How Much House Do You Really Need? Here's How to Know

by Dana George | Updated July 19, 2021 - First published on April 2, 2021

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A hand drops money into a house-shaped coin bank

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A big house may impress other people, but the "right" house is one that lets you be comfortable, physically and financially.

If you're thinking about moving, you may already have a wish list in mind, along with an idealized version of your next house. But what about the size? Have you decided how much space you want or need? Here, we examine how to figure out how much house you need and if it's worth buying more.

Shrinking home sizes

In 2015, the average size of a single-family home in the U.S. was just shy of 2,500 square feet. By 2019, that number had fallen by about 200 square feet. The economy was on solid ground, and the stock market was doing well, so it's difficult to draw a direct line between square feet and the economy. But it's possible Americans were simplifying their lives by downsizing.

How much house do you use?

At 3,000 square feet, our house seemed perfect when we first saw it. We could imagine family get-togethers and parties with friends. The idea of having enough room for people to move around appealed to us.

The reality is, our family tends to visit in shifts. And before the coronavirus pandemic altered our social life, we got in the habit of meeting friends at restaurants. In short, we've never needed all the space.

We only fantasized about how we would use the house. Unless we're sleeping, my husband and I are typically in the office, den, or kitchen. In real terms, that means that we have about 2,000 square feet more than we need.

What about you? How many rooms do you use every day? If you have kids at home or a parent living with you, your answer may be different from mine. Still, think of the rooms in your home that see the most activity.

If you plan to move soon, do yourself the favor of identifying how much space will let you live comfortably without wasting your financial resources. Knowing how much space you need not only makes it easier for a real estate agent to help you zero in on houses, but it can keep you on budget.

Figure out how much space you need

Say you have a family of four. The amount of space your family needs may be different than another family of the same size. The decision needs to be yours, based on how you want to live.

Be careful what you believe. Those offering home size recommendations are typically the people selling you a home. Ask yourself these questions to help you figure out how much house you need.

  • How many bedrooms do I need? While you can go larger or smaller, the average master bedroom in the U.S. measures around 225 square feet. The average additional bedroom is around 135 square feet.
  • How many baths do I need? The average master bath in the U.S. is around 160 square feet. You can figure about 40 square feet for a three-quarter bath and 20 square feet for a half-bath.
  • Do I want a single great room? If so, the average size is around 550 square feet.
  • How much space do I need in the kitchen? The average size in the U.S. is around 225 square feet. Another 40 square feet will give you a walk-in pantry.
  • Would I rather have an eat-in kitchen or a formal dining room? The average dining room size is about 220 square feet.
  • Are there any other spaces I want to add? The average laundry room is around 100 square feet (although you can save space by having one built into a hall closet), and the average foyer is around 100 square feet.

Run the numbers

Here's an example of how to estimate how much square footage you need based on your lifestyle:

Room Lifestyle Need Necessary Square Footage
Master bedroom Don't spend much time there when not sleeping 225
Master bath Want a dedicated, private bathroom 160
Bedroom For one child 135
Bedroom For another child 135
Full bath For the kids 160
Half-bath Off the great room for guests 20
Great room Gathering spot for family 550
Large kitchen Want a big table and space for entertaining 400
Laundry room Want a dedicated space for a family of four's laundry needs 100
Total: 1,885
How Much Square Footage You May Need

Now that you have a base number, but before you take out a mortgage, it's time to investigate. Find out how much homes are selling for per square foot in your ideal area. For example, if homes sell for an average of $150 per foot, a 1,885 square foot home will cost $282,750. If that's above or below your budget, add or subtract square footage.

You know you've found the right house when it offers enough space for you to move comfortably without stretching your budget.

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