As more local baby boomers become empty nesters, there’s a lot of talk about downsizing, but when it comes to new construction, smaller homes aren’t the ones in demand, say those in the home building and selling industries.
The most recent U.S. Census figures back up their claim.
“Everybody walks through the door saying, ‘We’re downsizing,’ and I have found that’s not necessarily true. I think a better word for what they’re doing is right-sizing,” said Beth Smith, owner of Beth Smith Realty, who specializes in selling new homes built by Malta Development. “By that I mean they’re coming from their home that they’ve raised their children in and they can automatically get rid of that fourth bedroom that they don’t need and they can get rid of that big, formal living room that they haven’t used in the past 17 years, and I find that they don’t really want a very small house. They just want space in the areas where they’re going to spend their time.”
Saratoga County-based Malta Development builds an average of 30 homes a year. A majority of the company’s customers over the past several years have been the 55-and-up crowd, said owner Tom Samascott, who has been in the home building business for 28 years. The average square footage of the homes the company builds is 2,200 square feet, he said. Most requested are ones with three bedrooms.
The company’s smallest offering is a two bedroom model, which is approximately 1,400 square feet in size. Smith said only one has been sold.
Kelly Gardner, manager and sales broker for Coldwell Banker Prime Properties in Niskayuna, has observed a similar phenomenon with new home construction.
“I’m not really seeing smaller. When you talk about smaller new construction, the trend tends to be condo living. If you talk about new construction home purchase, they’re building bigger,” she said.
According to the latest Census figures for the Northeast, the number of new, single family homes with square footage between 1,800 and 2,399 increased by 2,000 in 2014, compared to the prior year. Even larger homes, with a square footage between 2,400 and 2,999 increased by 1,000. Construction of more modest size homes, with a square footage between 1,400 and 1,799, decreased by three thousand.
“One thing I’m seeing is higher priced houses are selling, and that’s all over all areas,” noted Gardner, who has been in the Real Estate business for 26 years. “That means there’s a comfort level now.”
Samascott also said spending is up.
“The people we’re dealing with are spending more than they have in the last several years, getting what they want,” he said, noting that the houses he builds typically range between $425,000 and $450,000.
According to the Greater Capital Association of Realtors, the median home price for the region was $190,347 in April, up 6 percent from last year at that time.
Although empty nesters might not be giving up much square footage when they purchase a new home, they are asking for features that fit their changing lifestyle, said Samascott. He said the majority of the homes he’s built over the past several years are single story ones.
“We see a lot of folks looking to get rid of stairs, so our one-story homes have become very, very popular,” said Smith.
Ranches are very popular, said Teri Cranston, a Realtor with Realty USA in Clifton Park.
“New construction is hot,” she noted. “My development sold out. They just started a development next to me and they’re selling like hotcakes. This year it’s booming. We’re really busy.”
Older buyers tend to be more active and social than in years past, and are choosing homes accordingly, according to Smith.
“They like sidewalks, the walking trails, and they entertain a lot. They’re highly social, so they like places in the house where they can [entertain],” she said.
Local home builder George Amedore Jr. said buyers are looking for spaces adaptable to aging, with open floor plans. Energy efficiency is another high priority, he noted.
Eco-friendly home features are not in big demand, both Gardner and Cranston said.
Samascott agreed. “We may have been asked once in the last couple of years,” he said.