seattle backyard cottage blog

Backyard cottages (DADUs) provide opportunities for families, while increasing housing stock density and diversity. Continue reading for more information about Seattle's backyard cottage ordinance or contact us to find out if your lot is eligible for a backyard cottage..

Monday, December 30

Settle DADUs - Top Trends in 2020

2019 brought sweeping new code changes to Seattle's Backyard Cottage/DADUs. Here's what we are expecting to see more of in 2020.

1. Family Sized 

Seattle’s newly adopted land-use code now allows cottages to be taller and larger – up to 1,000 sq. ft. in size. With this extra space many new cottages are being designed and built with 2 or even 3 bedrooms. Up until now, most cottages were designed for aging parents or as rentals to accommodate an individual or couple. These new larger cottages are often being designed for families with children — such as a 900 sq. ft. cottage we are designing in Ballard for a family of five and a 1,000 sq. ft. cottage for a family of four. In both cases the owners will move into the new cottages with their families and rent out the existing primary residence.

2. Extra Units

The new code now allows a DADU and an ADU.  (previously only
one or the other was allowed). Many people who have existing ADUs are exploring the option of adding DADU to their properties.  There are limitations with the new rules to keep in mind. Adding a 2nd ADU to an existing single family residence will likely trigger extensive building code driven upgrades, including adding sprinklers to the entire structure.  If the new second unit is a DADU the DADU will need to meet green building standards or made affordable to and reserved solely for "income-eligible" households for a period of 50 years.

3. Maximizing the value of your property

With housing prices and rents in Seattle still at all-time highs, many people including building developers are seeking to unleash the potential of their back yards.  For example, one developer is planning to add DADUs to their entire portfolio of existing rental properties. This is possible now that owner occupancy is no longer required. 

Builders of new residences are also adding DADUs and AADUs.  We are currently working on one project where the existing residence is being remodeled and an ADU added. The existing lot is then being divided and a new residence, with an AADU and DADU, is being built on the newly created lot.  This development is taking advantage of an over sized lot to create density in a desirable neighborhood while preserving and updating the existing historic home.

4. Going Condo

The use of condominium agreements to sell the primary residence and the DADU separately is probably the biggest trend of 2019 and will only continue.  While creating a DADU adds value to a property as a whole,  an even higher value can be obtained by selling the primary residence and the DADU separately.

5. Building Value

Building a DADU is a significant long term investment. Designing to achieve the maximum potential for the individual lot in light of zoning restrictions and the unique goals of their owners is and will continue to be the best way to achieve the highest value for this investment. Assisting to prioritize goals and achieve potential is in light of code restrictions and construction cost trade-offs is a challenge we enjoy and that we look forward to continuing in 2020. 

Saturday, November 2

what is a DADU worth? - more than you might think

This backyard cottage recently sold for $529,000 in Broadview

Choosing to build a backyard cottage is an important long term decision. A good first question to ask when making that decision is how will I establish a budget for the cottage?  While it may be hard to put a value on how a well designed home makes you feel or the value of having a family member living nearby, some qualities are easier to asses.  If that family member is an aging parent who would otherwise be living in an assisted living facility, it is relatively easy to look at the costs of local facilities.  For others building a new cottage may be less expensive than remodeling their existing house to more closely meet their needs. For example, new cottages can incorporate universal design components to assist those with mobility impairments.  

Many people plan to use their cottages to generate rental income.  In this case, a careful consideration of the rents in your area and anticipated costs can help you establish a budget range.  And increasingly people are using condominium agreements to sell DADUs separately from the primary residence. These are five recent condominium sales of DADUs in Seattle.

In the past real estate appraisers have struggled with how to value backyard cottages and other ADU's primarily because there were simply not enough comparable sales to serve as a guide. With the sales of DADUs as condominiums and the sale of houses with DADUs becoming more common, that task is getting easier.

Friday, November 1

DADU open house today Friday 11/1 from 4-6 pm

Join us for a unique opportunity to tour one of our most popular backyard cottages.

