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How Big Is an Acre? A Guide for Homebuyers

At HomeLight, our vision is a world where every real estate transaction is simple, certain, and satisfying. Therefore, we promote strict editorial integrity in each of our posts.

You’ve been searching online and found a few homes that meet your criteria of three bedrooms and two bathrooms. But as you read the listing descriptions that indicate one house is on 0.23 acres and another has a lot size of 8,730 square feet, you’re baffled by what these numbers actually represent.

Your digital assistant tells you that an acre is the same as 43,650 square feet, but you’re still perplexed as you compare listings and try to visualize yard size, RV space, or the proximity of adjacent properties. How big is an acre, really? What does a 0.20-acre lot mean when buying a house?

We’ve gathered insights from a top real estate agent and experienced land surveyor to bring into focus the concept of residential lot size and help answer the question — How big is an acre?

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How important is lot size?

Lot size is “in the top three criteria with purchasing a house,” says Mason George, an award-winning real estate agent in the metro-Atlanta area who is accredited as a buyer’s representative and land consultant. The number of bedrooms and architectural style are also significant, but George emphasizes the importance of lot size in determining the location and type of community for a potential homebuyer.

But it’s not easy to get a clear picture of the property’s size from an abstract term such as a quarter acre or 10,890 square feet.

“What I recommend is that you pick three different size lots and you walk through three different types to get a visual understanding of what you’re actually looking at,” advises George.

See lots from above

Aerial photos available on online tools such as Google Maps or a county’s Geographic Information System (GIS) website offer buyers their first glimpse of what the lot actually looks like.

“That’s a good graphical representation just to give them an idea of the size and where everything is in a reasonable relationship to the property lines,” says Tim Burch, a licensed professional land surveyor and executive director of the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS). Aerial photos also show potential encumbrances, such as a lake or creek. But if you want to know definitively where the property lines are and what properties are adjacent, Burch says you’ll need a professional land survey.

Acreage is in the eye of the beholder

“Acreage may not be as important for one family as it is for another,” says George. He cites the value of communicating your vision with the real estate agent to find the right home and lot size for your family. By asking questions to learn about your lifestyle and interests, a top agent can help identify your space requirements and determine what lot size will meet both your present and future needs.

Burch says the biggest mistake buyers make is “not anticipating what their life is going to be.” They may buy a small lot, but then not have enough space as their family grows or be too far from amenities or recreational areas. Others may purchase a larger lot, but not have the time to mow the grass or maintain the landscaping. “It always comes back to an accurate forecast or what you think you’re going to need and what you really want out of life,” Burch concludes.

Why do some people prefer more acreage over house size?

“Privacy is a huge factor in this along with lifestyle,” George explains why some buyers opt for a larger lot. If you enjoy spending time outdoors and want plenty of room for a patio, swing set, fire pit, garden, or pool, then you might prefer more acreage over house size. For people who value their privacy, bigger lots allow extra space between homes so your neighbors aren’t right on top of you. They also provide flexibility so you can build an addition or mother-in-law suite if your needs change in the future.

But you should also consider the drawbacks if acreage is your priority. “The larger the lot that you want, the more the house will cost,” says George. He points out that the price can be three or four times as much. Property taxes may be higher, and you’ll spend a considerable amount of your leisure time maintaining the lawn or pay a service to do it for you. While the average cost of lawn care is about $60 to $80 for a 5,000-square-foot property, expect to pay double for one acre with fees ranging from $120 to $170.

Since houses near downtown areas and newer construction often have smaller lots, buyers may have to make sacrifices to realize their dream of owning a large piece of land. Consider if you’re willing to make a longer commute to work or invest the money and time to renovate an older home. And when houses are situated far from each other, you might have to make an effort to get to know your neighbors and be part of the community.

Why do some people prefer house size over lot size?

With the median nationwide home price at $375,700 and mortgage interest rates still exceeding 6%, buyers have a difficult time finding a house they can afford with enough bedrooms and bathrooms, let alone a large yard. George says townhome communities are popping up throughout the metro-Atlanta region because they are more affordable than single-family houses on an acre or two of land. “Their budget is not meeting how much land that they want originally,” he explains that finances might be the deciding factor in choosing house size over acreage.

HomeLight’s Home Affordability Calculator can help you understand the costs associated with buying a home and determine just how much house you can afford before you start looking at homes for sale. This online tool takes into account your income, debts, and savings needed for the down payment.

But some people prefer a smaller lot in a location that fits in better with their lifestyle.

“If you want to be in these hotter downtown suburb-style areas, you’re going to get a lot smaller of a lot,” says George. For buyers seeking frequent socialization, community involvement, and the convenience of nearby amenities, location may take precedence over an acre or two of land.

If you would rather have a new home than an older house that needs updating, you’ll probably have to give up some acreage. George estimates that 65% to 70% of new construction in the Atlanta area are townhouses and homes on small lots. Plus, if you work long hours or are on a tight budget, less acreage means less time spent mowing the lawn or less money paid for professional lawn care.

