The only time I want a mega mansion is when my in-laws or parents come to visit. I fantasize how it’d be nice to put my guests in a separate wing with their own kitchen, bathroom, and living area. This way, we can all keep our independence while also sharing family time every day.
Alas, my family only lives in a 1,920 square foot, three bedroom, two bathroom house. We downsized from a 2,300 square foot, four bedroom, three and a half bathroom house in 2014 because it was simply too much space. We also wanted to generate more passive income to avoid having to go back to work. There was no way we would be willing to rent our own house at the then $8,800 market rate.
We enjoy living in our current house. Every single room is fully utilized now that we have a little one. There’s a nice view of the ocean and enough space for a hot tub and kids to run around outside. The neighborhood is also extremely quiet, which is a big change from our previous residence that recurrently experienced drunken frat bros screaming nonsense at 2am when walking by.
During the gut remodel of our fixer, we thought of everything we could to make our current residence the perfect house for the next 5-10 years. But after having our baby, I began missing our old house a little bit because a baby will shrink your house by ~30%!
The Ideal Size And Layout For A Family House
In determining the ideal size and layout of a house to raise children, I’d like to operate under the confines of a middle class household. To do otherwise would cause too much controversy and take away from the purpose of helping expecting families or existing families buy (or rent) the most family-friendly house.
To start, the median home price in America is roughly $300,000 or 5X the national median household income of roughly $59,000. Therefore, wherever you are, owning a home equal to roughly 4X – 6X your household income puts you in the middle class. Conversely, dividing your area’s median home price by 4 – 6 gives you an approximate middle class household income e.g. $300,000 household income living in a $1.5M SF home.
In the past, it was always a good idea to limit your house purchase to no more than 3X your household income. But due to a decline in interest rates since the 1980s, families have been able to stretch. I really DO NOT recommend spending more than 5X your household income on a home, especially given the real estate market has surged so much. 3X is what I suggest most readers pay with a 20% downpayment. Regardless, banks won’t lend you more than a 42% debt-to-income ratio (DTI) anyway.
Now that we’ve established some parameters, let’s get into the details.
The Ideal House Size
Owning a house equal to +/- 25% 2,422 square feet, the median size house as of 2016 gives you a typical middle class house size. Since we don’t want to go outside the confines of the middle class, the ideal house size is therefore between 1,816 – 3,027 square feet. You can certainly go smaller, but there are some considerations that may crimp your lifestyle.
The ideal size is one in which you feel comfortable while also having a high utilization of space. If you buy a house too big, you’ll have excess maintenance headaches, higher maintenance bills, more cleaning to do, higher heating bills, and likely higher property taxes. Owning a house too big is like driving a diesel bus when there’s only four of you – a big waste of money.
Think about space in terms of square feet per person. Will you feel comfortable having 400 square feet, 500 square feet, or 800 square feet of space to yourself? I’m personally comfortable with about 600 – 700 square feet of space per person, or 1,800 – 2,100 square feet for our family of three. Adding a 200 square foot family room to my house’s existing 1,920 square feet would be perfect.
It’s up to you to decide how much space you’re most comfortable with up to 3,027 square feet (if you consider yourself middle class). If you live in a big city, due to high housing costs, you may be forced to adapt to smaller apartment living.