Maryland McMansions growing even larger

State ranks second in percentage with 4 or more bedrooms

May 23, 2007|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN REPORTER

Maryland may be "America in Miniature" to some, but the state's housing has been tending toward the plus size, the latest census data show.

Though middling in overall population, Maryland ranks second only to Utah - the state with the nation's largest households - in the share of its housing with four bedrooms or more, the U.S. Census Bureau reported yesterday.

Twenty-eight percent of Maryland's housing units have four or more bedrooms, slightly ahead of Virginia and Delaware, according to the 2005 American Community Survey.

FOR THE RECORD - A Page 1A article yesterday about Maryland homes getting larger gave an incorrect title for John E. Kortecamp. He is executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland.
THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

The nation's homes continue to grow, at least when measured by number of bedrooms, according to the Census Bureau. Nationwide, 20 percent of occupied homes in 2005 had four or more, up from 17.7 percent in 2000.

"It's a big country," says Steve Melman, spokesman for the National Association of Home Builders. He notes that the floor area of new homes has grown by nearly 50 percent since 1973.

A year and a half ago, Rich and Suzanne Arena traded their four-bedroom house in Columbia for a new five-bedroom place in West Friendship, complete with a "keeping room," a sitting area off the kitchen with a fireplace.

"We truly just grew out of it," Rich Arena, 45, said of the Columbia house where the family had lived for 13 years. Arena, who sells high-performance computers, said he and his wife moved primarily so their 8-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son could attend highly regarded western Howard schools.

There was nothing really wrong with the old house, Arena said, but there was no more land to add onto it. The new home is similar in layout, but each of the four main bedrooms has its own bath. At 5,600 square feet, not counting the finished basement, it's more than twice the size of their old home.

"Everybody likes the big house," says Chris Rachuba, president of the Maryland Association of Home Builders. Size still matters to high-end homebuyers bent on "keeping up with the Joneses."

"It's `How big's your house?' Not `What's in your house?'" Rachuba says.

Custom builders like Jim Selfridge, who constructed the Arenas' home, says relatively few of his customers seem all that concerned about rising energy costs. "Our particular market, it's still bigger and better," he said.

Builders are starting to offer energy-efficient appliances and fixtures and even solar or geothermal systems, but Selfridge says that hasn't translated into downsizing. Even empty nesters building a new home will opt for four bedrooms, Selfridge says, if only to ensure they can get a good price if they decide to sell.

John E. Kortecamp, executive director of the state home builders association, says the census report's focus on four-bedroom houses might be misleading. He contends that a growing number of buyers, particularly empty nesters and aging baby boomers, are moving into homes with less floor space, even if the room count is similar.

While Maryland's McMansion index may be high, so is its townhouse quotient.

One in five housing units in Maryland is a townhome, according to the census data, a proportion second only to that in the District of Columbia. In Baltimore, nearly half the houses are townhomes, including the rowhouses for which it is known.

Those townhouses are trending larger and pricier, with two-car attached garages, three or more levels of living space and sometimes four bedrooms.

"This is not your father's townhome," says Earl Robinson, vice president of Ryland Homes, the area's biggest townhouse developer.

Builders say townhouses have proliferated because the Mid-Atlantic region is running out of room for single-family homes.

"The land is gone," Robinson says. With metropolitan areas spreading and water to the east, "you only have so much land that can be built on."

Soaring costs for land have driven the trend toward townhouses, builders say, along with the aging of the population. Townhomes have smaller lawns to mow, and sometimes no yardwork at all when community associations provide groundskeeping for a fee.

Ron and Connie Ross own a villa in Snowden Overlook, a 55-and- over community off Interstate 95 in Ellicott City. The new place is larger than the single-family home they moved from.

"We raised our kids in Ellicott City, and one of them is off to college, so we wanted to downsize as far as yardwork," says Ron Ross, 56, a computer security specialist for a federal agency. "My biggest responsibility now is to sweep the deck off behind my house."

The villa had to be larger, he says, because it is home to their 25-year-old son, a student at the Johns Hopkins University, and to Ross' 83-year-old mother, who sleeps in the first-floor bedroom.

"Having two generations, or three, under one roof can be trying at times," he says. "You have to have a house a little bigger so you don't step on each other. ... Everyone's got their own space."

Asking prices for villas in Snowden Overlook start at just under $500,000, but Robinson says they contain amenities and floor space typically found in new single-family homes.

Rachuba says that while his company still builds mostly luxury custom homes, he's diversifying into "some starter home stuff."

"Affordability is a big issue in Maryland and just about everywhere in the country," Rachuba says, so his firm is building three-bedroom townhouses with a more modest 1,700 square feet of living space.

"We're not doing burnished nickel faucets anymore," he says. "We're going back to the basics of chrome and strip lighting." Granite countertops are out; Formica is back.

Asking prices start around $160,000, Rachuba says, and two units have sold, even before the model opens next month.

The location? Chambersburg, Pa.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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