CASCADE TOWNSHIP, MI – When Jason and Jackie LaFontaine looked at floor plans for their new home, they concluded bigger was better.
Their new four-bedroom home, on which they will break ground in Eastbrook Homes’ Stoneshire development later this month, will have a larger kitchen and pantry, a home office for Jason, a formal dining room, a hearth room and “kids retreat” on the second floor.
Compared to the house they bought from Eastbrook Homes four years ago, the LaFontaine’s new house will be about 500 square feet larger at 3,400 square feet.
“Being second time builders, we wanted to be sure this was going to be our ‘forever’ home,” Jackie LaFontaine said.
Their new home has all the features they wished they had put in their first house, she said.
With 1-year-old and 4-year-old daughters, the LaFontaines also want to make room for the possibility of a third child in the future, she said. Their new home also is closer to the Forest Hills school buildings where she works as a speech pathologist.
The LaFontaines are typical of many new homebuyers in West Michigan. With the economy back on track and interest rates low, the average new house is getting bigger and more expensive.
According to Builder Track Reports, which follows the West Michigan home building industry, the average size of a new home in Kent County last year was 2,538 square feet, about 500 square feet larger than the average size of a new home in Kent County 10 years ago.
That’s about the size of a king-sized master suite with a full bathroom and walk-in closet in a luxury home.
Homes in Ottawa County showed similar growth, with the average size being 2,412 square feet in 2014 compared to 1,944 square feet in 2009, according to Builder Track statistics. In Muskegon County, the average new home was 2,114 square feet in 2014 compared to 1,758 square feet in 2010.
While the average size of a home is getting bigger, so is its cost. According to Builder Track, 61 percent of the houses under construction in the first quarter of 2015 had a construction value of more than $200,000.
In 2014, 53 percent of Kent County’s new homes were valued at more than $200,000 while in 2011, only 36.5 percent topped the $200,000 price tag, according to Builder Tracks.
Despite the rising costs, homebuilding is booming again in West Michigan after stumbling through the Great Recession.
In Kent County, contractors reported 206 housing starts in the first quarter despite a lingering winter. Last year, Kent County home builders reported 1,088 housing starts, a 7.7 percent increase over 2013.
Bob Sorensen, vice president of sales and marketing for Eastbrook Homes, said homes are getting larger because consumer confidence is improving and interest rates have remained low.
New homes also are getting more luxurious, with high end finishes like granite countertops and larger bathrooms, Sorensen said. Finished lower levels with “man caves” also are growing in popularity, he said.
Mike McGivney, vice president of sales and marketing for Allen Edwin Homes, said low interest rates are giving their customers an additional $25,000 to $50,000 in buying power.
“A lot of that translates into the square footage they can add to their homes,” McGivney said. That additional buying power also is an incentive to build a new house rather than remodel an existing home, he said.
Aaron Schoonover, a regional sales director for Allen Edwin Homes, said the larger homes they are building in the 150-site Stonegate development in Byron Township are designed to be flexible to meet the changing needs of their owners.
The two-story homes in Stonegate, which start at $240,000 and can cost up to $416,640, feature an assortment of upgrades that include “smart space” rooms that be converted into informal sitting areas or home offices.
Kitchens have grown to include larger islands and mudroom areas now have lockers, Schoonover said. While the square footage has grown, so has the overall volume with nine-foot ceilings on the main floors and lower levels.
John Bitely, president and CEO of Sable Homes, said the growing footprint of new houses in West Michigan also is a reflection of township zoning ordinances, which require larger lot sizes to keep the quality of new housing high.
Homeowners who can afford larger lots also are able to afford larger houses, said Bitely, whose company has focused on building mid-level homes. “It’s a legal type of exclusionary zoning.”
“I don’t know of any builder that’s building entry-level homes. You can’t make it work if you’ve got a lot that prices out to $30,000 to $40,000,” Bitely said.
West Michigan’s appetite for bigger houses is not being shared on a national level.
RealtyTrac, a national real estate survey firm, reported the average size of a home was 1,799 square feet in 2014, down from its high point of 1,863 square feet in 2012. The average size picked slightly, to 1,803 square feet, in 2015, RealtyTrac said.