What Size House Do I Need? | BMO Harris Bank
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A couple looks at home sizes.

Go big and go home. That seems to be the motto when it comes to buying a house in America. Despite trends like the tiny home movement and dwindling family sizeThird Party Link, the size of newly built homes is growing. In 2015, the median size of new detached housesThird Party Link in the U.S. was 2,467 square feet, up from 1,920 square feet twenty years earlierThird Party Link.

But is bigger always better? While that spare room may be nice, opting for a large home will have numerous impacts on your bottom line, from the size of your mortgage to your monthly utility bill.

How do you figure out what size home you need?

It can be tough to visualize the size of a home just from the square footage in the listing. What’s more, that number doesn’t always tell the whole story. Factors like layout and lighting have a huge impact on how large and spacious the home actually feels.

Don’t let the square footage distract you. The key is taking an honest look at your lifestyle and what you need from your future home. To figure out how much space you need, consider these five factors:

1. Your current home

A good way to get some perspective on size is by comparing potential homes to your current living space. If you don’t know the square footage of where you live now, you can at least measure the rooms you use most often. Then you can check the floor plan of homes you’re interested in to get a better sense of whether or not the size of those rooms will work for you.

It’s also important to think about how the space is distributed in your current home. Maybe you live in a 2,000 square foot home, with a tiny kitchen and a large formal dining room you never use. You might think you need to up the square footage of your next place to get your dream kitchen, but it might be better to find a home that’s a similar square footage but more evenly sized throughout the rooms.

2. The number of bedrooms

The amount of bedrooms you need is a major factor in choosing the right-sized home for you. If you need a lot of bedrooms, you’ll definitely need a home with more square footage. That’s because most places have strict requirements of what can legally be considered a bedroom. This varies by state, but the general minimum of a bedroom sizeThird Party Link is around 70 to 80 square feet.

This can help you estimate the general square footage you should look for when scrolling through listings. If you need a lot of bedrooms, a newer house might be a smart choice. Most of the houses built in 2015 had at least four bedroomsThird Party Link. Older houses tend to be smaller.

3. All your stuff

The thing that will take up the most space in your new place is all your things. Take inventory of your possessions and see what will take up the most room. Are you willing to downsize or do you want to bring it all with you? If you have a massive vintage sofa that you don’t want to part with, you’ll need to make sure your new home can accommodate it.

Take a peek in your current storage areas. If they’re packed with sporting equipment, Christmas decorations, collectibles or other space-eating stuff, you might need a house with more closets, a bigger garage, attic or basement, or a bonus room where you can add shelves or other built-in storage space.

4. Your lifestyle

You want your new home to fit more than your belongings. It should also fit your lifestyle needs. Do you love to entertain friends? Do you have a hobby that takes up a lot of space? Do your in-laws come to stay every other weekend?

Make a list of the top activities you do in your current home. Then make a list of things you wish you could do if you had more space. Try to be realistic. If your scrapbooking materials have been languishing in a box for years, it’s doubtful that you really need a dedicated craft room. But if you still find ways to host elaborate dinner parties in your studio apartment, then it sounds like a bigger kitchen would come in handy.

5. Your future plans

How long do you want to stay in your new place? If it’s a starter home that you’ll only be in for a few years, you might not need extra bedrooms or a huge finished basement. But if you’re planning on some big life changes while you live there, you may need to bump up the square footage. If you want to have a child, adopt a puppy or invite a relative to move in with you, you’ll need to factor in those additions when you figure out what size home you want.

The bottom line

It’s tempting to opt for the most space possible when buying a new house. But bigger isn’t necessarily better. Keep in mind that factors like window placement, ceiling height and how the rooms flow have a huge impact on how spacious the home feels — regardless of the square footage.

You’ll also need to factor in the costs of any extra space, such as larger utility bills. But there’s also costs to smaller homes, like the effect on your lifestyle and ability to enjoy your space. Figuring out what you need from a house — right now and down the road — will help you zero in on what size home you actually need.

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