A combination of bigger houses and shrinking building lots means that today’s single-family houses take up a greater percentage of their lots, leaving less room for the kids to play in their own backyards, but also reducing the amount of lawn maintenance homeowners need to perform.
An analysis by Trulia, an online real estate marketing company, found that on average, houses built since 2015 take up 25% of the lots on which they are built, compared to 13.9% in 1975. That’s due to building lots that are about one-third smaller than they used to be, and house footprints that have grown by more than 15%.
When plotted over time, the numbers show a steady decline in the amount of outdoor room that American families have for backyard gardens and, these days, pickup soccer games. In the 1800s, lot sizes were an average of 48,352 square feet — just over an acre — with the average house footprint at 1,668 square feet. A century later, Trulia reports, lot size had fallen to 7,200 square feet with the footprint dropping to 1,390 square feet. After that, footprints began to grow, reaching an average of 1,715 square feet by the 1970s and 2,077 square feet by the 2010s. Lot sizes dropped from 10,545 square feet in the 1970s to 9,148 square feet in the 2010s.
“This dramatic fall in lot sizes, paired up with a more modest decrease in the size of houses’ footprints resulted in a steady increase in lot usage from less than 4% to more than 21.5%,” Trulia said.
Many factors have contributed to the changing relationship between house size and lot size: the post-World War II economic boom, the rise of the automobile and growth of the suburbs, and the development of the interstate highway system, which allowed people to live much farther away from their jobs than they had in the past.
Regional differences are many
Older urban areas — including San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit — typically have very tight lots because many of their single-family houses were built in the late 19th and early 20 centuries when smaller lots were the norm. Cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix are much newer but also have tight lots because much of the housing stock was built after 1996.
But there are some urban areas where larger lots are common. In four Connecticut metro areas, for example, houses take up less than 10% of their lots on average, even when looking only at houses built after 2014. New England generally showed the smallest lot use in the country, with Providence, Rhode Island; Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts; and Albany, New York, all with new houses covering less than 10% of total lot area.
“So, if your ideal home comes with visions of backyard barbeques, a place for the dog to run, and maybe even a pool and hot tub to host people on those warm summer nights, know that where you live will greatly impact how easy that will be to come by,” the Trulia report said. “On top of that, be wary of brand new construction which will likely not offer all the outdoor bells and whistles you may be dreaming of. Instead, keep an eye out for homes built during the post-war years up until the ’80s, or, better yet, in the early to mid-1800s.”
Separately, the National Association of Home Builders said in an Eye on Housing report that nearly 60% of all new homes started in 2016 were built within a community or a homeowners’ association.
That number has been climbing steadily since 2009, when about 48% of new homes were built in communities, as opposed to single building lots not located within any particular homeowner association jurisdiction.
Percentages ranged from a low of 29.5% in New England to 82.3% in the intermountain region stretching from Montana southward to New Mexico and Arizona.