A large home with large back yard and patio.

Where buyers can live large without breaking the bank 

Nashville tops the list of cities with "just right" homes with ample square footage and big yards near urban centers.

July 28, 2023
4 minutes

Key points:

  • The South has the most urban areas with larger but still affordable homes.
  • Homes in the top cities are getting bigger, but lot sizes are shrinking in some areas.
  • Remote work may have reversed the trend of buyers looking to downsize.

In the remote-work era, home size matters. And for buyers seeking the most room to spread out while staying urban, the South and the West offer the best balance, according to an analysis of the nation's 50 largest cities.

While many buyers are looking for homes with office space and a large yard, those amenities are getting harder to come by. The typical American home size decreased by 4% from 2013 to 2022, while the typical lot size shrank by 8%, according to the report by Storage Cafe, a nationwide self-storage search website.

That, on top of rising prices, put the squeeze on buyers looking for more space while maintaining the conveniences of urban life. But in some cities, bigger isn't just better, it's easier to find.

To rank the best urban destinations for larger homes and bigger backyards, Storage Cafe looked at a number of metrics including median home and lot sizes, prices, household incomes, commute times and more.

These are the top 10 cities identified as having the best mix of spacious but reasonably priced homes:

1. Raleigh, North Carolina

2. Atlanta, Georgia

3. Charlotte, North Carolina

4. Omaha, Nebraska

5. Nashville, Tennessee

6. Austin, Texas

7. Jacksonville, Florida

8. Bakersfield, California

9. Fresno, California

10. Tulsa, Oklahoma

Raleigh rules them all

While Raleigh doesn't have the biggest houses, it has the best combination of home and lot size, coupled with other factors like price and job opportunities.

Like most cities on the list, Raleigh bucked the national trend of decreasing home sizes over the past decade. The median size of homes built between 2013-2022 was over 2,400 square feet, 23% larger than the city's overall median of 1,947 square feet

Raleigh real estate agent Phillip Marquis said bigger wasn't always better as far as buyers were concerned. "For a while before the pandemic, people were downsizing. Some of the huge estate homes were a little bit more difficult to sell," he said. But once the pandemic hit, "that definitely changed."

Today, "a large majority of the clients I work with are from other parts of the country," Marquis said. "They come looking for bigger homes with smaller price tags and at least some kind of outdoor privacy." 

Buyers also see the region as a desirable place to live, said Marquis. "The things I hear a lot are that Raleigh is still significantly more affordable than a lot of the major metro areas, the weather seems to be a plus and it's a decent size city with a lot of culture, two hours from the beach, two hours from mountains and a lot of job opportunities."

While home sizes went up, the lots they sit on got smaller. Homes built in Raleigh in the last decade have lots averaging just 7,000 square feet, about two-thirds the median size of all backyards in the city — a trend found in many of the cities on the top-10 list.

Marquis says that's not a problem, because for most buyers, size seems to be less important than the ability to have some privacy either through landscaping or fencing. 

To mow, or not to mow

If it's a big yard you want, head to Nashville, according to the analysis. The Birthplace of Country Music ranks number one for the overall size of residential lots, with a median size of 11,813 square feet, about 300 square feet larger than the second-place Atlanta.

On the other hand, buyers looking to avoid the tyranny of the lawnmower might consider Philadelphia. The tightly packed row houses give Philly the smallest median lot size at just 1,419 square feet — and shrinking. The median size of housing lots in Philly has fallen 43% over the past decade.

The largest homes are in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the median home size is 2,440 square feet. But Brew City didn't make the top ten due to its relatively puny median lot size of about 5,840 square feet.

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