Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The American Backyard Is Growing Again

  • Buyers are putting a greater premium on outdoor space
  • Trulia pulled tax data to compare yards going back to 1802

Break out your patio umbrella, install a doggy door, buy a slip-and-slide. The American backyard is growing again, as homebuyers place a new premium on outdoor fun.

The typical home completed so far this year included 7,048 square feet of outdoor space, according to a new report from Trulia. That marked the third straight year that yard sizes have grown, breaking with a 25-year trend toward smaller outdoor spaces.

Trulia pulled tax data going back to 1802, when the median lot size was more than 63,000 square feet, or about 1.5 acres. In the chart above, yard size represents the difference between a home’s lot size and the footprint of the home itself.

Yard size reflects development trends, with outdoor spaces shrinking as new home construction shifted from rural areas to nascent cities in the first half of the 19th century. Yards expanded in the post-World War II move to suburban living, growing to a median 12,000 square feet in 1975, the largest since 1867, according to Trulia’s data.

While the back (or front, or side) yard has remained a symbol of the American dream of homeownership, yard space had dwindled since the 1990s, reflecting buyers’ desire for larger and larger homes. Builders cut back on outdoor spaces to max out interiors, and the median size of single-family homes grew to a peak of 2,467 square feet in 2015, up 62 percent from 1973, according to census data. News media accounts focused on the demise of the backyard.

Now builders have started to shrink the typical home, hoping to save on material costs while holding prices steady. Buyers, meanwhile, are demanding larger and better-designed outdoor spaces, according to Sheryl Palmer, chief executive of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based builder Taylor Morrison Home Corp.

“Outdoor living is an important part of the homeownership experience,” she said.

More than half of prospective buyers would trade interior space for a bigger yard, according to a survey commissioned by Taylor Morrison earlier this year. Consumers said they would pay extra for outdoor living rooms and features designed to promote continuity from indoor to outdoor space, like retractable glass walls and matching tile flooring.

Buyers’ preference for designed outdoor space is also increasing, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report on the characteristics of new housing. Ninety-one percent of single-family homes completed in 2016 had a patio, porch or deck, up from 86 percent in 2010.

A porch and patio was the most popular combination.

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