Washingtonians, more than home buyers in other urban areas, do not appreciate ramblers and ranch houses.
Some say the aversion may have to do with land prices. Others say status and culture also come into play.
Whatever the reason, only 18 percent of the metropolitan area’s 290 potential home buyers surveyed by the National Association of Home Builders said they wanted a single-story home.
Forty-one percent of those surveyed in eight other metropolitan areas said they wanted this home type, said the study, released last month.
“One-story homes in our area … all look the same,” said Steve Macik, owner of Ballston Properties, a real estate brokerage and building firm in Falls Church. “They have very little appeal.”
But for the 3,500 respondents in other cities, ramblers or ranch houses have almost as much appeal as two-story homes. And in Phoenix and the San Francisco/Sacramento area, one-stories are the more popular option, according to the survey, conducted with Fulton Research consulting firm.
Several area realtors said the main reason Washingtonians would choose a two-story home over a rambler of comparable size is they do not want to pay for the extra lot space – about 35 to 40 percent more – needed for a one-story house.
“Land is very expensive in Washington,” said David Caldwell, a real estate consultant with E & Y Kenneth Leventhal. “You get the maximum house for less price with a two-story.”
The price of an average lot in the Washington area – about 8,000 to 10,000 square feet – is between $45,000 and $50,000, said Steve Friedman, national director of housing for E & Y Kenneth Leventhal.
In Phoenix, where 59 percent of respondents wanted one-story houses, average lots of about 11,000 square feet cost about $30,000, said Rich Rector, a Phoenix realtor and president of Realty Executives International, a residential real estate company with 500 offices worldwide.
But he said ramblers are more popular in Phoenix for other economic reasons. A big expense there, where temperatures can linger above 100 degrees for several months, is air conditioning, Rector said.
“Heat rises,” he said. “Cooling the second floor of a house here is very expensive.”
One-story homes are also the norm in Phoenix because of local culture, Rector said.
“Here, we’re used to the Southwestern ranch-style house,” he said. “Homebuilders are not going to experiment much.”
And because the city is known as a retirement community, there is less demand for houses with stairs, which the elderly can have trouble climbing, Rector said.
About 21 percent of the households in the Phoenix area are headed by individuals over 65, compared to about 14 percent in the Washington area, the NAHB reported.
Phoenix is the exception and Washington the most extreme example of a national trend favoring multi-level homes, said Gopal Ahluwalia, NAHB research director.
In 1971, 73 percent of the new homes built nationally were one-story. By 1985, that figure had fallen to 52 percent, and last year, only 49 percent of the new homes built had one level, according to NAHB data.
In the Washington area, a multi-level home is something of a status symbol, Macik said.
“Most people in this area are pretty affluent and they like the ostentatious appearance and more grand look of a colonial,” he said.
The 1996 median family income in Washington is $68,300 and the national median income is $41,600, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Local respondents reported the highest expected price for their future home of the cities studied, at $198,000.
Other cities targeted by the survey were Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Respondents were all potential home buyers who had requested a copy of their area Housing Guide magazine.
For home buyers around the country wanting two-story homes, the privacy afforded by having bedrooms on a separate floor from common living areas is often a selling point, Ahluwalia said.
“People think you can leave the bedroom in a messy form, I guess,” he said.
But for some locals, the convenience of a one-story is worth cleaning up for. “It’s easier,” said Binx Mahoney, who moved with her family two months ago into a rambler six blocks from the two-story Arlington, Va., home they lived in for 19 years. “There’s not so much running up and down stairs.” -30-