New homes bigger than ever. Can we really afford them?

Large home

I'm dismayed that the single-family homes built this spring were bigger than ever before.

The Census Bureau says the average size of a new home reached 2,642 square feet in the second quarter, topping the previous record high of 2,561 square feet in the first quarter of 2009.

During the recession, contractors were building smaller new homes, and it seemed we were back on a more responsible path when it comes to where we hang our hats.

Not anymore.

In 1972, the average size of new, single-family homes was 1,660 square feeet. Why do we need an extra 900 square feet today?

We don't. And I fear the housing crash didn't teach us anything about the hazards of overextending ourselves to buy too much house.

During the early 2000s, too many people spent too much money on homes they could barely afford. Then when one thing went wrong during the recession, such as losing a job, the house went from barely affordable to a financial burden.

The notion that those homes were a great investment — perhaps a family's only investment — evaporated as tens of thousands of dollars in equity disappeared overnight.

It's also important to remember that a bigger mortgage isn't the only way big homes drain your finances.

The larger the house, the more you'll spend on utility bills, maintenance, homeowners insurance and property taxes.

The costs add up, and add up very quickly.

They leave you with less money to set aside for emergencies or to invest in retirement accounts and college funds.

This is what being house-poor is all about.

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Home builders are like car companies; they make more money when they convince us to buy bigger, flashier models.

So their goal is to get us to commit as much of our incomes as they possibly can to housing.

To commit too much of our incomes to housing.

I worry that this kind of stat indicates they're succeeding.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand why larger, more lavish homes are tempting.

I only have one bathroom in my row home, and I would love to have a guest room with bathroom en suite, or at least a half bath downstairs.

The granite counter tops and Viking ranges in some of these kitchens are drool-worthy for someone like me who makes three meals at home a day. I would use the heck out of them.

I'm as impressed as the next guy with soaring foyers, two-story stone fireplaces and rolling back yards.

But do I want to pay for it? No way. Because to do so would stretch my budget to its limits, and that's not something anyone should do when cheaper and more affordable homes are on the market.

I bought my home in 2007. It was smaller and worth less than what a banker told me I could afford, and despite a Realtor pushing me toward bigger homes (with bigger lawns and roofs and property taxes), I'm glad I bought this 1,160-square-foot place.

During the recession, I lost a few clients and made less money, but I could still pay for my home's mortgage plus the supporting bills.

Even now, when its value and my work have rebounded, it's hard for me to think about moving, no matter how loud the siren call of that extra bedroom may be.

I grew up in a 2,000-square-foot home where all four kids shared one bathroom. This much space to myself is like a luxury in comparison.

I don't want to get caught up in a bigger is better movement. Because, when it comes to our finances, it's just not.

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