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Originally published Friday, July 13, 2012 at 8:02 PM

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Long-shrinking homes begin to grow again

As the economy continues to emerge slowly from the housing slump and the Great Recession, homebuyers have a renewed appetite for larger homes.

Bloomberg News

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Even as the U.S. economy struggles to rebound from the worst recession since the Great Depression, Americans are living larger.

Larger, as in larger homes: two-story foyers, twin front staircases, children's wings, dedicated man caves, coffee bars, four-car garages and bedroom closets large enough for a fifth vehicle.

The percentage of new single-family homes greater than 3,000 square feet has grown by one-third in the last decade, according to data released last month by the U.S. Census Bureau. Slightly more than 1 in 4 new homes built last year were larger than 3,000 square feet, the highest percentage since 2007.

"It's about opportunity," said Jack McCabe, chief executive of Deerfield Beach, Florida-based McCabe Research and Consulting. "It's about interest rates. And it's about short memories."

The Census Bureau reports that the average size of a U.S. house rose in 2011 to 2,480 square feet, up from 2,392 square feet in 2010. The 2011 figure is 62.6 percent larger than the 1,525-square-foot average size in 1973.

Demand for large, luxury homes began dropping in September 2005, said Christopher Gaffney, a group president for Toll Brothers home builder, right after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. Since then, it's been an up-and-down cycle. "It was just a matter of when things would turn around, not if," Gaffney said. "People got tired of putting their lives on hold."

To a large extent, people are still putting off new homes. The number of new single-family dwellings built last year fell to 447,000, off 72.9 percent from the 2006 high of 1.65 million. About 236,000 of the new ones, or more than half, were built in the South.

The largest percentage of homes bigger than 3,000 square feet, 29 percent, was also built in the South. The second- largest percentage of big houses was in the Northeast, where 27 percent of the 44,000 new homes were larger than 3,000 square feet.

Danny Jong, a New York commercial and residential real estate investor, needed a place for his mother and the children that he and his wife would like to have.

"I grew up in a big house," said Jong, 41, who was raised in New Jersey. "Why not go bigger if you can afford it?"

He said he's not sure what he'll do with all the space in the Toll Brothers house he bought in Randolph, N.J. A live-in housekeeper will take up some room. He said Toll Brothers' reputation for quality, low interest rates, price per square foot and proximity to his New York office influenced his family's decision.

"I'll also have a man cave," he said. "That was something I really wanted."

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