Homebuyers Favoring Single-Family, Smaller Homes

Most consumers would accept a longer commute for a detached house with a yard
A mother and daughter playing in fall leaves

When it comes to the dream of homeownership, not just any house will do. In fact, most homebuyers would prefer a single-family detached home with a yard — even if they have to suffer a longer commute to get it, a new survey shows.

Real estate brokerage and platform Redfin commissioned a survey in August 2019 to learn whether homebuyers were more partial to the convenience of urban living or the privacy offered by a detached home in the suburbs. To find out, they surveyed more than 1,400 adults who planned to buy or sell a house in the next year.

To make sure they were comparing apples to apples, researchers made all other factors equal. The survey question defined the following scenario: “You find a single-family home with a backyard for the same price as a unit in a triplex (a building with three attached homes). The triplex is smaller, but meets your space needs, and has a shared backyard and significantly shorter commute. Assume the school quality and safety ratings are identical.” An overwhelming 89% of respondents chose the single-family house.

Gen Z most likely to choose urban living

The generational breakdown showed that homebuyers of all ages would prefer the single-family house, but Gen Zers — those born in or after 1995— were most likely to opt for the triplex closer to work.

Only 58% of Gen Zers said they would prefer the single-family house, compared to:

  • 93% of millennials (those born between 1980 and 1994)
  • 85% of Gen Xers (those born between 1965-1979)
  • 92% of baby boomers (those born between 1945-1964)

Preference for a single-family house was also high regardless of what part of the country respondents lived in. Among respondents from the largest cities — those with a population of more than 1 million — 86% of respondents said they would prefer the single-family home. Of respondents in cities with a population between 500,000 and 1 million, 94% would prefer a single-family home, compared to 91% of respondents in cities with a population of less than 500,000.

Size doesn’t always matter

But while demand for detached, single-family homes remains high, consumers seem more willing to compromise when it comes to a house’s size.

Bigger isn’t always better, according to research by Redfin, as the median home size has been dropping since 2015, when it was 2,467 square feet. In 2018, the median home size was more than 80 square feet smaller, at 2,386 square feet. The decline in home sizes follows years of increasing home sizes, as the median home size in 1975 was 1,535 square feet.

Finding a house that has all of the qualities you want may not always be so easy, which could explain why some homebuyers would be willing to spend more than they initially budgeted for if the right house came along. If homeownership is a goal of yours and you do stumble upon your dream home, check out loan and financial assistance programs for first-time homebuyers for help with financing it.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.

Comments and Questions