Want A Big Yard? Move Here

published Sep 6, 2018
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(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

If there’s one home amenity that frequently tops a house hunter’s wish list, it’s a big yard. And though you might have had a mammoth half-acre backyard to play in, your kids (and pets) will have less room to grow—especially if you’re buying a newly-built home.

According to a new analysis from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), via data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual Survey of Construction, yards are growing smaller and smaller every year. Last year, the the median lot size for single-family detached homes (aka freestanding houses) was 8,560 square feet (a little less than 0.2 acres)—down 40 square feet from 2015 and down 1,440 square feet from 1995. Of course, this isn’t yard size, but since the median single family home size in the U.S. for 2017 was 2,426 square feet (and growing), this means the front and back yards (and driveway) all share the additional 6,000 or so square feet.

Though lot sizes are this small most places, there is some variation from region to region. For example, the yards get smaller the further you head west: Both the West South Central and Mountain states have an median new yard size of 0.17 acres (7,405 square feet). And yards are packed like sardines in the Pacific, where median size is 0.15 acres (6,534 square feet).

If you want a big yard, though, stay east. New England has the biggest the median lot size in the nation—twice as large as the national median—topping in at a whopping 0.4 acres (17,424 square feet). Additionally, more than half of the lots were bigger than that. Though the northeast is also home to the largest median home size in the country—2,571 square feet for those who are wondering—you’re not giving up a big yard to have all that house. It works out to having a median yard size of 14,853 square feet to build pools, swing sets, patios, and whatever else you might want. Why New England? Well, local zoning regulations keep the region from becoming too dense, which means bigger lot sizes and yards for all.

The metrics in the analysis only include “single-family detached speculatively built homes” (most commonly the new homes being built in a subdivision.) So if you still want that big yard of your youth, there is a way around this: Build your own or buy an existing house. But if you’re a first time-homebuyer, starter homes are in short supply, and the affordable existing homes most likely need a lot of work, so in some tight markets, the only affordable reprieve might come in the form of small, but newly-built developments.