How big a house do you need?

It’s been pointed out by Quantity Surveyors & parties on all sides that for residential housing to become truly affordable, we need to start building smaller homes. In New Zealand and Australia, the average newly-build home is a large 200 square metres – enough for a family of five or six. In Britain, however, where space has been at a premium for longer than it has now become in New Zealand,  the average new build is only about 76 square metres.

Kiwis and Aussies have some of the biggest houses in the world, while our Asia Pacific neighbours in Hong Kong have the smallest. In fact, on average 22.6 Hong Kong homes can fit into the size of an Australian home.

This is a new-ish phenomenon for Australasia. In the 1970s, Statistics New Zealand reports that the average new home build was 110 square metres. By 2016, it was 182 square metres.

Much of this comes down to the Kiwi mindset that a larger house with automatically command a higher price on the real estate market. Even couples without kids still want to live in family-size homes, we maintain, if only for the investment potential.

Realistically our houses don’t need to be as big as they are, unless you really do have a growing family.

Smaller houses and apartments are what New Zealand is in desperate need of right now: homes that cost less to build and can more accurately be described as “affordable housing” in legal and political terms, which have good insulation and will command lower power bills through more efficient heating and cooling, lower rates and insurances, and more efficient, flexible living spaces.

A core issue in New Zealand is that, even for a couple, a two bedroom home is seen as “too small”. We don’t see two bedroom homes as cohesive with capital gains and would rather have three or four bedrooms – left unused and empty year-round – because it makes your property look more appealing on paper.

A way to change this mindset is to build two different kinds of smaller home: the basic, two-bedroom first home, and the high-end, luxury small home for professionals and those whose children have left home.

Both types of housing could bring that average back closer the 100 square metre mark. This, for a nation largely comprised of soon-to-retire Baby Boomers and career-focussed Millennials who are not yet planning families (if at all), is potentially all the space many of us need.