Skip Main Navigation Skip To Navigation Content

Characteristics of New Housing

You are here: ›  Business & Industry ›  Construction ›  Characteristics of New Housing ›  Definitions
Skip top of page navigation


A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
– Developments intended for occupancy by persons of a specific age group, usually 55 and older, or 62 and older.

– Indicates the presence of central air-conditioning. This excludes room air-conditioning units, whether built-in or installed in windows.

– The arithmetic mean, which is obtained by dividing the sum of all values of a characteristic by the number of houses reporting that characteristic. For example, the average sales price of new single-family houses sold is obtained by dividing the sum of all of the sales prices reported by the number of houses reporting a sales price.

Attached and Detached Single-Family Housing Units
– Single-family structures include fully detached, semi-detached (semi-attached, side-by-side), row houses, duplexes, quadruplexes, and townhouses. In order for attached units to be classified as single-family structures, each unit must:
  • Be separated by a ground-to roof wall,
  • Have a separate heating system,
  • Have individual meters for public utilities, and
  • Have no units located above or below.
– See Foundation.

– For the purposes of these statistics, a full bathroom is one that has a washbasin, a toilet, and either a bathtub or shower, or a combination of bathtub and shower. A half bathroom is one that has a toilet, bathtub, or shower, but not all the facilities to be classified as a full bathroom. If the respondent reported a full bathroom and two half bathrooms, the house is classified as a two-bathroom house.

– A bedroom is a finished room specifically designed to be used for sleeping. A den, a space in the attic, or a basement that could be converted to a bedroom is not counted as a bedroom. A one-room house or efficiency is considered to have one bedroom.

Built for Rent
– This category includes all houses built on builder's land with the intention of renting the housing unit. A lease-purchase, rent-purchase, or other option to eventually buy the house may exist. This also would include retirement community units, occupied under a "life-lease"/"continuing-care" arrangement (occupants pay an up front fee or small monthly fees for lifelong use.)

Built for Sale
– This category includes all houses built on builder's land with the intention of selling the house and land in one transaction. Such a sale is called "fee simple." These units are often called "speculatively-built" houses.

Also included are the following:

  1. Houses purchased and the lot rented
  2. Houses sold as part of a condominium
  3. Houses sold as part of a cooperative project (occupants own stock in the project as a whole, but do not own residential units.)
  4. Houses sold to several individuals in a "time-sharing" arrangement.
Closing Costs
– The closing costs are costs customarily chargeable to the buyer for items that are incidental to the transaction. These costs include the initial service charge of the mortgage, cost of title search, charges for the preparation of deed and mortgage documents, mortgage tax, recording fees, and similar items. For houses sold with FHA-insured mortgages, they include an examination or application fee. Items not included in closing costs are deposits for un-accrued taxes, insurance premiums, and similar items that are treated as pre-payable expenses. (This item has been discontinued and was last included in our statistics in 2007.)

Community Associations (Homeowner's Associations)
– Formal legal entities created to maintain common areas of a development and to enforce private deed restrictions; these organizations are usually created when the development is built, and membership is mandatory.

Completed Housing
– A house is defined as completed when all finished flooring has been installed (or carpeting if used in place of finished flooring). If the building is occupied before all construction is finished, it is classified as completed at the time of occupancy. In privately-owned buildings with two or more housing units, all of the units in the buildings are counted as completed when 50 percent or more of the units are occupied or available for occupancy. Housing completions are estimated for all areas of the United States, regardless of whether permits are required.

– A type of ownership in which each owner owns the interior walls of the unit. The owner of each unit also holds a common or joint ownership in all common areas and facilities associated with the unit; such as, land, roof, exterior walls, hallways, entrances, elevators, lobbies, etc. Condominium ownership may apply to single-family and multifamily structures. A condominium apartment building is classified with apartment buildings in structures with five units or more, despite the fact that each unit is individually owned.

Construction Method

  • Modular – Finished 3-dimensional sections of the complete dwelling are built in a factory and transported to the site to be joined together on a permanent foundation.
  • Panelized – A package of wall panels, roof trusses, and other components is shipped from a factory to be assembled on site. This may include all materials required to finish the house as a complete package.
  • Precut – A package of lumber or timber (logs), precut to exact size, length, and quantity is shipped from a factory to be assembled on site. The package may also include plumbing, wiring, and/or heating system elements.
  • Site-built – The house is built entirely on site, except that it may include some factory components such as roof and floor trusses, wall panels, doorframes, etc.
Contractor-built Houses
– This category includes all houses built for owner occupancy on the owner's land with construction under the supervision of a single general contractor. Also includes houses built for rent-free use such as a church that builds a house for its clergy (built by a builder or general contractor who does not own the land.)

