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House Review: Starter Homes


House Review: Starter Homes

First-time buyers are a varied lot. Here’s how to deliver to this diverse pool

August 12, 2015
House Review: Starter Homes
House Review: Starter Homes
This article first appeared in the PB August 2015 issue of Pro Builder.

The startling fact that a growing percentage of the population simply cannot afford a new home should encourage us to find solutions for economical starter homes. The American Dream of owning a home has been derailed by several factors, including rising land and construction costs. Also, many first-time buyers have very high (and perhaps unrealistic) expectations. They want the same amenities and materials they enjoyed in their Baby Boomer parents’ home or their luxury apartment. 

Just as all other market segments have become diversified, so have first-time buyers. Some are single and seeking locations close to work and recreation, while others focus on local schools and child-friendly neighborhoods. Although the following design concepts offer a variety of ideas, they all share basic components: living and dining areas that flow into each other, outdoor spaces that enhance the indoor square footage, and open floor plans with particular attention to maximizing spaces on a visual level. Providing affordable and functional starter homes might be the greatest challenge our industry now faces. These ideas can help. As always, we welcome any comments or suggestions.

To review past House Review topics, click here.

TK Design & Associates' Starter Home

TK Design & Associates
Todd Hallett, AIA, CAPS
Plan Size
Living area: 1,440 sf
Width: 22 feet
Depth: 46 feet, 2 inches
Porches: 73 sf
Garage: 358 sf
Money is often tight for folks buying a starter home, so a primary design focus is to provide bang for the buck. The design of the home should be simple to build, employing lean techniques that ensure ease of construction and that offer value. The home should also have a strong aesthetic that will appeal to the large group of savvy Millennial buyers now most likely to buy a starter home.

A. Casual living is key for the starter home. The open plan allows for easy entertaining and the ability to keep an eye on the little ones.
B. Stairs are in the living area, instead of the foyer. This makes day-to-day living simpler, with the upper floor more accessible for laundry and baby monitoring.
C. Every inch of space is important. Circulation isn’t wasted on unnecessary hallways; instead, it flows through the rooms.
D. The pocket office replaces the den, allowing for a messy space to keep mail and papers. The space can be closed off when entertaining.
E. The plan is narrow: This starter home works easily in cool, hip, infill neighborhoods and in those that hope to become that way. 
F. Owner’s suite is separated from the secondary bedrooms, with a large walk-in closet.
G. Instead of a tub in the master bath, there’s a larger shower, answering current buyer demand.

EDI International's Starter Home

EDI International
Richard Handlen, AIA, LEED AP
Plan Size
Living area: 1,890 sf
Width: 45 feet
Depth: 60 feet
The goal of this plan design is to appeal to both ends of the market: first-time and move-down buyers. They have some common requirements beyond the tricked-out master and great room. Young families are looking for bedroom count while older buyers need the room for bounce-back kids, visiting grandkids, and hobbies. Everyone in between wants flexibility to be able to use spaces as needs change. The three secondary bedrooms have options to omit walls or add French doors, which open spaces to a variety of uses. The plan also addresses the large number of corner lots in the community. The foyer can rotate so the front door faces the long side of a corner lot or the narrow interior lot frontage.
A. Foyer can rotate, depending on whether lot is on a corner or interior 
B. Great room serves as a family gathering area
C. Bedrooms 2 and 3 can be combined as a dorm room, or one can open to the hallway to flex into a play or hobby area
D. Bedroom 4 can also function as a den, parlor, or home office off the foyer
E. Jumbo closet for bedroom 4 can expand, contract, or be omitted, depending on buyer needs
F. Porches at both front and rear offer protected connections to the outdoors and neighborhood 
G. Optional street-side patio has a 3-foot fence

The Brooklyn

Larry W. Garnett, FAIBD
Plan Size
Living area: 1,750 sf
Width: 26 feet
Depth: 76 feet, 4 inches

One of several designs created for a new neighborhood of homes ranging from 1,400 to 1,800 square feet, this four-bedroom plan features an open living and dining area with a spacious front porch and a private side yard. Targeting the first-time buyer, the homes all feature rear-lane auto access and fenced side yards. The front porches of each home face small yards and a pedestrian-friendly network of sidewalks and walking trails.


A. 8-foot-deep front porch faces a small yard and sidewalk
B. Private side yard has fence and gate at front and rear; perfect for children’s play area, pets, and outdoor entertaining
C. Two-car garage features rear-lane access
D. First floor has an open living and dining area plus a master bedroom
E. Second floor has three bedrooms

The Danforth

Scott Gardner, AIA 
Donnie McGrath 
Plan Size
Living area: 1,695 sf
Width: 30 feet
Depth: 44 feet

Starter homes are an interesting compromise. Cost is the main concern, but which features are too important to be omitted during value engineering? In this plan, curb appeal, openness, and flow are key features that differentiate this home from the typical starter model. To play up curb appeal, the garage is set behind the study/flex room. Moving the front entry to the side of the home allows for a room to be forward of the garage. The foyer is modest, which provides extra square footage in the kitchen and dining and family rooms. Typically, a starter home is completely flat across the back, but breaking up the rear plane of the home improves flow and increases the sense of space on the main areas of the first floor. Detailing on the front elevation creates character and charm, while the remaining roof and massing are fairly simple, as well as cost-effective to build.

A. Front wall of garage is staggered to create interest on the front elevation
B. Flex study is a great space for a home office or den
C. Front door is set back from the front, providing an entry into the heart of the plan and reducing the dominance of the garage in this narrow home
D. By breaking the plane of the rear wall, the kitchen, dining, and family rooms open to one another, with a good sense of flow
E. Rear patio fills the corner created by the dining space, offering additional privacy for outdoor living space on narrow lots
F. Stair is located in the most-used area of the home, with access from all living spaces at the back of the home
G. Loft provides sense of arrival and adds natural light at the top of the stair
H. Centrally located laundry and bathroom share a plumbing wall for efficiency
I. Master bath provides large standard-size pan shower, separate vanities, and a large, adjacent walk-in closet
J. To increase efficiency, HVAC equipment is located in conditioned space, which makes for smaller equipment and lower energy costs

The Evans Group's Starter Home

The Evans Group
Donald F. Evans, AIA
Plan Size
Living area: 1,320 sf
Width: 30 feet
Depth: 80 feet
Do you remember your very first home? I do. I was married with one daughter and paid $28,800 for 1,200 square feet with a carport. We bought the home on Christmas Eve and made the salesperson very happy. Some 45 years later, that home would now cost about $149,900. This 1,320-square-foot home is 28 by 40 feet with an 8-foot porch in the front setback. The front porch puts eyes on the street, allowing you to keep an eye out for the neighbors. The porte cochere becomes the daytime parking space for the car, while the garage has a dual existence as a workshop, playroom, etc. The sports court allows kids to play basketball, ride scooters, and practice roller blading, all without the interference of cars. Mom and Dad can sit comfortably on the back patio and respond to calls of “Watch this!” Although small in size, this home answers all the needs of today’s young family just starting out. The American Dream is alive and well—provided we recognize the importance of smart-sized homes and buyers staying within their means.
A. Front porch 
B. Porte cochere 
C. Sports court 
D. Back patio



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