land, free time?
Try a zero-lot line home
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
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
"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