Contract Price
– The contract price used in our statistics for contractor-built houses is the price on the original contract awarded to the general contractor. Generally, the contract price does not reflect subsequent changes in the price resulting from change orders or from any other factors affecting the price of the house. It does not include the cost of any contracts awarded to a different contractor for work on the grounds around the house, nor does it include any proposed expenditures on the house after the general contractor completes construction. Finally, because the house is being built for the owner's occupancy on the owner's own land, the contract price does not include the cost of the land.

Conventional Financing
– See "Financing, Types of."

Cooperative Housing
– Housing units where the occupants own stock in the project as a whole, but do not own residential units.

– See "Foundation."

– A floored area without a roof, not sitting directly on the ground, typically made of wood or wood products.

Design Type for Multifamily Housing

  • Townhouse – Side by side housing units that do not meet the definition of single-family houses.
  • Conventional Apartments – These structures have units above and below each other.
– One-room apartment units or studio apartment units which have no room designated specifically for sleeping. These count as one bedroom housing units for our statistics.

Fee Simple
– See "Built for Sale."

– See "Financing, Types of."

Fiber Cement
– A durable building product made from cellulose fiber, Portland cement, ground sand, and additives mixed with water and formed into siding panels.

Financing, Types of
– For houses sold, the type of financing is the type reported at the time the original sales agreement was signed or deposit accepted. Although changes in the type of financing do occur between the original contract signing and final settlement, these changes are not reflected in the data.
  • Conventional financing is a mortgage loan not guaranteed by any government agency, such as the Veteran's Administration (VA), the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), or the Rural Housing Service (RHS).
  • The FHA and VA type of financing data presented in these statistics tend to differ from those published directly by those agencies. For the actual number of FHA-insured and VA-guaranteed loans made for new houses at the time of final settlement, refer to the publications of the respective agencies. The data differ because of the difference in time periods between the signing of the original sales contract, the start of construction, and the insurance or guarantee of the mortgage, as well as the sampling variability.
  • Early in 1995, the Farmers Home Administration was reorganized. As part of this reorganization the RHS now handles the mortgage functions of the former Farmers Home Administration. Collection of RHS data has been discontinued and was last published in our 2007 statistics.

Fireplace (indoor)
– The data include fireplaces made of masonry, tile, metal, or other permanently installed materials that are a fixed and integral part of the building, including gas, wood, and solid fuel burning varieties.

Floor Area

  • Single-family – For these statistics, floor area is defined as all completely finished floor space, including space in basements and attics with finished walls, floors, and ceilings. This does not include a garage, carport, porch, unfinished attic or utility room, or any unfinished area of the basement.

    In concept, measurement is based on exterior dimensions. Measurements are taken to the outside of exterior walls for detached houses. Builders sometimes provide the gross square footage (based on exterior dimensions) of a detached structure. This footage usually does not contain unfinished space. However, in townhouses, the gross square footage often includes the whole lower level, even though that area might include a garage and unfinished rooms. For purposes of these statistics, where the floor area for a new house was reported based on interior dimensions, the figure is converted to exterior dimensions by multiplying by a standard conversion factor of 1.08. A standard conversion factor of 1.04 is used to convert figures to exterior dimensions where it was not known whether the reported area was based on exterior or interior dimensions.

  • Multifamily – Square footage for multifamily buildings is defined as all floor and associated living space. Floor space is defined as the floor area of all completely finished living space in the building, including the basement and attic, with finished walls, floors, and ceilings. This does not include a garage, carport, porch, unfinished attic or utility room, or any unfinished area of the basement.
  • Associated living space is defined as hallways, elevator space, lobbies, and any other indoor space used by the residents.
  • Square footage for mixed-use multifamily buildings is defined as the square footage of the residential portion of the structure only.

Floors, Number of (for Multifamily Buildings)
– The basement does not count as a floor unless it contains two or more housing units. For mixed-use buildings that contain nonresidential as well as residential space, the total number of floors is included.

– The foundation is the first piece of a home to be constructed and creates a base for the rest of the home's components. There are three types of foundations that are commonly used: slab, crawlspace, and basement.
  • Slab – Slab is a type of foundation consisting of a structural concrete slab poured directly on the grade.
  • Crawlspace – A crawlspace is an accessible space with limited headroom, typically between the soil and the bottom of the first floor of the home.
  • Basement – A basement is the lowest habitable story of a building, usually below ground level. Part of the basement can be at ground level (walk-out basements.) A basement is considered finished if part of all of the basement area has finished walls, floors, and ceilings for use as living space. A laundry room, bathroom, utility room, closet, or other small partially finished area does not constitute a finished basement.

