There is a perceived shortage of living space nationwide, but is there any evidence that living in a larger, more impressive home will actually make us happier?
Nowadays, we hear a lot about pokey new-builds, sky-high city rents and locals forced out by second homes and unable to get a rung on the property ladder. However, living spaces in England and Wales are actually larger than ever before, and the average home has increased in size by at least two square metres between 2004 and 2016. It is the distribution of space that has become less equal.
Home ownership data from a survey by the Resolution Foundation suggests that the number of families and individuals sharing private rented housing has nearly tripled since 1992, returning to levels seen up until the mid-1960s. As people seek solutions to the problem of sky high rents, younger renters in particular now chose to share a home with several others to cut down on costs, whereas ownerâ€“occupiers will often have a lot more space.
Does extra space make for happier occupants?
Looking back over the last century it was not unusual for whole families to share one room where they all lived, ate and slept together; in comparison, current living arrangements would seem like luxury. But, if you live in a small rented property in London you might be forgiven for feeling a little hard done by when you compare your tiny home to something more spacious, perhaps an owner-occupied house in, say, Nottinghamshire.
The level of space that we expect or aspire to really depends on what we are used to – after all, one personâ€™s trash is another personâ€™s treasure.
A survey of nearly 1,000 people who chose to move to a larger property found that housing satisfaction only increased by 1.2 points on a 7 point scale. Within three years, the rise had diminished by approximately 30% as people’s expectations increased again or their â€˜needsâ€™ changed.
Many people would think a big luxurious house would make you happier, after all, isnâ€™t it what we all aspire to? But the survey showed that any increase in accommodation beyond four rooms per person resulted in almost no change to their happiness. It is possible that this category includes people of the older generation who would like a smaller more manageable space but are reluctant to leave the home in which they have raised a family.
Home expectations are conditioned sometimes by not only where we have lived previously but also by our neighbours, as house size can be a status symbol.
A study in America found that when a â€˜superstarâ€™ home increased in size it actually had a negative effect on the neighbours, even causing envy and plans to enlarge their own homes.
Is it ‘normal’?
Not everyone feels compelled to compete with their neighbours in a keeping-up-with-the-Jones fashion. It seems that most house size anxiety stems from an underlying desire to ‘fit in’ and do things which are considered ‘normal’ to everyone else.
The perception of what is a â€˜normalâ€™ level of living space varies. Some might see normal as being able to have dinner with the family around a dining table, but others might prioritise watching TV together on the sofa.
How much will it cost?
We do not seem to be getting happier with our living space as a nation despite the change in recent years. An American study agrees that, for people living in detached houses, satisfaction has stayed the same since the 1980s, even though the space per person has grown by more than 900 square feet.
Moving into a more impressive home does not come without cost; the necessity (for most of us) of incurring more debt, working longer and/or more hours, and perhaps even having a longer commute, bring with it more stress and anxiety. Building more and larger homes can cause irreversible environmental costs and disruption, too.
In general, there is an overwhelming need for affordable housing to help people living in cramped, but overpriced homes. However, it really does appear that in the long run living in a larger property will not always make you feel happier.
Make your home buying experience a happy one! Your local Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors registeredÂ Chartered SurveyorÂ will provide you with an independent home survey, building survey or property valuation in England or Wales.