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Return of the McMansion?

Meg Handley

After trending down during the recession, new homes are getting bigger again, according to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The average single-family house completed in 2011--the most recent data the Census Bureau has--was about 2,480 square feet, up from 2,392 square feet in 2010 and 2,438 square feet in 2009. Almost 40 percent of new homes also have 4 or more bedrooms and 20 percent had garages that could hold 3 or more vehicles.

"We've been a little surprised that home size has been going back up again," says David Crowe, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders.

Is America's love affair with the McMansion being rekindled?

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Crowe isn't sure about that, but says the current mortgage lending environment might have something to do with the seeming growing appetite for larger homes.

"Size fell during the recession because people were being more careful with their money," Crowe says. Add in intense competition with foreclosures that sold at a hefty discount and the fact that first-time homebuyers--who generally purchase smaller, less expensive homes--made up the lion's share of the diminished prospective buyer pool, and builders were forced to reduce their prices.

"One way to do that is by reducing the size of the homes built," Crowe adds.

[Read: 3 Reasons the Luxury Housing Market Is Sizzling.]

Fast forward a year or so and a lot of those factors persist. Foreclosures continue to weigh down prices across the nation and first-time homebuyers and investors still make up a significant portion of home sales.

But those that can get mortgages are generally more financially well off, Crowe says, which could be fueling the demand for bigger homes.

"The customer who's buying a new home now is the only one who can get credit approval for a mortgage, [they are] economically comfortable and are therefore picking the house that they want," Crowe says. "We've essentially eliminated a customer that would've wanted smaller homes because that's all they could afford."

Meg Handley is a business reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at mhandley@usnews.com and follow her on Twitter at @mmhandley.

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