Vol 7 No. 12 - December 13, 2006


Downsizing our homes: When less is more
By Louise Bolger
sun staff writer

If you've ever cruised long term on a boat, you already know that lack of space is you're biggest dilemma. Trying to cram two week's worth of food, clothing, towels and bedding into a space the size of some people's walk in closet is a challenge that not everyone is ready for. But if you embrace it, what you sacrifice in space can bring couples and families together creating a safe, womb-like environment.

The concept of downsizing and living in a smaller space is starting to make an impact on the national housing market. The American home has grown larger and larger in recent years. Per the Census Bureau, the median size of a house in 2005 was 2,227 square feet, up 50 percent from 1973. Even though there has been a decades long rush in bigger homes, the market is starting to see a trend in the opposite direction. One example is in the Northeast, where new homes had less square feet in 2005 than those built the year before, flattening out what was the traditional upward trend in home sizes.

Much of this reversal has to do with the cost of construction and the desire to build quality and efficiency rather than quantity into new homes. Although the per square foot cost is less in larger homes because the expensive space like kitchens and bathrooms remains the same, homeowners are starting to choose upgraded windows, high quality insulation and custom finishing over cavernous space. Unfortunately, some of these upgrades my prove to be invisible to property appraisers, since they place more emphasis on size than quality. Appraisers' comparisons are always square feet to square feet and they don't make allowances for the quality or uniqueness of construction.

Empty nesters and young families' dreams of owning mega homes start to fade when they realize these designs do not encourage quality family time. This is logical when you consider the popularly of communities that have created brand new towns and neighborhoods. Homes with front porches and streets with sidewalks encouraging strolls to a new downtown, where you can see a movie, have dinner or listen to a band concert. Lakewood Ranch, and new communities in the Florida Panhandle and South Carolina are examples of developments providing out-of-the-box housing options to a new generation of homeowners.

Anna Maria Island already has a community feel with people walking and biking on a daily basis. It is the quintessential area where downsizing should start to take hold. We already have a large supply of cottages just waiting to be loved, rather than torn down. We already have a trolley system that can take you anywhere on the Island for free. We already have a theater, restaurants, ice cream and retail shops of all kinds within a very small geographic area. Anna Maria already has the warm and fuzzy hometown feel that the new communities are trying emulate. Why would anyone want to change it.

An old friend of mine once said he wanted to keep his life simple. "I want to be able to keep everything I own on a shelf," he said.

Of course, he would have needed a really big shelf to fit his 30-foot power boat, but his heart was in the right place. Minimalism could be the latest trend to influence real estate. I guess Mies van der Rohe was right - less is more, especially in boats.

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