With the end of 2016 approaching, NAHB’s Eye on Housing is reviewing the posts that attracted the most readers over the last year. In July, Natalia Siniavskaia examined lot sizes in the face of the ongoing lot shortage.
The median lot size of a new single-family detached home sold in 2015 dropped under 8,600 square feet for the first time since Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction (SOC) started tracking the series.
An acre is 43,560 square feet, so the current median lot size is just under one-fifth of an acre. In 2014, Paul Emrath used a football field analogy to help visualize the median lot size that proved to be very popular. So using a football field as a measuring stick, 5.6 median lots would fit between the goal lines of a football field in 2015.
While nation’s lots are getting smaller on average, the regional differences in lot sizes persist. Looking at single-family (attached and detached) speculatively built (or spec) homes started in 2015, the median lot size in New England exceeds half an acre. This is 2.6 times larger than the national median lot.
New England is known for strict local zoning regulations that often require very low densities. Therefore, it is not surprising that more than half of single-family spec homes started in New England are built on some of the largest lots in the nation, with more than half of the lots exceeding half an acre.
The East South Central Division comes as a distant second with the median lot occupying less than a third of an acre. The Pacific division where densities are high and developed land is scarce has the smallest lots, with half of the lots being under 0.15 acres. The neighboring Mountain and West South Central Divisions also report typical lots smaller than a national median, 0.17 and 0.16 acres, respectively.
The analysis above was limited to single-family speculatively built homes. Custom homes built on owner’s land with either the owner or a builder acting as the general contractor do not involve the work of a professional land developer subdividing a property. Therefore, in case of custom homes, lots refer to owner’s land area rather than lots in conventional sense. Nevertheless, the SOC reports lot sizes for custom homes and shows that they tend to have larger lots. The median lot size for custom single-family homes started in 2015 was exactly one acre.
For this analysis, the median lot size was chosen over average since averages tend to be heavily influenced by extreme outliers. In addition, the Census Bureau often masks extreme lot sizes and values on the public use SOC dataset making it difficult to calculate averages precisely but medians remain unaffected by these procedures.