat from the world, and many buyers are looking for that in their home’s location.”
This view is shared by Forest, who also notes that people are craving privacy. “And, living further out typically means less traffic and congestion, resulting in a quieter, more peaceful environment.” It’s the very antithesis of the hustle and bustle of urban living. “While living away from the density of big cities, residents can enjoy their homes without disturbances and without feeling overlooked,” he says.
In addition, Forest points to the rise in homeschooling as a possible factor. “With less noise and distractions, children can concentrate better, and there is often more space for outdoor learning activities, providing a well-balanced education experience.”
When asked about other ways they wanted to simple size, 49% of survey respondents wanted to be environmentally conscious, 41% they wanted to drive less, and 23% wanted to grow their own food. Living in remote areas provides more opportunities to check these boxes.
All of these factors can play a role in the desire for a simpler life. “There is solace in simplicity, and embracing a quieter, more remote life can have long lasting benefits,” says Patchen. “As a result, we’re seeing a shift toward this idea of simple-sizing – which is not quite upsizing and not quite downsizing, but rather somewhere in-between.”