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Should Minimum Home Sizes Be Illegal?

DSC_0095We live in a consumption based society.  We want it all, and we want it bigger, better, and faster that those who came before us.  Whether you consider it the “American Dream” or simply “keeping up with the neighbors’”, new home sizes have more than doubled since 1950.  Many local governments have placed regulations that require a minimum home size to be built.  In my county that minimum size is 1,650 square feet.

There’s currently a proposal before our county commissioners to reduce the minimum home size regulation from 1,650 s.f. to 1,250 s.f.  I don’t want to get into the discussion of what’s right or wrong in my particular locality (although I do think that 1,650 s.f. is an awfully large minimum), but the concept of “minimum” home sizes is something worth discussing.

Why Keep It Large?

In a word, it’s all about money.  Bigger houses are easy to fall in love with.  They’re flashy, glamorous, and they make the owner look fabulously successful!  Home owners see their home as a reflection of themselves, and who doesn’t want to look great to all of their friends?  Local governments love big houses too!  Bigger homes mean higher taxes and more revenue per household, so encouraging larger homes makes sense for local politicians looking to expand the budget.

In fact, even local businesses win with larger homes!  Home owners need more furniture and “stuff” to put in that home, utility companies sell more power, gas, oil, water, etc. to keep those homes running, construction firms buy more materials per home, and builders don’t have to worry about building smaller, less profitable structures because the government demands they build big!

The Biggest Loser

Unfortunately, requiring big homes has a tragic downfall.  Selling those big homes was fast and easy when the market was loose and credit was easier to find than sunburn on a beach.  Suddenly builders find themselves languishing and the very same regulations that allowed them to build “bigger and better” are now forcing them to struggle to find profitability.  (Is that the worlds smallest violin I hear?)

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My sympathies do go out to people who simply don’t want or need a large home to live comfortably, however.  I can understand certain areas mandating minimum sizes to prevent ramshackle construction, or situations where health and safety are compromised due to undersized homes, but there has to be a point where people can live comfortably and still not be over-burdened by bills because the government wants them to live in a certain sized home.  Think about all of the costs that increase as a home’s footprint expands:

  • Property Taxes
  • Utility Bills
  • Maintenance Costs
  • Furnishing/Decor Costs
  • Insurance Costs

Laws and regulations like this are economic segregation, IMHO.  They force people on fixed and/or limited incomes to either spend the money on more house than they want/need, or they prevent them from buying altogether.  They also impact people like myself.  I live in an older home with a total square footage of 1,400 s.f.  It’s far more house than I need, but I can’t buy smaller.  I would personally love to build a new home; upgrade to higher quality insulation, better, more efficient utilities, Energystar appliances, dual pane windows, on demand hot water, geo-thermal heat, and watch my utility bills sink like a stone.  Unfortunately I spend as much on utilities now as people who buy new homes with 2,000 s.f. of living space!

There Are Options!

For regions that want to regulate minimum home sizes, I say don’t!  If the concern is protecting home values, then why not regulate higher codes of construction rather than size?  Governments can modify local building codes, require better insulation, demand brick front dwellings, anything other than forcing people to buy more home than they need!  In an age where “going green” is really gaining ground, jurisdictions that force people to buy big, over-sized homes are encouraging consumption and profit over fiscal and ecological responsibility.

Written By

I'm a Realtor in Southern Maryland. I grew up surrounded by the RE business, spent time as an actor, worked as a theatrical designer and technician, and took the road less traveled before settling down in real estate. I run my own local market website at and when I'm not at the office or meeting clients, I can usually be found doing volunteer work, playing with my 3 rescued shelter dogs (Help your local Humane Society!), or in the garage restoring antique cars.



  1. Nick Sweeney, DotLoop Social Media

    March 9, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Great post, Jonathan. I think you hit the nail on the head with that first sentence in the third paragraph: “It’s all about money.”

    I will have to disagree with you about the remainder of that paragraph, though – that bigger houses are easier to fall in love with. As an owner of a bungalow (704 square feet) built in the 1920s, I can say for certain that huge homes are not easy for me to fall in love with. Every time I visit a huge home, I can only think of the upkeep and the time spent cleaning all twenty rooms.