– A foyer is a small entry area or room by the front door. Other rooms such as the living room, dining room and family room typically attach to it. The foyer is used to separate the heated rooms from the (colder, in winter) front entrance, where cold air infiltration makes for cold drafts and low temperatures. It is commonly used for outer garment and umbrella storage. A two-story or "open" foyer means that the entranceway inside the front door of the house and has a ceiling that is at the level of the second-floor ceiling.

– The studs used to frame exterior walls.

Heating Fuel
– Indicates the primary and secondary heating fuels used in the building.
  • Electricity
  • Gas – Natural gas and bottled or liquified petroleum gas (including propane).
  • Oil – Heating oil and kerosene.

Heat Pump
– See "Heating System."

Heating System
– Indicates the primary and secondary heating systems used in the building.
  • Warm-Air Furnace – A type of space-heating equipment in which a central combustor or resistance unit (generally using gas, fuel oil, or electricity) provides warm air that circulates through ducts leading to the various rooms. Heat pumps are not included in this category. A forced-air furnace is one in which a fan is used to force the air through the ducts.
  • Heat Pump – Refers to a heating/cooling system, which utilizes indoor and outdoor coils, a compressor, and refrigerant to pump hot air in during the winter and out during the summer. Only heat pumps that are centrally installed with ducts to the rooms are included in this category. This includes both air-source and geothermal (ground-source) versions.
  • Hot Water or Steam – Either of two types of a central space-heating system that supplies steam or hot water to radiators, convectors, or pipes. The more common type supplies either steam or hot water to conventional radiators, baseboard radiators, convectors, heating pipes embedded in the walls or ceilings, or heating coils or equipment that are part of a combined heating/ventilating or heating/air-conditioning system. The other type supplies radiant heat through pipes that carry hot water and are inlaid in a concrete slab floor.

Homeowners' Association
– See "Community Association."

Hot Water or Steam Heat
– See "Heating System."

Housing Completions
– See "Completed Housing."

Housing Unit
– A housing unit, as defined for purposes of these data, is a house, an apartment, a group of rooms, or a single room intended for occupancy as separate living quarters. Separate living quarters are those in which the occupants live separately from any other individuals in the building and which have a direct access from the outside of the building or through a common hall.

In accordance with this definition, each apartment unit in an apartment building is counted as one housing unit. Housing units, as distinguished from "HUD-code" manufactured (mobile) homes, include conventional "site-built" units, prefabricated, panelized, sectional, and modular units.

Housing unit statistics also exclude group quarters (such as dormitories and rooming houses), transient accommodations (such as transient hotels, motels, and tourist courts), moved or relocated buildings, and housing units created in an existing residential or nonresidential structure.

Units in assisted living facilities are considered to be housing units, however, units in nursing homes are not considered to be housing units.

Laundry Room
– The location of the clothes washer and dryer in the house, referred to as the utility room in some parts of the country.

Lot Size
– The square footage of the lot sold with a single-family housing unit. Data on lot size exclude condominium sales.
– The median is equal to the middle point value of all values reported for a characteristic. For example, the median sales price of new one-family houses sold is the middle point of all sales prices reported; that is, the point is chosen so that half the houses were sold with a sales price below the middle point and half with a sales price above this middle point. A full description of the methodology used for medians can be found at

Metropolitan Areas
– The titles and definitions for Metropolitan Areas (MAs), which are made up of Metropolitan Core-Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs), conform to those defined by the Office of Management and Budget, Executive Office of the President, as of February 2013. More information on Metropolitan Areas can be found at

Modular Construction
– See "Construction Method."

Multifamily Housing
– Residential buildings containing units built one on top of another and those built side-by-side which do not have a ground-to-roof wall and/or have common facilities (i.e., attic, basement, heating plant, plumbing, etc.)

New Houses Sold
– A house is considered sold when either a sales contract has been signed or a deposit accepted. Included in these estimates are houses for which a sales contract is signed or deposit accepted before construction has actually started; for instance, houses sold from a model or from plans before any work has started on the footings or foundations. Thus, the estimates include houses sold while under any stage of construction, even those sold before the building permit has been issued. The survey does not follow through to the completion ("closing") of the sales transaction, so even if the initial transaction is not finalized, the house is still considered sold.

– See "Single-Family House."

