In 2000, the average new apartment built in the U.S. measured 1,003 square feet, according to Dallas-based research firm Axiometrics. By 2010, that square footage shrunk to 976. It wasn’t a huge decline, but after three decades of growth, the falloff was noticeable. During the recession, the average new single-family house was 2,135 square feet; by 2013, that number mushroomed to 2,598 square feet. Suddenly, the McMansion was back.

What gives? Market trends are increasingly pushing the housing market into a barbell with smaller apartments (including micro units) on one side and McMansions on the other. To most observers, that’s a surprise. Coming out of the recession, conventional wisdom says that cash-strapped consumers would have to—and want to—cut back on house size.

“All you read is that the consumer wants less and they don’t want a big house,” says Brian Cullen, president of Corbelis Development NoVa. Corbelis is the developer at Willowsford, a 4,000-acre planned community in Loudoun County, Va. “We started [at Willowsford] with small thinking, but the national numbers suggest that the average single-family detached house is bigger than it was in 2005. At the end of the day, when people are buying a house, they don’t want to give up what they already had.”

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