3 Homebuyers on Why They Bought Houses Smaller than 800 Square Feet

published Sep 27, 2023
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Credit: Erin Derby

During your last Zillow scroll, you might’ve experienced a zing of excitement when a house below your price range popped up — only to feel deflated after realizing the place only has one bathroom and a grand total of 500 square feet (especially if you were hoping to get more space for your money). Even if you never considered living in such a small piece of property, it sometimes feels like that’s as far as your dollar will go.

To learn more about what it’s like to buy and own a small house, I talked to three people (including a real estate agent!) about why they did it. Here’s what they had to say.

It’s more economically feasible — and easier to keep clean.

Jessica Gompers, a member of The Apartment Therapist by Apartment Therapy Facebook group, says she’s lived in small spaces her whole adult life. She purchased her current home before housing prices bounced back from the bubble in 2008. She says that even though it measures 750 square feet, she doesn’t ever plan on moving.

Small houses are more economically feasible, Gompers says, and easier to keep clean — both from a maintenance perspective and from a clutter perspective. “I go through things regularly and do not hold on to things that don’t serve a purpose to me,” she adds.

The house spreads its 750 square feet across one level plus a basement. Although it was built as a one-bedroom home with a living room and kitchen, two small bedrooms and a three-quarter bath were added to the basement in the 1970s. Gompers says she can clean her whole house in less than a day on her own — so even though maintenance on appliances or other household items that break can cost the same as with a larger house, she can save money on hiring cleaners and even on cleaning products.

It’s a good step between an apartment and a larger home. 

Whitney Smith, another member of the Facebook group, lives in what’s known as a trinity home, which is a small, narrow style of house often found in Philadelphia. Smith, her partner, and their dog inhabit the 507-square-foot one-bedroom unit. It has a kitchen in the basement, the living room on the first/ground floor, a bathroom and closet on the second floor, and the bedroom on the third floor. The stairs are the old wood spiral staircases typical for the style of house.

Because it’s such a small home, it’s pretty similar in size to the apartment the couple rented prior to their trinity house — except now it includes a courtyard. A small home like this could be a good step forward for someone who enjoys the cozy space of an apartment but isn’t ready to purchase a larger single-family home yet.

Plus, like Gompers, Smith sees it as an opportunity to keep things tidier.

“We have learned so much,” Smith says of her small home. “But the biggest is you have to let things go to bring things in a lot of the time,” she says.

It’s an affordable option in more expensive neighborhoods.

Boston-area real estate agent Dana Bull purchased a 540-square-foot house as one of her first-ever single-family homes. “This allowed me to live on my favorite street in my favorite town while I saved up for a larger home,” Bull says. “This property accumulated a significant amount of equity since I purchased it. Small homes can make for smart investments if the land or location holds value.”

While plenty of people prefer living in smaller homes, Bull says her clients most often end up with a small footprint because of budgetary constraints. “Going smaller is often the sacrifice they need to make in order to buy in a certain area or buy at all.”

It boosts family time, which is invaluable.

For Gompers, living in a small home makes it easier to spend time with her two kids, who are 7 and 15. She doesn’t spend as much time doing chores, so she’s more available for quality bonding. “I feel we spend more time as a family because I have more time, and the space we share is smaller,” she says.

That’s not to say purchasing a small home is immediately going to solve any family or relationship issues you’re having. But it can be a great option for people who live in the same space but feel like they don’t see each other much because someone is always holing up in another part of the house.