Austin and Patti created this wonderful house together, stripped down to the essence of what they value most. Their new dream house just happens to be located in the back yard of Austin's long time residence. This cottage lives large, providing an open floor plan with a second floor master suite and office plus a gracious kitchen for Austin, a former restaurateur. A rooftop deck looks out over the treetops giving a sense of connection to the outdoors where they are often to be found biking, skiing, or kayaking. 

more photos

Tuesday, October 29

new permit timelines and pre-approved plans

SDCI DADU permit times

Thank you to everyone who joined us at the Seattle Adu Fair last Saturday. It was great to meet so many of you in person.

We've fielded a lot of questions about Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI)'s permitting times and how pre-approved plans for DADUs may affect them.  To answer these questions, we have been crunching the numbers. The good news - there's been significant improvement since DADUs were given a high priority this fall, reducing the amount of review and processing time to get a construction permit by 50% from this time last year.

What about pre-approved plans?

The Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD)'s Pre-Approved Plans for Accessory Dwelling Units fact sheet states that pre-approved plans can receive a building permit in 2-6 weeks (pre-approved or standard plans have already been reviewed for ordinance, structural (O/S) and energy). The city's hope is that by having these reviews completed beforehand, permit review times will go down - which seems logical but unfortunately doesn't align with our experience which indicates the O/S and Energy reviews are not driving overall permit approval times.

To analyze this, we reviewed permit histories from similar DADUs both recently permitted (indicated in gray) and those from this time last year (indicated in yellow) to see what was driving permit timelines.  In the nine projects we examined, the O/S and Energy reviews only increased permitting time twice. And in those instances the delay was minor averaging only 3 days.

Removing the delays caused by O/S and energy reviews, the average review and processing time for a DADU permit is 46 days (excluding from submittal to intake). The review and and processing time i
ncluding O/S and energy reviews is 49 days. Unfortunately, means that pre-approved plans do not significantly affect the time-frame. A realistic time-frame for pre approved plans being 7-10 weeks, significantly longer than the 2-6 weeks stated by OPCD.

There is good work being done to tighten permit timelines

The OPCD's Pre-Approved Plans for Accessory Dwelling Units fact sheet states that the typical DADU permit takes 4-8 months.  This includes the 4 months required to secure a permit intake date.  To improve this, SDCI recently announced the intake express which promises all intakes will take place within 2-3 weeks. Using the intake express time-frame, and the data on permit processing time shows us that there is no significant difference in review and processing time for pre-approved or custom designs.  A realistic time-frame for review and processing of custom designs being 7-10 weeks - significantly less than the stated 4-8 months.

Thursday, October 17

king county reduces the sewer capacity charge for DADUs

King County levies a sewer capacity charge for all new sanitary sewer connections. This fee is paid monthly for 15 years or as a lump sum.

Until recently, backyard cottages (DADUs) were charged a sewer capacity charge equivalent to that of a new full sized residence. In efforts to in make fees more equitable, King County has reduced the fee to 60% of that of a new residence.  Where previously the sewer capacity charge for a DADU was $64.50 per month. The new rate is $38.70.  Representing a savings of approximately $4,644 for a new DADU. Attached accessory dwelling units (ADUs) also pay the sewer capacity charge if they make a new sanitary sewer connection.

King County Sewer Capacity Charge FAQ

Monday, October 14

A Backyard Cottage Thoughtfully Designed - Owner Built

Emily and her husband Jeff live in a 1920s Craftsman with their two small children in Seattle’s Broadview neighborhood. At 7,200 square feet, their generous lot was an inviting space for a backyard cottage. With 2 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, its own yard, and alley access, the cottage will be a prime rental property.

Since this interview was conducted, construction has been completed. Emily and Jeff have sold the cottage while retaining and renting the main house. They will use the proceeds from the sale for their next project, a new house in Magnolia. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What got you and Jeff thinking about having a backyard cottage?
Emily: We wanted to have some type of rental property. We’d owned a condo rental property before, and we wanted to step it up to a new build project. After looking around at the possibilities, our own backyard on our huge lot (72,000 square feet) made the most sense. And proximity for us was a big factor. Doing a new build with two young kids, being eight steps away from the project was key.
What hesitations did you have about diving into this project?
Emily: We've never done a new build project before this. So our big hesitation was, we don’t know what we're signing ourselves up for. But for us the intrigue was that our home lot was meant for this. It's got alley access. It's humongous. There aren’t many properties like [the cottage] for rent in the neighborhood. So we said, let's go for it, and then we can evaluate it once we've been through the process. 

