It seems that the average new-build house in the UK contains only 78 square metres of living (or floor) space. To many people in the UK, the size in metres will not mean much. They may know the size of their lounge because they had to buy 20 square metres (or yards) of carpet but overall, they will associate more with the number of rooms rather than the total size of the living space. To put the UK into perspective, a typical new-build in France will have 113 sqm, whilst in Denmark, it is 137 sqm. I suspect in the US, it will be 200+ !
It’s not the lack of building space which is causing this downsizing (Luxembourg comes in at a stately 104 sqm) it’s more likely to be the cost of the build and whilst many tens of thousands of UK first-time buyers struggle to get a mortgage, the housebuilders are making houses ever smaller in order to feed the appetite for affordable homes.
Just out of interest I looked at a couple of UK housebuilder sites and all the information was around, 2, 3 or 4 bedrooms. No mention of the size of the house or even whether it had a separate kitchen or dining room. I looked at a 4 bedroom house in the North and the cost was likely to be around £2,000 per square metre. Some examples in the south, where land costs are obviously higher, came in at approximately £3,000 per sqm, whilst in France, the costs are even higher at an average of £3,500 per sqm, ranging from £2,700 to £4,000 per sqm depending on the size of the property.
The difference in the costs of housing in France is likely to be due to the way they actually construct houses. No stud walls – everything is concrete, and semi-detached, and therefore cheaper houses are a rarity. Land prices are quite high, and although house prices in my area are higher than normal, it’s interesting to see that undeveloped building land down here comes in at £1,000 per sq metre. On that size of plot you then are faced with building costs of another £1,000 per sqm and this just gives you a shell. Typical fitting out costs (not furniture) come in at another £300-£500 per sqm making a total of £2,300-£2,500. Add the developer’s profit and you get the final price. Taking the typical build size of 113sqm and the lowest cost of £2,700 per sqm (including profit) you end up paying some £305k for a typical house in France, some £70k-£140k higher than the typical new build in the UK.
This is why house ownership is not such a ‘big thing’ in France (55% compared to the UK where it is 67% with a European average of 63%). Rental is still a preferred option by many on the continent with the vast majority of Germans and Dutch eschewing buying in favour of renting. Certainly in France where much of the building land is in the hands of ‘old French families’, many properties are built by landowners and then rented and certainly in rural areas, land is generally handed down to children to allow them to build their first dwelling. And then of course you have the Napoleonic inheritance laws which dictate that irrespective of a dying parent’s wishes, any property or land goes to their heirs, without exception. So, kids who cannot afford their first house, tend to live at home longer than their European peers knowing that one day, even though their parents have an unhealthy obsession with the local dog’s home, the mutts won’t get any property or money. It’ll all go to little Jean-Jacques or Madeline.