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What's getting smaller as homes get bigger

MoneyWatch Headlines for July 07, 2016
MoneyWatch Headlines for July 07, 2016 01:05

The economic recovery is having a negative impact on a piece of Americana: the lawn.

Lawns are getting smaller as Americans return to their preference for larger houses. Newly constructed homes are now coming with fewer than two feet of yard space for every one foot of finished indoor space, as Zillow has noted. A decade ago, new homes were surrounded by about three feet of yard for every foot indoors.

The economic recovery has lifted the fortunes of the rich and upper-middle class, in turn helping buoy sales of homes of at least 4,000 square feet. The median size of new single-family homes reached a record 2,500 square feet last year, the Census found. But rather than building on bigger lots, builders are constructing larger homes on smaller parcels, according to The Atlantic, which noted that the average lot size has decreased 13 percent since 1978.

The main culprit is a sharp spike in the cost of land.

Land prices have almost doubled since 2009, nearly returning to 2006 levels, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited research firm Zelman & Associates. In states such as Colorado and Oregon the cost of land has actually exceeded its previous pre-recession peak, according to data from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a nonpartisan think tank.

Developers are coping by shrinking lawns to compensate for the bigger houses and smaller lots. Some developments are adding community spaces and trails to help provide a more green space to cramped homeowners.

It may provide a boon to another part of the industry, ironically. The landscaping industry is catering to the tastes of homeowners with small lawns, creating lawnmowers with smaller cutting widths that can manage small yards easier than standard mowers.

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