Honey, They Shrunk the Apartment

Units are smaller on average, but all real estate is local, observes MHN Columnist Lew Sichelman.

Lew Sichelman

Lew Sichelman

As studio and one-bedroom units gained market share last year, the average size of apartments fell to its smallest size in a decade, according to new research.

The size of a typical apartment dropped 30 square feet last year, the study from RentCafe found. That’s the sharpest slide in square footage in a single year since 2013.

Ten years ago, the average apartment size was 941 square feet. After a roller coaster ride, the average had dipped to 916 feet by 2019. Then, the pandemic hit. And with the need for more space as people started to hunker down and work from home, the average started rising. Not by much, just three feet in 2020 and four more feet in 2021.

But with higher housing prices and rising mortgage rates came the need for more apartments—not larger ones. So last year, the average dropped from 917 square feet to 887. That’s 54 feet less than a decade ago.

The shifts to larger units during the pandemic and then to smaller ones afterwards demonstrates the ability of developers to adjust their floor plans to respond quickly to market conditions, the RentCafe report said.

Using data from its parent company, Yardi Matrix, the data also showed that all but three-bedroom apartments were smaller last year. Whereas three-bedroom units were 15 square feet larger at 1,367, studios were down 13 feet (464) while one and two-bedroom units were each down 12 square feet (727 and 1,097, respectively).

Sizing Up the U.S. Market

Of course, all real estate is local, and so it is with apartment sizes. The study found that on a regional basis, the South has the largest apartments—993 square feet, or 106 feet more than the national average —while the Pacific Northwest has the smallest—776 square feet, or 111 less than the national figure.

Of the 100 markets studied, apartments in Tallahassee offered the most space. At 1,182 square feet on average, units in the Florida capital bested the national number by a whopping 295 feet. Other markets with larger than average units include Gainesville, Fla. (1,105); Mobile, Ala. (1,080); Knoxville, Tenn. (1,075), and Marietta, Ga. (1,060).

Over the last 10 years, the average size of apartments in Tallahassee has jumped 191 square feet. In Mobile, the average is up 188 feet. But the largest jump in square footage was recorded in Tucson, Az., where the average rose 300 feet.

On the flip side, Seattle has the smallest apartments, only 659 square feet on average. But two New York Burroughs, Queens and Brooklyn, aren’t much larger. In Queens, the average is 681 feet; in Brooklyn, 692. The average in Portland, Ore., also is 681, tying the City of Roses with Queens as the market with the second smallest units.

Interestingly, all four of those places saw their average dip over the last decade. But the largest slide was in Silver Spring, Md., where the average has fallen 114 square feet over the 10-year period.

Looking ahead at apartments under construction, the report found that units in Tallahassee will continue to be larger. Although the data for unfinished buildings could change, the current information shows the average apartment there will hit 1,408 square feet. That’s a whopping 226 feet of extra space for renters as compared to the current average.

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