How Much Space Do You Really Need? The Answer May Surprise You

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Guess what?
It turns out all those geometry classes you slogged through in junior high have relevancy in the real world after all.
If you’re planning to rent or buy a home or apartment, expect to do some relatively basic calculations in order to figure out how much space you need to live, work and play. But don’t lose sleep over it – the computations are fairly straightforward, approximations are allowed,

Guess what?

It turns out all those geometry classes you slogged through in junior high have relevancy in the real world after all.

If you’re planning to rent or buy a home or apartment, expect to do some relatively basic calculations in order to figure out how much space you need to live, work and play. But don’t lose sleep over it – the computations are fairly straightforward, approximations are allowed, and you won’t be penalized for working with a partner.

Square Footage

The first of your “real life” math lessons involves a familiar term you’ve seen bandied about in real estate advertisements and classifieds: square footage, or SF. This calculation is meant to give you the ballpark living space of the dwelling you’re considering. However, it’s often arbitrarily determined and, depending upon the layout of the residence, may not reflect the true feel of the home.

So how can the smart consumer figure out how much square footage is enough?

In the experience of associate broker and sales manager Chris Detweiler of Pittsburgh-based Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, buyers and renters need to keep open minds and visit a variety of potential locales to decide which will suit their requirements. Detweiler says, “The process of looking for a home educates the buyer as to what they want. The layout makes a big difference. You may find a smaller property that’s very open with a design that’s more functional for you.”

For instance, a narrow room measuring 7 feet by 12 feet (84 SF) may seem squeezed compared to a boxy 9 feet by 9 feet (81 SF), even though the former is actually three square feet larger than the latter. And if the ceilings are lower in one house than in another, the same basic square footage could actually feel more cramped.

Additionally, Detweiler recommends buyers or renters consider what they want in terms of room design, not simply the square footage figure. He asks, “Do they need a formal dining room, or is a large, eat-in kitchen going to suffice? Open styles have become more popular, such as a large, functional kitchen with a center island and breakfast area that opens to the great room.”

Cost Per Square Foot

Recent statistics from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) state that in 1975, average homes in the United States were 1,645 square feet. That figure had leapt to 2,349 square feet by 2004. Thus begins our second real-world math lesson, courtesy of elementary school division.

Not surprisingly, all space comes with a price tag. The NAHB reports that the average price per square foot of a home in America hovered around $90 in 2005, with homes in the Northeast and West coming in at approximately $114 per square foot. The Midwestern and Southern regions averaged at about $88 per square foot and $77 per square foot, respectively.

Thus, even if you’re convinced you need a home that’s 2,000 square feet, your pocketbook may suggest otherwise, depending upon where you want to live. Each neighborhood, borough, or city has a different average square footage price. Hence, if $200,000 buys 2,000 SF in one area ($100/SF), it might only buy 1,200 square feet ($167/SF) in the neighborhood seven blocks away.

Whether you use a realtor or not, having an idea of your target market’s price per square foot could come in handy, if only to track cyclical or regional price ranges. It may also be beneficial during negotiations, as you could potentially sway a seller with the argument that their asking price is out of balance based on local averages.

Acreage

The final math lesson might well be conducted in the kitchen, because there’s a ton of “fudging” that goes on. If you’re looking for a dwelling with a backyard, front yard, or other grassy spot upon which to relax (after tossing your calculator out the window), you’ll need to educate yourself about acreage and what it really means.

Many buyers or renters simply look at the acreage number with blurry vision and a moderate amount of understanding. After all, what does .23 acres really mean to the average Jane or Joe? Truly, it’s not easy to picture an acre. However, if you’re a sports enthusiast, start off by envisioning a football field, which is about 1.3 acres. Using that analogy, a quarter of an acre might get you to the 23rd yard line.

Unfortunately, most lots aren’t rectangular in shape, so some mathematical finagling probably has taken place to come to an acreage amount. In other words – don’t sweat it. Unless you absolutely need a certain amount of land to raise livestock or crops, go with an acreage you can reasonably handle.

Besides, the size of your residence and where it’s situated on your lot will have a huge bearing on how acreage affects your living and how much will satisfy your space requirements. If you can’t see it in person before making a decision, as in the case of a family moving cross-country for a sudden job change, make sure to get plenty of photos to gauge the layout of the property.

After all is said and done, you’ll not only be a savvier consumer by employing some numerical know-how to your house hunt, you’ll also be ready to tackle the math questions of "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader" from your new abode.

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