New homes are back in a big way — literally. This summer, a typical new house in Phoenix was more than 20 percent larger than a resale home as builders across the country added more space to accommodate post-recession lifestyles.
Take Jacque Ruggles' family, for example. Four women from three generations live under one roof.
"I'm the matriarch," Ruggles says. "I'm grandma."
Ruggles makes the monthly $1,789 mortgage payment on the 2,900-square-foot home in Gilbert, Ariz., which she bought new about a year and a half ago. Her daughter, Marci Dusseault, lives here, too, along with her college-aged daughter, Jamie.
"I'll eventually move out, but right now it's nice to not have to worry about a lot of bills and stuff, and I can focus on school," says Jamie, a student at Mesa Community College.
But the family affair did not stop there. Jamie's older sister moved in last November. Chelsie, 22, had been living on her own for a while, but ...
"Then life happens," says Chelsie, who lost her job and racked up $6,000 in credit card debt. "So I had to move back in."
Their home was made for this type of living. It includes an attached 600-square-foot suite, complete with a kitchenette and living room.
Nineteen-year-old Jamie was the lucky one to get the suite. The walls are bright red and covered with pictures of her friends. Her mom jokes that Jamie will not be leaving anytime soon.
"She's going to live with me until she's at least 40," Marci says.
A Demand For Bigger Homes
The homebuilder, Lennar, now offers these so-called "NextGen" floor plans in 18 states. The company says 25 percent of its sales in Arizona last year were NextGen homes.
And there is competition. Maracay Homes spent 18 months post-recession and $4 million studying demographic trends, says spokeswoman Gina Canzonetta.
Maracay's designers took note of today's struggling adult children moving home and the millions of aging baby boomers who will need affordable places to live for years to come.
"It's the new normal," Canzonetta says. "It's how we live post-recession."
Maracay's attached suites, which are converted into livable space from what would be a garage in a typical floor plan, look a lot like Lennar's. They're equipped with a microwave, stacked washer/dryer and a private door to the home's front courtyard.
With these options and a few others in the main house, Maracay's floor plans "are expanding into the 3,000-square-foot range on average," Canzonetta says.
"The long term is definitely toward larger houses," says Robert Denk, a senior economist for the National Association of Home Builders. He says new homes have gotten bigger since the 1970s, with temporary setbacks during recessions.
Nationally, the median size of a new house is now about 2,400 square feet, up 17 percent since a low point in 2009. Denk says generational housing is only part of the story, though.
"We've lost a lot of the low-end buyers," Denk says. "At this point, it's only the higher-end buyers that are in the market at all, and so that's what's pushing the demand for larger houses."
Good For The Family
Back at the Ruggles/Dusseault household, space is still tight — the women also live with four dogs that have a way of making their presence known. And Grandma's space for toiletries in the bathroom has vanished in favor of her granddaughter's stuff.
But Chelsie says living together at a time like this has been good for the family.
"You know, I don't have any extra money really for food and everything, so I definitely lean on my family a lot for everything," she says. "I'm very appreciative."
When the kids finally do move out, Chelsie's mom and grandma say they'll consider renting out the extra space. But for now, Marci remains understanding.
"The last few years have been a struggle for all of us," she says. "We've gone through a lot. To be able to be here for each other has been a blessing."