The only time I want a mega mansion is when my in-laws or parents come to visit. I fantasize how it’d be nice to put my guests in a separate wing with their own kitchen, bathroom, and living area. This way, we can all keep our independence while also sharing family time every day.
Alas, my family only lives in a 1,920 square foot, three bedroom, two bathroom house. We downsized from a 2,300 square foot, four bedroom, three and a half bathroom house in 2014 because it was simply too much space. We also wanted to generate more passive income to avoid having to go back to work. There was no way we would be willing to rent our own house at the then $8,800 market rate.
We enjoy living in our current house. Every single room is fully utilized now that we have a little one. There’s a nice view of the ocean and enough space for a hot tub and kids to run around outside. The neighborhood is also extremely quiet, which is a big change from our previous residence that recurrently experienced drunken frat bros screaming nonsense at 2am when walking by.
During the gut remodel of our fixer, we thought of everything we could to make our current residence the perfect house for the next 5-10 years. But after having our baby, I began missing our old house a little bit because a baby will shrink your house by ~30%!
The Ideal Size And Layout For A Family House
In determining the ideal size and layout of a house to raise children, I’d like to operate under the confines of a middle class household. To do otherwise would cause too much controversy and take away from the purpose of helping expecting families or existing families buy (or rent) the most family-friendly house.
To start, the median home price in America is roughly $300,000 or 5X the national median household income of roughly $59,000. Therefore, wherever you are, owning a home equal to roughly 4X – 6X your household income puts you in the middle class. Conversely, dividing your area’s median home price by 4 – 6 gives you an approximate middle class household income e.g. $300,000 household income living in a $1.5M SF home.
In the past, it was always a good idea to limit your house purchase to no more than 3X your household income. But due to a decline in interest rates since the 1980s, families have been able to stretch. I really DO NOT recommend spending more than 5X your household income on a home, especially given the real estate market has surged so much. 3X is what I suggest most readers pay with a 20% downpayment. Regardless, banks won’t lend you more than a 42% debt-to-income ratio (DTI) anyway.
Now that we’ve established some parameters, let’s get into the details.
The Ideal House Size
Owning a house equal to +/- 25% 2,422 square feet, the median size house as of 2016 gives you a typical middle class house size. Since we don’t want to go outside the confines of the middle class, the ideal house size is therefore between 1,816 – 3,027 square feet. You can certainly go smaller, but there are some considerations that may crimp your lifestyle.
The ideal size is one in which you feel comfortable while also having a high utilization of space. If you buy a house too big, you’ll have excess maintenance headaches, higher maintenance bills, more cleaning to do, higher heating bills, and likely higher property taxes. Owning a house too big is like driving a diesel bus when there’s only four of you – a big waste of money.
Think about space in terms of square feet per person. Will you feel comfortable having 400 square feet, 500 square feet, or 800 square feet of space to yourself? I’m personally comfortable with about 600 – 700 square feet of space per person, or 1,800 – 2,100 square feet for our family of three. Adding a 200 square foot family room to my house’s existing 1,920 square feet would be perfect.
It’s up to you to decide how much space you’re most comfortable with up to 3,027 square feet (if you consider yourself middle class). If you live in a big city, due to high housing costs, you may be forced to adapt to smaller apartment living.
The Ideal Number Of Bedrooms
Ideally, your house should have enough rooms per person to sleep individually + one room for guests or an office. In other words, if there are two adults and one baby, the ideal number of bedrooms would be four. For two adults and two kids, the ideal number of bedrooms would be five and so forth.
After working together as a team feeding and changing diapers every 1 – 3 hours for the first three months, one or both spouses will need to go back to work. Having the option to sleep alone in your own bedroom is important given babies often wake up multiple times during the night the first year, and sometimes up to the first three years. It’s nice for at least one partner to get a full night’s rest and be more productive at work the next day.
So far we have had my wife’s sister, wife’s parents, my parents, and my sister visit. Any more than two people staying with us at one time is too crowded. Even two for more than a week feels tight. With our current three bedrooms + nursery, having one guest is the ideal guest count where we still have enough space to feel free.
The Ideal Number Of Bathrooms
In a perfect world, each bedroom will have its own attached bathroom. With only one bathroom upstairs at our house to service the occupants of two bedrooms and day guests, we have to keep the bathroom cleaner than we normally would. Further, when overnight guests are over, there is sometimes a wait period since it seems we all tend to wake up and need to go to the bathroom at the same time.
On the the living and dining room floor, there should ideally be at least a half bathroom for non-overnight guests. It’s efficient and easier to keep clean. It feels a little weird having guests use our toilet, especially when they need to take a growler.
Having a his and her sink is a great feature for the master bathroom. Further, having a separate shower and tub plus a private toilet stall really opens up the space.
The Ideal Number Of Floors
Having one floor with no stairs is ideal for babies and elderly folks. Stairs are a safety hazard. Every time I carry my baby up or down the stairs I hang onto him and the railing for dear life. I’ve missed a step or slipped before by myself, and I don’t plan to do so again with such precious cargo.
If land is too expensive to have a one story house, then two floors is the second best thing. Make sure the stairs are carpeted or at least comfortably wide and not too steep. The edges of stairs can cause a big gash.
Three or four story houses are simply too much of a pain to navigate. You might enjoy these tall layouts without kids, but as soon as you have a baby or a knee injury, you will avoid multiple level homes at all cost.
The Ideal Layout
If you have a baby, it’s important to keep him or her close by. If he or she is in the nursery, then the nursery should share a wall with your master bedroom.
As for the other bedrooms, ideally no other bedrooms will share walls for added privacy and sound proofing. With a one story house, each bedroom would ideally be on each side of the house. If two bedrooms are on the same floor, it should be buffered by a closet or a bathroom.
For two or more story houses, you don’t want to have your bedrooms on top of each other. Instead, have one or two bedrooms in the front of the house, and one or two bedrooms in the back of the house.
The master bedrooms should be in the rear of the house away from the street. It is unbelievable how much our sleep improved (before the baby) after we moved into our new house which situated our master bedroom in the rear. Every time I nap, I also fall asleep quicker and sleep more soundly in our rear facing bedroom.
The Ideal Grounds
Ideally, your home will be surround by flat land. The larger the buffer between your house’s front entrance and the sidewalk and road, the better for noise and safety. Flat land is much more valuable than hilly land. When searching for a house, always ask how much of the lot is flat.
If you are on a hill, like we are, much of our land in the rear was unusable until we created about 1,200 square feet of flat tiers. We now use one of the tiers for the hot tub, one tier as a playground, and another tier just for plants.
Living near public parks, playgrounds, and libraries is definitely a plus.
The Ideal Direction A House Faces
You know how some houses feel really warm and cozy, while others have an uncomfortable vibe? Location and layout have a lot to do with how a house feels, but so does its direction.
The quieter the street your house is located on, the better. Think veins instead of arteries. My old house was on a busy artery next to the biggest artery in all of San Francisco. My current house is on a vein in a neighborhood where there are no apartment buildings. The difference is night and day.
You want your main rooms to either face east or west. Some people like to wake up to the morning sun (east). While others like to wind down to a lovely sunset (west). Decide what type of person you are and then see if the main rooms face your preferred direction. How light fills your house is an extremely important part of the feel of your house.
A house facing north tends to be the least desirable since the least amount of sun enters the house. That said, if you have windows on all sides of the house, it doesn’t really matter. A house facing south gets the most sun throughout the day, which is generally positive. However, too much sun can often be overwhelming and too hot, even if you live in more moderate climates.
Buy A Slightly Larger House Than You Think Is Ideal
A baby really does shrink the size of your house by ~30%. Right smack dab in the middle of our living room now is a big play pen. We’ve also turned another bedroom into a playroom and our office/walk-in closet is now a nursery. We wish we had an extra half bathroom and family room, but our cozy home will do for the next 5-10 years.
If and when we move to Hawaii we’ll probably look for a 2,500 – 3,000 square foot house on a flat lot with all the above attributes in mind. In five years, we should no longer be afraid that our son can’t properly navigate the stairs. But we’re looking into the future when both my wife and I get old and our parents may have to live with us to care for.
If money isn’t any issue, we probably still won’t buy a house bigger than 3,000 square feet. Instead, we will focus on buying a newly constructed property with more flat land. With land, you never need to call the plumber!
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