Analysis: Home sizes in southern Orange County


By Gary A. Miller

There may be nothing more polarizing in southern Orange County right now than the proposals and discussions related to zoning, land use, housing choices, “missing middle,” and the concept of a “complete community.” With this article, I do not wish to wade into the argumentative side of these discussions.

In a recent public online meeting with members of the town’s Planning Department, one of the leaders pointed out that the term “missing middle” refers to property size and not necessarily the cost of the property. This prompted my interest in carrying out a brief study on the diversity among the sizes of home sales in the area.

What follows is an analysis of data from the past five years from the Multiple Listing Service (TriangleMLS) in southern Orange County, defined here as the zip codes of 27510, 27514, 27516, and 27517 within the county boundaries.

Between March 31, 2018 and March 31, 2023, there were 5,281 closed transactions in the TriangleMLS. It should be noted that I did not seek to exclude duplicate listings. Thus, it is possible for the same property to have been sold more than once in a five-year period and be reflected as such in the data.

I removed six of the entries for clear data entry problems, with examples such as one showing zero square footage, one showing no bedrooms, and one indicating 44 bathrooms. This left 5,275 in the analysis.

First, I examined the distribution of home types among the sales.

Housing TypeAttachedCondoDetachedManufactured
Number of Properties6869313,6508

This data indicates a clear and significant dominance of detached homes in the area. While I was surprised to find that there have been more condo sales than attached sales in the past five years in southern Orange County, both pale in terms of total count compared to detached homes. Generally speaking, “attached” homes are townhomes.  But, the “condo” type actually refers to a form of property governance and can technically, though not commonly, also include some townhomes.

Second, I examined the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in each sold home.  The table below organizes that by room count.

Number of Bedrooms123456+
Property Count1691,1341,7281,469656119
Number of Bathrooms123456+
Property Count4191,4711,900982347156

*Note a “total bathroom” count was used in this analysis (e.g. a home with two full bathrooms and two half bathrooms is counted as having four bathrooms; a home with three full bathrooms and one-half bathroom is also counted as having four bathrooms; etc.)

The data in this shows a relatively smooth bell curve around three-bedroom properties in southern Orange County, as well as a notable peak in two and three-bathroom homes. This is logical since homes with three bedrooms and two, or two-and-half bathrooms are among the most common and sought after.

When looking at the living area square footage of the homes, a considerable spread is revealed. The smallest home came in at 350 square feet and the largest at 10,243 square feet. The table below categorizes them in thousands.

Square Footage<10001000-19992000-29993000-39994000-49995000+
Number of Properties5331,9551,376876370165

With large clusters of homes in the 1,000 and 2,000-square-foot categories, I wanted to dive deeper into these homes to better understand the distribution. The table below expands on those two categories by dividing them into 500s.

Square Footage1000-14991500-19992000-24992500-2999
Number of Properties1195760747629

What we see above is that home size among these two categories is relatively skewed toward smaller properties, with nearly as many in the 1000-1499 range as there are in the entirety of the 2000 category.

While I do not intend to make any sweeping recommendations, my three biggest takeaways from this data are: 1) that smaller homes are fairly well represented in the data. So, it is likely more that there is a supply and demand issue rather than any particular segment being “missing,” per se; 2) as a category, it is perhaps attached homes (i.e. townhomes) that are in shortest supply in the area; and 3) there is room in the market for homes of less than 1,000 square feet (nominally referred to as tiny homes when detached).

Gary A. Miller is co-owner of Red Bloom Realty.  He has lived and worked in Chapel Hill off and on since 1994, is an avid musician and traveler, and is a former educator of 25 years.

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