Size isn’t all that matters

You’ve found the perfect four-bedroom house in a great neighborhood with highly-rated schools. And the icing on the cake is it’s on a one-acre lot so there’s plenty of room to build a shed and the in-ground pool you’ve always dreamed of.

But don’t be satisfied with just knowing how big the lot is. The size of the land isn’t the only thing that matters. The topography is also critical.

George cautions buyers to avoid one of the biggest mistakes commonly made by basing their purchase decision on lot size without thoroughly looking at the property. He’s had clients in the past who bought homes on large lots that were unusable due to divots, holes, and various ground settlement issues that they weren’t aware of until after they moved in.

“I actually make it a priority to walk through with clients the actual physical backyard,” says George.

Land condition

If the property has a steep slope, is covered with mature trees, or is located in a flood zone, building a pool could turn your dream into an expensive nightmare. A tree removal service charges an average of $850 to remove one tree, with costs ranging from $1,160 and $2,000 for a tree that is over 80 feet tall. If you want to clear a heavily forested piece of land, you could spend between $850 and $6,000 per acre to remove trees in bulk, depending on the size, type, and number of trees.

Land placement

You might be enamored by a big corner lot, but you’ll have to build a tall privacy fence so your entire neighborhood won’t see you sunbathing on a hot summer’s day. A six-foot privacy fence professionally installed costs an average of $4,375, but to fence in a large yard could set you back $8,250. However, that’s only if your homeowners association (HOA) gives their approval.

Land restrictions

Burch cautions prospective buyers to do their homework and find out the municipality’s zoning restrictions or HOA regulations. “Make sure all of those documents are available so you don’t have any surprises,” he advises. If you had your heart set on building a shed to house all your gardening equipment, you’ll want to know if this is allowed before making an offer.

Visualizing lot size

Whether real estate listings specify a house is on 0.30 of an acre or 13,068 square feet, it may not be easy to grasp just how big or small the lot is. To help visualize how big is an acre and various fractions of an acre, we’ve created a visual guide and provided some size comparisons to several popular sports.

How big is an acre?

If you love to shoot hoops, maybe you’re hoping to improve your game on your own basketball court. But if you’re buying an acre of land, you’ll have enough space for nine NBA courts measuring 94 feet long by 50 feet wide or 4,700 square feet.

How big is half an acre?

Pickleball has been surging in popularity in recent years. So if pickleball is your game, you might be wondering how many pickleball courts can fit in half an acre. With dimensions of 44 feet in length and 20 feet in width or 880 square feet, you can fill your half-acre with 24 pickleball courts.

How big is a third of an acre?

Perhaps you’ve dreamed of having an in-ground swimming pool in your backyard so you can spend your vacation relaxing by the pool without ever leaving home. The average size pool ranges from 10 feet by 20 feet to 20 feet by 40 feet. A third of an acre lot has room for 72 small pools that are 200 square feet or 18 larger pools that are 800 square feet.

How big is a fifth of an acre?

If you enjoy a competitive game of volleyball, you’ll need about 1,378 square feet for an outdoor volleyball court that’s 52.5 feet long by 26.25 feet wide. One-fifth of an acre, which is about the size of a median residential lot, can accommodate six volleyball courts.

How big is an eighth of an acre?

Maybe you grew up playing ping-pong and can’t wait to challenge your kids to a game when you move into your new home. If you purchase a one-eighth acre lot, you would have sufficient room for 121 ping-pong tables measuring 9 feet long by 5 feet wide or 45 square feet.

Downsizing the American dream

Although you may dream of a single-family home with a large yard, increased building costs, lack of available land, and limited inventory could prevent this dream from becoming a reality. National Association of Realtors (NAR) data reveals that 16% of buyers compromise on lot size, and one-fourth of buyers settle for a home that doesn’t meet their square footage requirements.

Median lot sizes for single-family homes increased from a quarter acre in the 1960s to nearly one-third of an acre during the following three decades, reports the U.S. Census Bureau. But this trend reversed from 2000 to 2004 with lot sizes decreasing to 0.28 acres and 0.25 acres for houses built between 2005 and 2009.

During the previous decade, from 2010 to 2020, the median lot size for a new home declined by nearly 18% from 10,500 square feet to 8,700 square feet, reports StorageCafe. This downward direction continues with typical lots falling to 8,456 square feet or less than one-fifth of an acre, according to the most recent analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction (SOC) data by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)

Median lot size for single-family detached homes in the U.S.

Year built Acre Square feet
1960s 0.25 10,890
1970s-1990s 0.32 13,939
2000-2004 0.28 12,197
2005-2009 0.25 10,890
2010 0.24 10,454
2020 0.20 8,712
2021 0.19 8,276

According to data collected by Angi, we were able to calculate the current median lot size for all existing single-family detached homes is the U.S. — no matter the year built — at 0.3 acres (13,068 square feet).

To learn the 2022 median lot size in your state, see this infographic created by Angi.

While lot size has been shrinking on new homes being built, Burch notes that the trend in recent years has been the creation of more environmentally-friendly public spaces that are maintained by the HOA or municipality. He adds that the new generation of homeowners prefers houses adjacent to parks and open areas rather than taking care of a large property.

