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A Perfect Fit
By Tracy Dickinson
HOME TRENDS April/May 2019
home :: home & garden :: home trends

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A Perfect Fit

Right-sizing the American home.

The typical home buyer goes from starter home to move-up home and eventually to down-sized home. That used to mean going from tiny cottage to spacious family home and back to tiny cottage again.

In a way, it was a Goldilocks approach to home buying. The first one is soon too small. The second one is soon too big. And the last one is—almost right.

Recently builders have been taking a different approach to this last step, helping down-sizers create right-sized homes that fit their budgets, their needs, and their stage of life.

Planning a budget for what matters

When you design a home that truly meets your needs, it changes the approach to budgeting, most builders say. In fact, right-sizing doesn’t always mean down-sizing.

“Most homeowners who start out down-sizing end up with nearly the same finished square footage,” says Kevin Johnson of Accurate Development. “What they’ve done is reallocate the space. They trade the formal dining room and living room for a larger kitchen, larger dining area, or more-spacious master suite.”

Kevin McGlothlin of Sundance Homes agrees. “Homeowners who right-size still want good-quality materials, so part of our goal is to find a way to meet those needs within their budget.”

Kimberley Development’s Bill Kimberley says, “Right-sizing doesn’t usually mean down-sizing with square feet or price. Right-sizing homeowners want quality construction, quality materials, and a good-sized lot, too.”

However, that doesn’t mean that a right-sized home has to blow your budget. “We work with homeowners to create a high-performance home. What’s going on behind the walls is just as important to the budget as the cost of materials,” says Todd Drake of Drake Homes. “We can emphasize quality materials and finishes because in many cases there is less of it”—fewer bathrooms, fewer walls, or one level instead of two.

In the end, although the budget on a right-sized home may not be dramatically lower, the quality of materials and quality of living are noticeably better.

Designing the home you need

According to Drake, “Most homeowners in this situation are coming from a home they’ve lived in for a long time, but they don’t need as much room as they did when all the kids were home and their family was growing.”

One of the first steps is identifying what you need as opposed to what you’ve always had. “In a lot of ways, a good builder is part guidance counselor,” McGlothlin admits. “We have to know what questions to ask and what the client’s answers mean.”

As lifestyles change, needs do as well. The right builder can help you see that—whether it’s eliminating rooms you never use or finding ways to create multipurpose spaces to meet everyday needs and occasional ones, too.

“We’re finding that most homeowners don’t need a formal dining room or a full-time office,” says Kimberley. “But they do want a room that can serve as a flex space on the main floor. Maybe it’s a den that can double as a guest room or office when needed.”

Adding living space and additional bedrooms on the lower level can also provide space for guests without adding as much to the budget as it would if those rooms were on a second level.

Creating a space where you can live

Not only have needs typically changed over the years, but tastes and lifestyles often do as well. Right-sizing your home means creating a space that fits the way you live right now and in the years ahead.

Drake explains, “Homeowners are looking for quality over quantity. There’s a lot of value in designing for the life you’re living now.”

“One change we’ve seen more of in the past few years is a preference away from built-ins,” Johnson says. “We probably do a tenth of what we used to. Homeowners are finding they can change their furniture more easily than their built-ins as their tastes change.”

McGlothlin agrees. “We rarely do things like fireplace surrounds,” he says. “Tastes have changed, and homeowners are looking for a more-modern style with a linear gas or electric fireplace that doesn’t require the same space.”

Ease of maintenance affects those choices, too. “Homeowners are looking for more- hassle-free living,” Drake says. “New technology is part of that, along with styles and materials.”

The more-modern styles have fewer nooks and crannies to gather dust, which makes cleaning easier. Gas fireplaces can be ready at the touch of a button without the cleanup of a wood burner. And space-saving features like understair storage and walk-in pantries enable homeowners to have all the things they use regularly right at their fingertips but not right underfoot.

Another significant change has been in kitchen design. Always the heart of the home, the kitchen is still the hub of daily life, no matter what stage of life you’re in. But right-sized homes are often designed around the kitchen rather than the so-called living space.

Homeowners in this category want the open layout that’s popular today partly for ease of use. Right-size buyers are often also empty nesters who plan to remain in the home as they age. This open design means the kitchen is more than a workspace. It’s part of the backdrop for entertaining, so it needs to be as beautiful and functional as the rest of the home.

“Even people who don’t cook a lot still like higher-end appliances,” Kimberley says. “They look nice and can handle whatever you use your kitchen for, whether it’s everyday meals or hosting family or friends.”

Maybe it’s because the down-sizing market has grown as baby boomers age or because homeowners are simply recognizing that the Goldilocks approach to home buying never quite fits. Either way, creating a home that’s just right doesn’t have to be a fairy tale.

As Johnson says, “If you’re working with a builder to create the home that’s right for you, you should get what you want.”

Making It Yours

To create your right-size home, consider some of these ideas popular with right-size buyers:

  • Outdoor living: covered decks, three-season rooms, fire pits, outdoor kitchens
  • Technology: whole-house entertainment and sound systems, home security, smart options for lighting and HVAC
  • Custom touches: pocket office areas, technology hubs, display niches
  • Storage: closet built-ins, walk-in pantries, ceiling-height kitchen cabinetry, mud room and laundry receptacles


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