The Amazing Shrinking Homes of Suburban St. Louis

"Builders don't make or create the market. They find the market." So says the General Counsel of McBride and Sons Homes. Developments with million-dollar homes are feeling the pressure to shrink lot and home sizes. Now St. Charles County is under pressure to decrease minimum home sizes to as small as 1,650 square feet.

The hoped-for, planned-for and presumably market-demanded homogeneous suburban development is under fire. Payne Family Homes' Tuscany development home sizes currently range from a maximum of 3,388 sq. ft. to a minimum of 2,125 sq. ft. If the developer gets its way, the next home in the "village" may be just 1,650 sq. ft. The average American home size fell in 2009 for the first time in nearly 30 years to just more than 2,000 sq. ft.

Of course for many reasons smaller homes make sense. The American family is smaller today than at any time during the past 30 years and smaller homes are more energy efficient. So what's the problem? Those who have already purchased homes in developments such as Tuscany fear that their property value will decrease due to the presence of smaller homes. According to a recent Post-Dispatch story at least one St. Charles County Councilman recognized that big and small homes are intermixed in old and new subdivisions throughout St. Charles already.

That's an easy enough observation, but there's more to the story and while I think there should be some serious caveats to the statement that builders simply "find the market," it is the easiest way to understand the issue. Payne Family Homes advertise that "Our Tuscany community has curb appeal starting from its entrance with the gas lanterns, manicured landscape, and concrete pavers. As soon as you enter, you feel like you have arrived in a Tuscan Village." A noted selling point is the developments proximity to the Page Avenue Extension.

Throughout the 1990's and well into the new century there was seemingly endless demand for this type of living. Those who purchased homes made the assumption that nothing would change and that those empty lots would fill with homes, cars and people very similar to themselves. Their resistance to nearly identical homes, though smaller, illustrates just how inflexible those expectations are proving to be.

Homeowners may very well be in a no situation. The market does seem to have spoken and demand for 3,000 sq. ft. homes in St. Charles County has vanished. The choice is either to allow smaller homes to be built than originally planned or allow lots to remain vacant and leave developments unfinished. It appears that the lesson of risk for home buyers and builders alike will continue to play out for years in suburban St. Louis. A vote on the current issue before the St. Charles City Council has been deferred for at least a month. Once council member cited the need for more than the seven of 10 members to be present when voting on such a controversial matter.

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