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Americans build larger, more costly homes

New NAHB survey shows a market chomping at the bit

construction of new home
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Newly built single-family homes in the United States are getting bigger, costlier to build and more expensive, according to the National Association of Homebuilders. This news comes on the heels of news that home prices climbed 11.8% between November 2012 and November 2013.

In fact the only thing shrinking for new construction is the size of the lot they’re built upon, according to NAHB’s most recent construction cost survey of 3,019 builders. The survey was conducted in August and September of 2013.

The survey shows that this trend is happening across all levels of homebuilding. That is to say, the increase in the average price, cost and size is not a result of high-end homes gains pulling the average up or lower-cost and mid-level homes gains pushing upward.

"It’s an across the board gain," says Heather Taylor at the economics and housing policy department at NAHB. "In fact we factor out the high end market since it can skew the results."

The cost to build a single-family home was $246,453 in 2013, which is the highest cost since 1998. Newly constructed home prices jumped 25% to $399,532. That is below the peak of $454,906 in 2007.

While the cost of building a new single-family home in 2013 represented a 34% increase from the cost, profits jumped to 9.3% from their 2011 all-time low of 6.8%.

The average size of the home in the 2013 construction cost survey was 2,607 square feet, which is about 300 square feet more than the average size of the homes reported in the 2011 construction cost survey, but still about 100 square feet less than the peak reported in the 2009 survey.

The average home in the NAHB survey was built on a one-third acre lot, as opposed to a half-acre lot average found in the 2011 NAHB survey.

By type and percentage of construction costs, interior finishes accounted for 29.3% of construction cost, with the balance spread among framing (19.1%), exterior finishes (14.4%) and the combination of plumbing, electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (13.4%).

The average share of the home’s sales price which goes to construction cost jumped from 59% in both 2009 and 2011 to 61.7% in 2013. Finished lot costs, accounting for the second largest share of the sales price, dropped from 22% in 2011 to 19% in 2013.

Although the cost of construction per square foot remained relatively stable in 2009 and 2011 ($82 per square foot, and $80 per square foot, respectively), it jumped to $95 per square foot in 2013.

These results, NAHB reiterate, are national averages; the survey sample is not large enough for a geographic breakdown. Building practices, the cost of labor, the cost of land, and to some extent the cost of the materials can vary from place to place and depend on the nature of the particular home being built.

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