Must-Haves for Designing Detached Affordable Homes

September 9, 2019 | By Wayne Kalbach, LEED AP

Affordability is the number one issue in the housing industry, and attached housing has been the primary solution. Not surprisingly, attached product starts have been increasing across all markets, up nearly 45% in the Northeast region alone. Paired homes, townhomes and rowhomes achieve price points that simply don’t exist in many markets.

But what about buyers who don’t want attached homes but still need an affordable price? According to Robert Charles Lesser & Co (RCLCO) consumer research, more than half of all households still prefer a single-family detached product for their home. Transitioning from attached product to detached homes requires innovative design that solves the density challenge while keeping homes livable and affordable.

Three key factors influence buyers in the affordable home market: location, plan design and price.



Focusing on smaller lots and narrow homes in higher density areas, depending on code, can drastically reduce costs. Land is one of the most expensive line items, so developing smaller lots in highly desirable areas is a winning strategy. Design approaches that incorporate the use of cluster-type or “module” land plans in conjunction with smaller lot sizes open-up the possibility of achieving higher densities than typical single-family detached communities. Additionally, such land plans can inherently manifest many of the neighborhood characteristics being sought by today’s buyers: walkability, a more integrated community fabric, and a reduced emphasis on automobiles.

Plan Design & Price

The perception and feel of increased density can be mitigated by using proper landscaping around and between homes. Use of pavers, gravel, and certain pervious finishes can be used on common walks and driveways. Landscape features can shape shared outdoor spaces and provide a larger perceived footprint to a home.

When designing elevations for this type of product, approach them the same way as more conventional homes, but with designs that make the most of cost-effective materials. The home on the land, of course, still must carry through on key design features to sell a buyer, beginning with great curb appeal. A balance between lower priced and higher end materials with creative use of color can go a long way. Small, inexpensive detailing will have a huge impact on curb appeal that wins over buyers without breaking the bank. Streamlined options packages that make the selections process simpler and less confusing will give homeowners a sense of pride in a home built uniquely for them while still being affordable and without the frustrations of the typical building experience.

Updated floor plans are also important to buyers even at lower price points. Some key spaces must be included, but unused space is not one of them. Many buyers want an open concept floor plan for maximum utilization and no rooms collecting dust. Typically, staying affordable means less square footage, so builders must focus on the essential floor plan elements for this buyer group. Floorplans can be simplified in order to make them more buildable without becoming static cookie-cutter boxes.

Redefining traditionally accepted room sizes (Master Suites, Kitchens, etc.), offering plans with only one or two bedrooms, making use of single bath concepts, one-car garages or split / shifted 2-car garages are all strategies to help achieve a lower price point by increasing the efficiency of  floor plan.


Master Retreat

nullA master bedroom with a large closet and a connected bathroom is a must-have for today’s buyers, regardless of budget. Give them as much space in the master as possible, while keeping an eye on its proportion to the rest of the home, and reduce expenses in other ways. For example, optional dual lavatories, use of shower inserts, and use of wall tile for accent only. One no-cost idea is to separate the space from other bedrooms or social areas to help even small master bedrooms feel like special retreats.

Guest Bedroom / Storage

Flex space for storage that doubles as an additional bedroom for guests is another critical space for buyers. Many first-time home buyers are moving from apartments or condos where they may not have had space for guests, so planning flex space to accommodate a bed is a real benefit of single-family home design, but only if price allows.

nullOffice / Flex Space

As working from home becomes more prominent in today’s lifestyle, a home office is high on the must-have list, especially for younger buyers. But this space no longer needs to be a dedicated room that eats up your square footage. Consider adding a desk in found space, such as under the stairs, for an affordable yet marketable “office” space.


Volume space used judiciously in key parts of the home (Great Room, Family Room) can be a key ingredient in producing a home that is efficient but doesn’t feel like it is cutting any corners. Using daylight is always an important part of any home’s design, but with more affordable homes it can be an elegant way to still provide drama and function in a more modest space. In smaller houses, window placement is crucial in order to maximize daylight without emphasizing view corridors that reveal the density of the area around the home.

nullThe need for non-subsidized housing for middle-class buyers (that is, attainable housing) is apparent both in need and demand. Whereas in the past, this would seem to require a homes of lesser quality with fewer amenities in questionable locations, today’s buyers will sacrifice bigger homes for more efficient ones of quality on smaller lots with amenities that promulgate a tight-knit community and the inherent benefits that come along with it.

Interested in this topic? Email Wayne Kalbach to start a conversation.