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Homebuilders Breaking Ground with Smaller Footprint

The square footage of the average American home has nearly tripled over the last 50 years


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The lack of attainable housing along the Front Range has several homebuilders dialing down the square footage of their products to increase affordability.

Oakwood Homes has rolled out its American Dream collection of homes, which range in size from 950 square feet to 1,600 square feet with prices starting in the low $200,000s; and Boulder Creek Neighborhoods has launched its wee-Cottage series in both Stapleton and Longmont, with homes ranging from 896 square feet to 1,354 square feet and prices starting in the low $300,000s.

The move to build smaller homes comes at a time that home prices — and square footage — continue to rise. The square footage of the average American home has nearly tripled over the last 50 years, from 983 square feet in the 1950s to 2,600 square feet in 2013. The median price of a new single-family home in Denver is $536,000, an increase of about 19 percent over the last three years, according to a third-quarter report from MetroStudy. Less than 2 percent of new homes for sale in Colorado have a base price below $300,000, and less than 10 percent of new homes for sale in Denver have a base price below $350,000.

“We always talk about price point,” Boulder Creek President David Sinkey says. “The real key was to see what kind of lifestyle change a dramatically smaller and lower-cost home would create.”

Oakwood will build the first 24 American Dream homes at its Green Valley Ranch community near Denver International Airport. There will be 10 to 12 single-family, detached homes per acre, says Kelly Leid, executive vice president of operations at Oakwood.

“It makes more sense for cities to have people living in a smaller footprint,” Leid says.

The American Dream series is a response to Oakwood Chairman and Chief Executive Pat Hamill’s commitment to education, Leid says. Hamill founded two community education organizations: the Foundation for Educational Excellence and the 21st Century High Tech Academy.

Leid says Hamill wants to build housing teachers can afford to live in, and the American Dream product will fit that bill.

“When teachers live in communities in which they teach, they stay longer and the students’ performance goes up,” he says.

Boulder Creek set out to make the smallest house it could without going to the extreme of a tiny house, Sinkey says. To that end, the company created the innovative home series wee-Cottage, which made its debut at Stapleton’s Beeler Park neighborhood earlier this year with 36 homes — and 700 people wanting to buy one.

“With tiny houses, you need specialized appliances and cabinets and customized materials,” Sinkey says. “Some of the very smallest homes are actually very expensive on a per-square-foot basis. We wanted to strike the balance and see if we could achieve some kind of a new level of affordability while not jumping to tiny house levels 
of sacrifice.”

Boulder Creek has now expanded the concept to the Blue Vista community in Longmont, where it’s building 102 wee-Cottages, including 27 that will be available under the Boulder County Affordable Housing Program.

Floor plans come in a variety of base home and optioned configurations, including two- and three-bedroom layouts and both attached and detached one-car garages. Like all of Boulder Creek’s homes, the wee-Cottage series incorporates energy and resource efficiency and are built using advanced construction materials and techniques that support the goal of low-maintenance living.

Sinkey says wee-Cottages are popular not only because of their price point, but also because many people are looking for a more manageable level of home maintenance.

“A lot of our buyers can afford and have had dramatically larger and more expensive homes,” Sinkey says. “They’re making this choice not out of necessity but out of lifestyle choice. Wee-Cottages are easy maintenance because they’re small. Because it’s a small house and low price point, people assume it’s an entry-level product. But because of the lifestyle features we add into it, it doesn’t fit that bill perfectly.”

While the question of affordability isn’t necessarily playing into Boulder Creek’s wee-Cottages, that is the issue for buyers looking at smaller existing homes, says David Bovard, broker/owner of Realty Group LLC. Bovard, who works with a lot of first-time buyers, says it’s still possible to find a 1,000 square-foot home or smaller for less than $350,000.

“It’s all about affordability,” he says. “Smaller homes are the No. 1 realistic action now in response to affordability.” 

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Margaret Jackson

Margaret Jackson is an award-winning journalist who spent nearly 25 years in the newspaper industry, including seven years as a business reporter for The Denver Post covering residential and commercial real estate. She can be reached at myjackson7@gmail.com.

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