Lot Size is at a New Record Low

The median lot size of a new single-family detached home sold in 2016 stands at 8,562 square feet, or just under one-fifth of an acre. This is a new record low and a small decline since 2015, when the median lot size fell under 8,600 square feet for the first time since Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction (SOC) started tracking the series for single-family detached homes. While nation’s lots are getting smaller on average, the regional differences in lot sizes persist. Looking at single-family detached speculatively built (or spec) homes started in 2016, the median lot size in New England is almost twice as large as the national median and exceeds a third of an acre.

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 a third of an acre (0.37 acres).

The East South Central Division is second on the list with the median lot occupying just slightly less than a third of an acre (0.3 acres). 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 is limited to single-family detached 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 detached homes started in 2016 exceeds one acre (1.08 acres).

For this analysis, the median lot size is 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.



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