Is Your House Too Big For You?
It shouldn't be any surprise that new homes are bigger than they used to be. But it may be a bit of a shock to learn just how much space we take up compared with roughly 40 years ago.
The median size of a new, single-family home sold in 2022 was 2,383 square feet, with a median sale price of $457,800, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Compare that with 1978, when the median size of a new home was just 1,655 square feet with a median sale price of $55,700.
Houses are getting bigger overall, but that doesn’t mean a larger house is right for you.
“Fit is super important, and people get complacent and they don’t think about if their home is still fitting them,” says Marni Jameson Carey, a home and lifestyle expert, author of “Downsizing the Family Home: What to Save, What to Let Go,” and president of Power to the Patients, a nonprofit organization.
Here are four signs your home may be bigger than you need or can handle.
- There are rooms you haven't spent time in for weeks.
- You haven't furnished the whole house.
- The property taxes are too much for you.
- Most of the stuff belongs to people who've moved away.
And here are four things you can do about it:
- Reach out to a professional.
- Stay in a short-term rental for a while.
- Consider all your needs.
- Don't just downsize your home.
There Are Rooms You Haven’t Spent Time in for Weeks
A four-bedroom McMansion may have once been perfect for a house full of teenagers and hosting extended family for the holidays, but now all but your own bedroom is a guest room and you no longer host Thanksgiving for the family.
“You’re overheating spaces that don’t need to be heated at all because you’re not using them,” says Eric Stewart, CEO and associate broker of the Eric Stewart Group of Long & Foster Real Estate in the District of Columbia metro area. “I think it’s the slow realization that the house owns you more than you own the house.”
You Haven’t Furnished the Whole House
Whether you don’t need a room or can’t afford to put furniture in it yet, the fact that your furniture choices can’t match the house you bought may be a sign it’s not the right real estate fit.
“Plastic chairs on a patio on an $800,000 house, and you go, ‘What happened here?’” Carey says.
If you’ve lived in the house more than a few months and you’ve left entire rooms bare, ask if you’re ever going to take full advantage of the total square footage you own. If you see it as unlikely, consider "right-sizing" your property to fit with your lifestyle as well as your wallet.
The Property Taxes Are Too Much for You
You can deduct your state and local property taxes up to $10,000 from your itemized federal tax filing, but for many homeowners that still means they’ve got a few thousand dollars to pay without annual relief.
If the limit on property deductions isn't enough and means you’re financially strapped, you should rethink the home you own. Consider whether the location outweighs your ability to pay other expenses, and look at alternative cities or neighborhoods that might be able to provide the life you desire without the excessive costs currently tied to it.
Most of the Stuff Belongs to People Who’ve Moved Away
A classic empty nester problem is having all your kids’ belongings spanning from birth to college – and even beyond – with no real use for any of it. Trying to get your adult children to decide between keeping their macaroni art from first grade at their own house and letting you toss it can be tough for both sides, but keep in mind that your home shouldn’t be used as a storage unit.
Carey says, when given a certain amount of space, most people will naturally fill it up with belongings. In the case of empty nesters, that space is often filled with memorabilia that ultimately does not provide enough sentimental value to anyone to be kept. Put your foot down and have your kids come by to clean up and take what they would like to keep.
Even if you’d like to stay in your home in the long run, it’s important to regain control of the property when others stop living there. The worst-case scenario is realizing you need a smaller house or need to move to where you can get more care but feel overwhelmed by the task of clearing out the house. “Don’t be there as a default – be there by choice,” Carey says.
You’ve taken stock of your current living situation and think you’re ready to right-size your home. Here’s how you can get started:
Reach Out to a Professional
There is a wide variety of professionals in the real estate and organization industries that can help you make a smooth transition to a home that’s a better fit for you. Stewart, for example, is a certified seniors real estate specialist through the National Association of Realtors, which guarantees the Realtor has the knowledge and skills to cater specifically to senior citizens’ needs in a move.
Additionally, the National Association of Senior Move Managers serves as a network of individuals who specialize in project management for a move. You should also consider looking for individuals or firms that specialize in care management. “Care managers are really good resources as well,” Stewart says.
If your right-size move comes in advance of senior needs, most professionals in these fields can likely help you as well or direct you to other resources. If it’s the downsizing of your belongings you need to focus on, consider hiring a professional organizer to help you out.
Stay in a Short-Term Rental for a While
If you’re not sure where to move or what size home you’re ready for, consider a staycation for a week or two to try out a different neighborhood or home style.
Stewart says he had clients who were ready to sell their big house and rent an apartment, but they weren’t sure where in the District of Columbia metro area they wanted to live. He recommended trying out a few areas through Airbnb or VRBO to feel like a resident in different spots. “Just go live there and decide if you like Bethesda, Maryland; or Washington, D.C.; or Ballston and Arlington [in Virginia],” Stewart says. “But go do a trial run – it’s a lot less expensive than selling your house and moving somewhere and realizing you’ve got to move again.”
Consider All of Your Needs
Right-sizing often means you’re downsizing at least a little, but it is possible to overdo it.
Carey purchased a home several years ago with her husband, expecting it to be the perfect house for them to enjoy now that all of their children were living on their own. The home had room for a couple of visitors and enough space in the great room for her to set up her home office. What she didn’t anticipate was how frequently people would visit and how many of the five adult children (plus spouses and grandkids) would visit at once.
“I didn’t count on them coming home all at once. … I undershot it,” Carey says. She’s since moved to a house that’s a better fit with four bedrooms and an open floor plan for entertaining.
Don’t Just Downsize Your Home
A smaller house means less space, so yes, you’ll need to take a few boxes to Goodwill or sell some furniture to avoid crowding your new home.
“Just because you have the space doesn’t mean you should fill it up,” Carey says.
Paring down your wardrobe to fit in a bungalow when you’re used to having a separate closet just for your shoes is difficult, but if you can’t get there, that may be a sign that you’re not yet ready to fit into a smaller property. The best home for you is the one you feel comfortable in.