But if your vision includes a huge lot with ample space for a deck, patio, pool, or RV parking, then focus your search on older homes.

Land surveys prevent surprises

Before purchasing the largest asset you’ll probably ever own, you’ll not only want to answer the question, “How big is an acre,” but more specifically – how big is your acre or portion of an acre? “The bottom line is it’s a huge investment. It’s important that in making that investment that you know everything about that property and that there aren’t any encumbrances, legal or physical, going on with that property that might put you in some sort of position with liability,” explains Burch.

Find a qualified surveyor

Lenders typically require a survey done by a licensed professional land surveyor. But whether required or not, Burch says, “It’s important that a trained and educated professional helps that person make sure that they know what they’re buying and that there are no booby traps or hidden dangers to a property.”

To find a licensed land surveyor in your area, Burch suggests contacting your state’s NSPS affiliate or viewing their website’s surveyor database.

A residential land survey is a drawing of your acreage that shows measurements and property lines along with details such as surface features and other structures. While mortgage surveys generally cost about $500, fees vary by location, size of the property, composition of the landscape, and type of survey. Buyers usually pay for land surveys, but this can be negotiated with the seller.

Q&A: Additional acreage insights

Where did the acre unit come from?
The acre is a unit of land measurement originating in the Middle Ages that represented the area plowed in one day by a pair of oxen pulling a wooden plow. The term evolved over the centuries to describe the amount of land that is the equivalent of 43,560 square feet. Although buyers today don’t rely on oxen to measure lot size, the acre continues to prevail as the common unit for land surveys and real estate listings.

What is the median residential lot size in the U.S.?
The current median lot size of a newly-built single-family home is 8,456 square feet or slightly less than one-fifth of an acre, according to the latest NAHB data.

Residential lot sizes vary greatly from minuscule lots in cities with soaring property values to spacious properties in areas where zoning laws keep density low.

Angi’s Lot Size Index indicates that New England has the largest lots with Vermont having the greatest median lot size of 78,409 square feet (1.8 acres). But in Nevada, where more than one-third of homes were constructed in 2000 or later, lot sizes are the smallest in the nation at 7,405 square feet (0.17 acre).

How much does an acre of land cost in the U.S.?
The price per acre of land varies by location. Acreage in rural regions typically costs less than in denser urban areas. For example, land in Wyoming averages $1,558 per acre compared to $196,410 in New Jersey. So head west if you’re looking for wide open spaces at more affordable prices.

The following factors impact the cost of an acre:

  • Infrastructure: Roads, internet, utilities, and other established infrastructure increase the price of land. Nearby schools, stores, and medical facilities also add value.
  • Topography: Level ground without obstacles for building is generally more expensive than rugged, uneven acreage or land located in a flood zone.
  • Economic and job growth: You can expect to pay more for acreage in areas with a booming economy, expanding job market, and demand exceeding supply.

How much is the median lot price in the U.S.?
Skyrocketing lot values have resulted in a median lot price of $55,000 for a single-family home, according to NAHB’s analysis of SOC data.

But the price you’ll pay depends on the home’s location. If you’re looking for a bargain, Mississippi has the least expensive residential lots at $5.71 per square foot. You’ll spend a small fortune to buy the same size lot in Hawaii at $110.86 per square foot.

How many typical houses can fit on an acre?
According to the NAR, buyers recently purchased homes sized at a median of 1,800 square feet. Mathematically, you could wedge 24 single-story homes of this size onto an acre of land, but that would not allow for any yard or outdoor space. Using a common lot size of 0.20 acres, you can fit about five typical single-family homes comfortably on an acre, although it’s more common to see builders place two-three homes per acre.

What is the minimum lot size needed to build a house?
The International Residential Code® (IRC) requires a minimum lot size of 320 square feet to build a house. Although most states have adopted IRC building and zoning codes, some municipalities have their own regulations, so minimum lot sizes differ throughout the nation.

What is a commercial acre compared to a residential acre?
A commercial acre is the remaining land in a commercial real estate development project after deducting improvements such as sidewalks, curbs, and gutters. A commercial acre measures 36,000 square feet or about 83% of a residential acre which is 43,560 square feet.

How big of an acre do you really need?

How big is an acre? If you’re still uncertain about the answer to this question or how much of an acre you should purchase, an experienced agent in your local market can help you envision the size of an acre and determine the lot size that will meet your space needs today and in the future. HomeLight’s free Agent Match platform can connect you with a top buyer’s agent to guide you through the search and sales process to find the home and lot of your dreams.

When it comes to deciding how big of an acre is best, George stresses the importance of being open and honest with your agent about your lifestyle. Do you prefer privacy or a close-knit community? Would you rather throw a frisbee in the backyard or play video games in your family room? Factor in your plans for the future including finances and family.

No matter what lot size meets your lifestyle and budget considerations, George leaves buyers with this final thought: “Land is a real asset, and the more scarce that it becomes, obviously the more that it goes up in value.”

Median lot size by state

Angi Infographic licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Header Image Source: (Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash)