Shrinking lot sizes make a large yard a good find

A sizable yard is not without its headaches. You'll have to spend more time mowing the grass, clearing leaves and debris, and otherwise keeping it in good shape. But large yards are also valued for their beauty as well as their ability to hold pools, barbecues, and other features for recreational purposes.

This type of yard is also becoming less common, according to recent analyses. The typical lot size on an American home has shrunk considerably over the years.

According to a recent report by the real estate site Trulia, a typical home built in 1975 occupied 13.9 percent of their lot. Since 2015, the average new home has occupied one-quarter of its land parcel.

Among all single-family homes, the median residence occupied 17.4 percent of its lot. However, homes built in the early 1800s typically occupied just 5 percent of their lot. Felipe Chacón, housing economist for Trulia's Housing Economics Research Team, said the decrease in yard size is a result of both shrinking lots and larger home footprints.

Chacón found that the decrease in lot size corresponds to changes in American society. In the early 1800s, when the U.S. was more agrarian, the median lot size was about 56,000 square feet—1.25 acres—while the median home size was 1,740 square feet. Lot sizes shrank drastically with the industrialization of the country. The median home built in the early 1900s was 1,420 square feet and occupied about 20.7 percent of a median lot size of 6,860 square feet, or 0.16 acres.

The development of suburbs helped increase the yard size in new homes in the late 20th century. While the median home size for residences built in the 1970s grew to 1,824 square feet, the median lot size also expanded to 12,430 square feet. This meant the typical new home occupied 14.7 percent of its lot.

Chacón said that while home sizes have continued to grow in more recent years, lot sizes have not kept pace. The median estimated footprint for a new home built since 2015 was 2,113, while the median lot size was down to 8,940 square feet.

The analysis also found that all four Connecticut metro areas were among the top four areas where homes took up the smallest share of their lot. A home's footprint typically took up less than 10 percent of their lot in the metro areas for Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Worcester, Mass.

The National Association of Home Builders recently noted how the median lot size for a new single-family detached home sold in 2016 had reached a record low. This type of home typically had a lot size of 8,562 square feet, or slightly less than one-fifth of an acre. Median lot sizes declined from 10,000 square feet in 1996; new homes built just prior to the Great Recession in 2008 had increasingly large lot sizes, but peaked just below 9,500 square feet in 2007.

Natalia Siniavskaia, writing for the NAHB blog Eye on Housing, says New England homes tend to have larger lot size due to strict local zoning regulations that require low population densities. New single-family detached homes where construction began in 2016 had a median lot size of 0.37 acres.

Lot sizes were also above the national median along the Eastern Seaboard and in the Midwest. Regions with median lot sizes below the national median included the Pacific (West Coast, Alaska, and Hawaii) where the median lot size was 0.15 acres; the West South Central region of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, with a median lot size of 0.16 acres; and the Rocky Mountain region, which had a median lot size of 0.17 acres.

The NAHB also found that custom single-family detached homes tended to have larger lots than properties built on spec. The median lot size for a custom home started in 2016 was 1.08 acres.

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