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Zero-lot line homes, with their limited yards and increased focus on living space, are zeroing in on a community near you, if they're not there already.

With the supply of single-family urban lots dwindling across the country, and the growing number of baby boom empty nesters seeking to simplify their lives, the traditional big yard is becoming a thing of the past for many Americans. Some liken the new zero-lot liners to the old row houses in central cities -- minus the stoops and stickball games.

Also marketed as garden homes, patio homes and narrow-lot homes, their heights ranges from one to three stories and their designs and demographics vary greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood. Some come with large patios for entertaining; others are equipped with neighbor-friendly front porches that almost touch the street.

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Most zero-lot line homes are built directly on the edge of a lot's outer boundary (hence the name) and are usually only about 10 feet apart and share a common fence with a neighbor. They generally have either small front yards or small back yards and just a thin strip of turf for side yards. Others are attached, separated only by a townhome-like "party wall" used jointly by a neighbor.

The choice of floor plans seems to be growing almost daily, says Walt Raczkowski, owner of Coolhouseplans.com, a home-design Web service. Currently, there are now about 800 different designs of narrow homes of less than 30 feet in width on the site, which has a total of 13,000 plans.

"The narrow-lot designs are selling better and better," he said. "They are especially popular around coastal communities where land is at a premium."

Home size grows, lot size shrinks
Meanwhile, new-home lots are shrinking across the country. The median lot size of a new single-family house sold has dropped from 9,750 square feet in 1992 to 8,612 square feet in 2002, even as floor areas increased slightly in the same span, according to U.S. Census data.

"In some parts of California, they are building 5,000-square-foot homes on 5,000-square-foot lots," said Gopal Ahluwalia, vice president of research for the National Association of Home Builders. "The consumer is willing to accept smaller lot size ... but not smaller homes. Many homeowners will give up a large lot if it saves them an hour of commuting time."

In addition to the aging boomers who are fleeing expansive old manses for something smaller, first-time home buyers are also helping spur the zero effect, builders say. These include single parents or young professionals who at day's end barely have time to navigate a drive-through fast-food lane, let alone maintain a yard.

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-- Posted: Aug. 28, 2003
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PLUS: What to consider in buying a zero-lot line home
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Bankrate's Real Estate Buying Guide

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