    I have written about smaller homes on the DotLoop blog ( and, and, while I obviously am a big fan of smaller homes myself, I don’t agree with forcing people to build small.

    The reason is simple: you can’t legislate morality. As you said in the first paragraph, Americans live in a consumption-based society. Until we change that underlying issue, we can’t force people to build smaller homes.

    Of course, the other question remains, with 18.6 million empty homes (that’s 5 and 1/3 for every homeless person in America), why are we building new homes to begin with?

    I love the thoughtful post. Keep it up!

    • Jonathan Benya

      March 10, 2010 at 3:40 pm

      Why do you feel that bigger homes aren’t easy for people to fall in love with? As I mentioned in my article, I personally prefer smaller homes myself, but you have to ask yourself this: Why has the average family size shrunk in the last 50 years while the average home size has more than doubled? It’s not just some bizarre happenstance, people buy bigger than ever before, and there has to be a reason for it. It’s not necessity, people have lived in tighter quarters historically, so the only other reason I can see is because people (generally speaking) like bigger homes. What you and I would prefer has nothing to do with it.

      This isn’t an issue of legislating morality. We’re not talking about setting max home sizes or forcing people to buy small. This is really about legislating fiscal responsibility (or lack thereof). If you force people to buy more home than they need (which is what a 1,650 s.f. minimum does), you’re infringing on civil liberties and essentially extorting the homeowner to pay for size that they may not want or need.

  2. Brandie Young

    March 9, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    Hi Jonathan,

    I had no idea there was a legally mandated minimum home size! So, for clarification – if I own a piece of land in your county, and decided to build the 500 sf hut of my dreams, I’d be shut down?

    Thanks for the lesson.

  3. Jonathan Benya

    March 9, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Yep, the only exception would be if it were in a “major” subdivision, and less than 10% of the homes built were below the minimum. If that were the case, you could get away with 1,250 s.f. either way, a 500 s.f. would only be a pipe dream!

  4. granthammond

    March 9, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    I can certainly see a subdivision’s master deed limited the size, minimum and maximum, but I’m not so sure that’s a practice our government should be engaging within. What ever happened to a free market economy anyway?

  5. Sam Chapman

    March 10, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Get out of the city and stay away from heavily restricted subdivisions. I put a 1289 sf to be built in Apache Shores on the market and got 4 great calls on it within days. One was to have brought an offer, but she couldn’t qualify for a loan. Another guy has 3 small to be builts just on the market in Apache Shores and is already negotiating a contract for one. In an area like this with great schools and almost no new construction for less than around $190,000, smaller plans do sell.

    • Jonathan Benya

      March 10, 2010 at 3:34 pm

      That doesn’t necessarily matter. Take my area as an example, my county would be considered 50% suburban, 50% rural. Doesn’t matter where you wanted to build that 1289 sf home, you couldn’t build it in my county. This is why government legislation of home sizes shouldn’t be happening. It’s one thing for a community or developer to mandate what gets built on the lots he owns/sells, but it’s another for the entire county to have government mandated restrictions

  6. Ken Montville

    March 10, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Jonathan, you miserable slut… Ooops. This isn’t a political blog post.

    Seriously, It’s a shame that the County feels it needs tax revenue so bad that they mandate home size. However, there are smaller footprints. It’s called a townhouse or a condo. Both of which I think they have in Waldorf and LaPlata, if not elsewhere in Charles County.

    That being said, most consumers I know that look at small places are always complaining about the size of the bedrooms or the lack of closet space/storage or this or that. By mandating a certain minimum size you can assure that houses are going to sell and not sit around.

  7. anthonys indianapolis homes for sale

    April 18, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    I completely agree, with one minor exception: I don’t think a minimum square foot requirement is economic segregation by design, but rather, a consequence. In any case, I agree that such restrictions skew the market and create an unnecessary rift between those who can afford them and those who either cannot afford them or don’t need them.

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