The average home built in the U.S. today is 2,430 square feet. This is 1,000 square feet larger than homes being built 100 years ago, according to PropertyShark.
Here in California, home sizes have also been growing over the past century — but not at nearly the same fast pace as the rest of the country. Since 2010, the average new home size has been:
- 2,417 square feet in San Diego;
- 1,862 square feet in San Jose;
- 1,800 square feet in Los Angeles; and
- 1,150 square feet in San Francisco.
San Francisco is the only major metro in California to see a steady decrease over the past century. Here, the average square footage of new homes peaked at 1,590 in 1910-1919, declining fairly steadily to its current low of 1,150 square feet — the second-smallest new homes in the nation. (The smallest average new homes in the nation are found across the country in Boston, Massachusetts, another high-cost, coastal city).
The main reason new homes are built smaller than average in California is the high cost of land.
More zoning, higher land costs
Land use regulation — zoning — in California’s coastal cities is especially restrictive. Low-density rules and height restrictions are the norm. This makes it difficult for supply to keep up with demand, which in turn causes not only the residential construction shortage we are seeing today, but smaller-than-average new homes, as well.
Overly restrictive zoning in San Francisco actually makes the average home price about three times higher than it would be with more reasonable zoning laws, as explained by the New York Times. This dynamic is similar in California’s other coastal cities, while less restrictive zoning and thus healthier pricing are found in inland areas like Riverside and Sacramento.
first tuesday has long advocated for looser zoning laws in California’s desirable metro areas. This allows for more housing units to be built, meeting rising demand and keeping prices from rising out of control, as has occurred in San Francisco.
On the other hand, while looser zoning causes land costs to fall in line, the average size of new homes in metro areas may actually decrease further when builders are allowed to meet demand due to increased density.
Either way, Californians are looking at smaller homes than average along the coast and homebuyers looking for space will need to take their search further inland. Whether they will continue to overpay for their small, urban abodes is up to local land use regulation.
Agents and brokers can get involved by attending local city council meetings, where these zoning decisions are made by vocal and involved residents.