Too Much House

Dear Dr. Per Cap:

My spouse and I want to buy a new house, but can’t find one with the square footage we need. Is it just me, or are new houses built too big?


Wanting Less Space

Dear Less Space,

It depends on what you consider too big. However, if you’re focused on how many square feet of living space a house occupies, then yes. Houses built today are larger than in years past. According to the most recent Census, the average newly constructed single-family home in the U.S. was 2,299 square feet. That’s up from about 1,500 square feet in 1982.

New houses also tend to have more bedrooms, more bathrooms, and nearly all have air conditioning. In fact, AC was considered a luxury when I was a kid who got a kick listening to the sound my voice made talking into a portable fan on hot summer days.

Another factor not often talked about is that most new homes are also built with higher ceilings ― at least 9 feet, compared to 8 feet that was standard when there was one TV in the living room that everyone huddled around to watch the Celtics battle the Lakers.

Who knows? Maybe today’s homeowners want more volume to go along with the added floor space in case Magic Johnson and Larry Bird stop by for dinner.

Now, consider the fact that with all that extra room, families are smaller than in years past. Yep, the average number of family members in U.S households has decreased during the past 40 years.

So, what is a Native family wanting smaller digs supposed to do?

Think about buying an older home with good bones. I realize you might not get the flashy countertops and cabinets, recessed LED lighting, and other trendy fixtures that are all the rage. But upgrades can always be added later.

And don’t let the possibility of a little more upkeep and maintenance with an older house scare you off. Truth be told, a brand-new house will start showing wear and tear within a few years, too.

Another option is to consider a condominium or townhouse. Multi-unit housing, often more affordable and smaller than single-family homes, represents a lot of new construction in tribal communities and elsewhere.

I agree that less can be more when it comes to homeownership. Especially when we understand that the most important dimension in a happy home is the size of a family’s love.


Ask Dr. Per Cap is a program funded by First Nations Development Institute with assistance from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. For more information, visit To send a question to Dr. Per Cap, email