A Big House Could Cost More Than You Think

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Many people believe that the trend toward larger and larger houses fizzled out after the recession. However, the data tells another story. After a small dip between 2007 and 2010, the average home size in the United States is once again on the rise and is now bigger than ever. In fact, since 2010 the average American home size has increased by almost 9% to about 2,600 square feet.

Source: Ray Sawhill via Flickr.

And a recent survey published in The Wall Street Journal found that, on average, Americans want a home that's 17% larger than the one they're currently in.

While you may think it would be nice to have an extra bedroom or two, a home office, a game room, and even more rooms you don't have a purpose for (but will someday), the reality is that a big home can cost you a lot more than just the price tag. Here are a few things to be aware of before you make the decision to step up in living space.

The costs of ownership can be a lot more
Let's say that you decide to step up from a relatively modest 2,000-square-foot house to a 4,000-square-foot "McMansion." Before you do that, realize just how much more you might end up paying to heat, cool, and insure the home, not to mention the higher property taxes you can expect to pay.

On the topic of heating and cooling, it may sound as if you should expect to pay twice as much to keep the larger house cool during the summer, but that's not necessarily the case. Many of the big new homes have ceiling heights of 10 feet or more, whereas eight feet used to be the standard. And when it comes to cooling, you need to worry about volume, not area.

For comparison, let's say that your 2,000-square-foot home has eight-foot ceilings throughout. Well, some simple geometry tells us that there is 16,000 cubic feet of air in the home to keep cool. In contrast, a 4,000-square-foot house with 10-foot ceilings on the first floor and nine-foot ceilings upstairs has 38,000 cubic feet of air. So there is more than 135% more air to cool or heat.

And your homeowner's insurance and taxes are likely to increase proportionally with the size of the home. The point here is that the higher mortgage payment isn't the only thing to keep in mind when determining whether you can afford a bigger house.

You'll have to keep it clean
Now, although it won't necessarily cost you any more money, this has a lot to do with amount of time you plan on spending on keeping your home neat and tidy.

In fairness, I've never had to keep a giant house clean, but I'd imagine that cleaning a house with three medium-sized bedrooms is much less of a hassle than cleaning a six-bedroom house with a 1,000-square-foot living room.

And for those who prefer to pay someone to clean their home, this is yet another increased cost of living to consider. A 2,000-square-foot house should cost you about $100 to have cleaned, depending on which area of the country you live in. So if you plan on doubling your home size, plan on doubling this expense as well.

What if something needs to be replaced or renovated?
It seems like a simple fact of life that bigger versions of the same things cost more. However, many people don't even take this into consideration when buying a big house. This is especially true if the house is brand new; after all, it may seem like the distant future before you'll need to do any major repairs or renovations.

However, the day will definitely come. While the exact amount of time depends on many factors, you should plan to renovate your house every 15 years or so. And when the time comes, prepare to part with some serious cash to renovate a huge house. If a 300-square-foot kitchen costs $25,000 to refresh, a 600-square-foot kitchen should run twice as much, or possibly more, since larger kitchens tend to have higher-end features.

They wouldn't build them if people weren't buying
Despite the higher costs, there is definitely still a market for larger homes. It's all a matter of supply and demand -- most of the older existing homes in the U.S. are mid-sized or smaller, so there is no shortage of those to go around.

However, the idea that a family of four needs 4,000 square feet to live in is a relatively new one, so there is simply more need to build these because fewer large homes are available for resale.

Larger houses are simply the new American dream. We as Americans expect to get richer over time, and with that comes more stuff and the homes to fit it all in.

I'm not even saying that you shouldn't buy the big new house you've had your eye on. All I want is for you to know exactly what you're getting yourself into so you can make a more informed decision on whether you can really afford it.

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