Smaller is better for some Twin Cities home builders and buyers.

Jim Kuiken, a designer for Accent Homes, knocked 380 square feet off his one-level villas and is selling them for $50,000 less than last year's model at a Champlin development.

Greg Bauer of Trilogy Custom Homes says his basic Shenandoah rambler in Ramsey is 100 square feet smaller -- and $15,000 less than the bigger homes he was selling last year.

Both men are introducing the downsized models at the Parade of Homes Spring Preview, which opens today, and hope that the smaller, less-expensive floor plans will generate sales.

While there still are plenty of sprawling luxury homes for tour-goers to ogle, more Twin Cities builders are adapting to a stagnant housing market and an economic recession with a "smaller is better" approach. They say prospective buyers are seeking value and affordability more than ever, and so they're retooling some of their floor plans or crafting new designs that eliminate formal living rooms and shrink bedrooms and common living spaces. Also look for fewer two-story vaulted spaces, more multifunctional rooms and combination laundry/mudrooms on the Parade.

"Overall square footage is less important than amenities," said Bauer, who surveyed Parade of Homes visitors last fall to get a sense of what they value. "Buyers are also concerned about heating costs and real estate taxes."

The trend started gaining traction more than a year ago. K. Hovnanian Homes, a New Jersey-based builder, redesigned its offerings after lackluster sales at its Timbres at Elm Creek subdivision in Maple Grove, which opened in 2006. The company phased out the Grand Collection designs, which had four to seven bedrooms, 2,800 to 6,000 square feet and prices starting at nearly $500,000.

Instead the company introduced the Youngston Collection, which has more modest floor plans of 2,500 to 2,800 square feet and prices that start in the low $300,000s, making the houses appeal to a wider pool of buyers. The floor plans have smaller kitchens, family rooms and bedrooms, and a sitting room off the owners' suite was eliminated. In some floor plans, the main-level den was deleted.

"Buyers are more cautious," said Mandy Multerer, director of marketing for K. Hovnanian. "The homes are at a lower price point and families can grow into them by finishing the lower level later."

The Jasper model, introduced at last year's Spring Preview, spurred buyer buzz and resulted in more sales. K. Hovnanian still offers 4,000-plus-square-foot plans in other developments and that market is still strong in some communities, said Multerer.

The green building movement is also helping to drive the trend toward smaller houses, said Mike Swanson, vice president of Rottlund Homes and president of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities. His company is revamping some floor plans to appeal to environmentally conscious buyers.

"There is a growing contingent of people who view large homes as wasteful, bad for the environment and their communities," said Mike Williams, executive director of Minnesota Greenstar, a new certification program for home building and remodeling projects.

He said "right-sized" homes use fewer resources in construction, which reduces the impact on the environment; they also cost less to heat, cool and maintain.

The Builders Association of the Twin Cities says that the median size of houses on the spring preview fell from 2,574 square feet last year to 2,300 this year.

In a nod to the "Not So Big" quality over quantity ideals introduced by former Minneapolis-based architect Sarah Susanka in her books, National Association of Home Builders spokesman Steve Melman says that 88 percent of its members are building or plan to build smaller homes this year.

"Sarah Susanka is an inspiration to builders," said Kuiken, of Accent Homes. "A house can feel good and function well without being large and over-the-top."

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619

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