Real estate agent Tracie DeMars pulled her car up to a small, one-level house set back from the street in the Fruit Valley neighborhood. When it was built in 1942, the two-bedroom, one-bath house with 828 square feet was an average-size new home.
“This is what many buyers want: a nuclear ranch with a little bit of yard,” said DeMars with Re/Max Equity Group. “If a house is decent and in good shape, it’s going to move fast.”
Lightning speed is more accurate.
Clark County’s real estate market for smaller homes is sizzling. Small pre-owned homes are receiving multiple offers and most often for more than the asking price. Those multiple offers are made within days of the house being listed, and sometimes within hours. This feeding frenzy happens not only in the gentrifying downtown neighborhoods, but also in some of Vancouver’s poorest neighborhoods: Fruit Valley, Rose Village and Harney.
There simply aren’t enough smaller, affordable homes on the market, DeMars said.
New homes are much larger than those built in decades past. In 2013, the average new home was 2,646 square feet. That’s more than 1,000 square feet larger than the average new home in 1973, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the typical 1942 home, siblings shared a bedroom, the entire family shared a bathroom and the master bedroom closet was tiny. Americans had fewer possessions.
If You Go
• What: 3.5-hour free homebuyers class
• When: 5 to 8 p.m. Aug. 2 or Aug. 18
• Where: Marshall Community Center conference room, 1009 E. McLoughlin Blvd., Vancouver
• Register: 360-903-3504 or via email at email@example.com
• Learn more: www.traciedemars.com
The growing American home
The average new construction home has grown over the decades.
• 1950s: 983 square feet
• 1973: 1,660 square feet
• 2014: 2,600 square feet
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
June Clark County real estate market
• $293,500: Median residential sales price
• $328,900: Average residential sales price
Source: Mike Lamb, Windermere-Stellar Vancouver.
Seeking smaller homes
But not all buyers want a big house, DeMars said. Some buyers — from first-time buyers to downsizing empty-nesters — are looking for smaller homes. Although trendy tiny houses smaller than 400 square feet are popping up in neighboring Portland, tiny houses haven’t taken hold in Clark County.
However, Clark County has a limited inventory of older, small homes ranging from 600 to 1,200 square feet. For instance, bungalows were built in Hough and Arnada neighborhoods in downtown Vancouver in the 1910s and 1920s. Whole neighborhoods of wartime housing for Kaiser Shipyard workers were built in the 1940s in Harney Heights, Fruit Valley and Lincoln. Ranch homes were built in the 1960s and 1970s in Hazel Dell and Orchards.
Those smaller houses built decades ago are appealing to a growing number of buyers who are looking for a modest, one-level home that is more affordable than the enormous, three-car-garage homes being built today. Some don’t want large yards that require hours of maintenance every weekend. Others don’t want to be saddled with an enormous house payment.
Return to simplicity
Contractor Bruce Wood, who grew up with four siblings in a modest, one-bathroom house, said he sees a return to simplicity in the housing market.
“The McMansion days, I think are over,” said Wood. “Through the years, houses kept getting bigger and bigger, and families were getting smaller. Today people have new bills to pay. They have big phone bills, big entertainment bills. We didn’t have to pay to watch TV.”