They sit on treeless hillsides, big as the barns they may have replaced. Or they squeeze onto modest lots in older suburbs, as average-size bungalows cower in their shadows. What they often lack in style they compensate for in sheer mass. Some call them monsters; others fondly call them home. Coming soon to a neighborhood near you, they are The Big Houses.
How big is big? According to the National Association of Homebuilders, the size of the average new single-family home in the United States hit an all-time high of 2,434 square feet in 2005. That's more than double the 1950 average of around 1,100 square feet, and almost a third more than the 1,645 square feet of 1975. Twenty-three percent of new houses built in 2005 were 3,000 square feet or more.
The effect of all that bulk can be dramatic. A January 2006 report from the Department of Neighborhood Planning and Zoning of Austin, Texas, describes an area of that city where houses of 1,300 square feet have been replaced by ones from 5,000 to 10,000 square feet. It's not just floor plan numbers that get skewed. In December The Tennessean newspaper reported on new tax assessments in a long-affluent part of Nashville that, for example, values one 2,074-square-foot house at $8,000 while the lot where it sits is valued at $936,000. In several parts of the city, the real value of small houses has been determined to be in having them "scraped" (demolished) and replaced with much larger ones that may be assessed at $1 million or more.