Fri., May 13, 2011 1:25pm (EDT)

The Small House Movement in Macon
By Josephine Bennett
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Updated: 3 years ago

MACON, Ga.  —  
Claude and Linda Smith's small house in Macon. (photo Josephine Bennett)
Claude and Linda Smith's small house in Macon. (photo Josephine Bennett)
Many Americans are downsizing after the collapse of the housing market. The days of the McMansion appear numbered as people embrace a simpler and less expensive way of life. There is now a growing demand for small houses in Macon.

Linda Smith’s cats slink low to the ground while timidly exploring their new home.

“They’re checking out the house. They recognize some familiar pieces of furniture. They hear the cars and are a little bit startled.”

The cats don’t have far to go from the front door, through a living room, and past a small kitchen eventually hiding under a bed in the rear of the house. At 641-square feet it’s a lot smaller than the 25-hundred square foot home Linda and her husband Claude left in North Carolina. They didn’t bring much in the moving van.

“We have a couch. We have a TV. We have a desk. We have a table for eating. I mean there’s a good use of the space and you still feel like there’s a good area here.”

The couple, who are in their 50’s, say they fell in love with the house when visiting Macon where Claude works for Mercer University. The home is in a neighborhood that’s undergoing a radical transformation.

Beall’s Hill is a 30-square block area in Macon’s Historic District. Dozens of empty lots sit sandwiched between small Victorian fixer-uppers. The Historic Macon Foundation is renovating the old homes, and building smaller, new ones.

At a recent gathering of people interested in this “small house movement,” Josh Rogers with Historic Macon says at under 70-thousand dollars the tiny homes are selling as fast as they can build them.

“We took a leap, built a 600 square foot house and it sold. There’s nobody in Middle Georgia doing that and it seems like there are a lot of people who desire a small house.”

And Macon people are not unique. According to the National Association of Home Builders, more than half of new home buyers are looking for something between 1 and 2-thousand square feet. Builders say it’s not about “downsizing” it’s about “right-sizing.” Architect Bob Brown, who’s designing three of the new small homes, says affordability is about more than purchase price.

“Not only affordability to purchase up front, but affordability of maintaining it. Affordability in being able to pay for the utilities from month to month. So, I think that’s one reason this niche is working.”

Linda Smith says she’s looking forward to getting her first electric bill. And she expects to spend less on gas for her car. Being in downtown Macon puts it within walking distance of work, restaurants, parks and a community garden. Its generous front porch makes it easy to meet their neighbors. Linda thinks they’re on the edge of a trend.

“I think we’ve gone bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger in this country in particular and with the economy and people just wanting to downsize and maybe be more conscious of the resources they are using and just simplify your life.”

Claude says they will continue to simplify their life as they shed possessions and put their larger home on the market. But, Linda says she is planning to purchase a new set of headphones so her husband can watch television in the living room while she reads in the bedroom.