Owner-built Houses
– This category includes houses built for owner occupancy, on the owner's land, under the supervision of the owner acting as the general contractor. These homes are: (1) in most cases built partly by the owner and partly with paid help; (2) sometimes built entirely with the employment of subcontractors; and (3) occasionally built entirely by the owner.
This also includes houses built by the builder for the builder’s own use.

Panelized Construction
– See "Construction Method."

– A floored area, with or without a roof, sitting directly on the ground. This does not include small concrete pads at entryways.

– A floored area with a roof, enclosed or open, not sitting directly on the ground. This does not include small covered entryways.

Precut Construction
– See "Construction Method."

– Structures not owned by any federal, state, or local government. Units in structures built by private developers with partial public subsidies or which are for sale upon completion to local public housing authorities under the HUD "Turnkey" program are all classified as private housing.

– The standard Census geographic regions are used in these statistics. States contained in each region are as follows:

Northeast Midwest South West
Connecticut Illinois Alabama Alaska
Maine Indiana Arkansas Arizona
Massachusetts Iowa Delaware California
New Hampshire Kansas District of Columbia Colorado
New Jersey Michigan Florida Hawaii
New York Minnesota Georgia Idaho
Pennsylvania Missouri Kentucky Montana
Rhode Island Nebraska Louisiana Nevada
Vermont North Dakota Maryland New Mexico
  Ohio Mississippi Oregon
  South Dakota North Carolina Utah
  Wisconsin Oklahoma Washington
    South Carolina Wyoming
    West Virginia  

A map of the regions can be found at:

Relative Standard Error (RSE)
–: The estimated standard error expressed as a percent of the estimated total or proportion, that is, the estimated standard error times 100 divided by the estimate. This is also called coefficient of variation (CV).

Residential Building
– A residential building is a building consisting primarily of housing units. In a new building combining residential and nonresidential floor areas, every effort is made to include the residential units in these statistics, even if the primary function of the entire building is for nonresidential purposes.

Rural Housing Service
– See "Financing, Types of."

Sales Price
– The sales price is the price agreed upon between purchaser and seller (and reported by the latter) at the time the first sales contract is signed or deposit made. It includes the price of the improved lot. Generally, the sales price does not reflect subsequent price changes resulting from change orders or from any other factors affecting the price of the house. Furthermore, the sales price does not include the cost of any extras or options paid for in cash by the purchaser or otherwise not included in the original sales price reported.

– Type of sewage disposal used. Public sewers include community or shared sewage/septic systems.

Single-Family House
– The single-family statistics include fully detached, semidetached (semiattached, side-by-side), row houses, and townhouses. In the case of attached units, each must be separated from the adjacent unit by a ground-to-roof wall in order to be classified as a single-family structure. Also, these units must not share heating/air-conditioning systems or utilities, such as water supply, power supply, or sewage disposal lines.

Units built one on top of another and those built side-by-side that do not have a ground-to-roof wall and/or have common facilities (i.e., attic, basement, heating plant, plumbing, etc.) are not included in the single-family statistics.

Site-built Construction
– See "Construction Method."

– See "Foundation."

Speculatively-built Houses
– See "Built for Sale."

Square Feet of Floor Area
– See "Floor Area."

Standard Error
– Measure of the variation among the estimates from all possible samples; measure of the precision with which an estimate from a particular sample approximates the average results of all possible samples; square root of the sampling variance.

– Start of construction occurs when excavation begins for the footings or foundation of a building. All housing units in a multifamily building are defined as being started when this excavation begins. Beginning with data for September 1992, estimates of housing starts include units in structures being totally rebuilt on an existing foundation.

Steam Heat
– See "Heating System."

Story (Single-Family Houses)
– That portion of a building between the floor and the ceiling or roof, or the next floor above in the case of a multistory house. A basement is not counted as a story even if it is finished as a den or recreation room. Houses referred to as "bi-levels" or "split foyers" are classified as two-story houses.
  • Half Story – A story finished as living accommodations located wholly or partly within the roof frame is considered a half story. It is tabulated in these statistics as a whole story; for example, one and one-half stories are counted as two.
  • Split Level – Identifies a structure having floors on more than one level when the difference in some floor levels is less than one story. This definition is interpreted on the basis of local custom and may vary from area to area.
– A durable finish applied wet that usually consists of cement, sand, and lime.
VA Financing
– See "Financing, Types of."
Warm-Air Furnace
– See "Heating System."

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Characteristics of New Housing | (301) 763-5160 | |  Last Revised: June 01, 2015