Think Smaller: Singles as an Emerging Niche for Home Builders

January 27, 2015
Little homes like those by Four Lights Tiny House Co. fill a key market niche

With their laser focus on the 55-and-older market, I wonder if home builders and developers might be overlooking an emerging niche: singles (photo: Four Lights Tiny House Co.).

In a blog post for Builder magazine, Susan Yashinsky of Sphere Trending says that the U.S. is becoming a nation of singles. Yashinsky cites Bureau of Labor Statistics figures that show half of all American adults live in one-person households. Multifamily communities are offering shared spaces such as outdoor living areas and home theaters that allow singles to socially connect while still having a private apartment.

A TV program called “Tiny House Nation” made its debut on the FYI channel this past year, with stories of people who committed to drastic downsizing (300 square feet or less) in exchange for homeownership. The tiny-house, or small-house movement has been around for a while, but I hope the TV show is a sign that it’s getting more traction. The best tiny designs use every inch of space for storage, make “rooms” flex, and look for opportunities to extend living areas outside. And they’re really attractive, too. Once you get beyond the cuteness factor, you’ll be amazed how much can be crammed into a tiny house.

Of course, tiny houses only appeal to a limited segment of the population, but “small,” as I’ve often noted, is relative. As an industry, we need to keep our minds open to the full range of possible options for solo households. For instance, one of the projects to be featured in the urban infill story in the February 2015 issue of Professional Builder is Element 47, an apartment community in Denver that has attracted scores of Millennials. In addition to flats as small as 580 square feet, Element 47 includes live/work units that squarely target the work-at-home entrepreneur.

Visionary architects such as Denver’s Mike Kephart have called for changes in zoning laws to allow Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), small backyard cottages that sit on the same lot as larger single-family homes. Multigenerational housing designs typically include living spaces where a single can have privacy while remaining connected to the family. And when a builder introduces smaller detached homes in a community, they typically sell very quickly—to singles of all ages, as well as to couples who don’t need the big house any more. So when you plan for aging boomers, plan for a few single folks as well.

Senior Editor

Susan Bady has been writing about the housing industry for 30 years. She is senior editor of Professional Builder and Custom Builder magazines, and produces the Design Innovation e-newsletter.  Bady has also written for such consumer magazines as Cabin Life and Better Homes and Gardens’ Home Plan Ideas


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