How did you get connected with microhouse?
Emily: We went to a microhouse workshop at the Phinney Neighborhood Association, which was a little taste test for us to hear about backyard cottages and feasibility. Then we looked at some of the houses Bruce designed and we totally agreed with his designs and his efficient layouts. Working with an architect, you want their vision to come to life, too, and his design and aesthetic really hit the mark for us.

You’re in the last stages of building. So far what's been surprising to you?
Emily: I'm surprised how much the cottage naturally fits into the space. Maintaining the character of the neighborhood is important for us, so we wanted to make sure we could have something modern in the backyard that tied in with the existing house. Another surprise was at first when we thought about "giving away" some of our land for this cottage it felt like we’d be making sacrifices. But we still have a full front yard area enough for our dog to play in and our kids to run around in. And now we'll give someone else the opportunity to have a home with their own serene backyard with their own access, since it's on an alley.

You and Jeff are managing the project and Jeff is a contractor doing some of the work himself. How has microhouse supported your vision for the project?
Emily: The fact that Bruce was dedicated just to designing cottages was big for us. We wanted to have two bedrooms, and since the maximum allowable square footage for a backyard cottage is 800, and we wanted help with that. We wanted the bedrooms to feel like real size bedrooms. Just looking through Bruce’s designs and layouts we could tell that he's very efficient and very mindful about using every inch of that 800 square feet. Having it be a two bedroom changes the game in terms of tenants that could rent the space. This can now be a family dwelling unit, or for individuals sharing the cost of the rent.
What has been the most fun part of the process?
Emily: When the framing began and it started to come to life--after we spent a lot of time with the design--that's when it started to feel real. And now every stage after the framing is even more fun because you see all these small details that you thought about: how people are going to use the space, how they're going to walk around the kitchen, how they're going to use the bedrooms. You start seeing it all fall into place. That’s been really exciting. It's a lot of work in the beginning with getting everything lined up, but once the framing starts going up then you really see the progress.
What have been some challenges along the way?
Emily: Getting everybody choreographed was a challenge. There’s a timeline for construction and then everything can fall apart as one thing collapses on the other. Or it snows for an entire week and it changes your timeline. My husband works full time, I’m back in school getting my Masters, and we have two kids under the age of four. We’d look at designs after we put the kids to bed or Jeff would go out at night and get the electrical ready for workers coming the following week. It's finding those little pockets of time that's the most challenging. But we find our own messy way of making it work. Including a lot of calls to grandparents for extra hands! How long has the project taken?
Emily: If we finish in May, as planned, it will be thirteen months total. Four for design, two for permitting, seven for construction.
What are your favorite things about the cottage?
Emily: The windows. When you plan a cottage where you’ve lived on the lot for nearly nine years, you know where the light hits. You know how the trees bloom. You know that you can see the mountains and the water over the house in front of you. And literally you can say, I would like a window to frame that view that I know is there. So, when you know the south facing light is going to pour in you say, Let's put a French door on that side. And the windows all look out at a beautiful magnolia tree.
We also love that the renters will get their own yard space. If you live in the Pacific Northwest you want to put your feet in the grass. I think that’s what makes this particular rental unique. There’s so much possibility wrapped up in it, too. I love the thought of somebody living here who maybe couldn't afford to live in the neighborhood otherwise. I think housing should have a purpose and a heart to it. What advice would you give someone thinking about building a backyard cottage?
Emily: For us it was just a matter of going to a workshop with Bruce, then going on a tour of some of his backyard cottages. It is amazing when you start to just do those small steps to learn about the process and see if it's for you--see if the timing's right, or what model might fit with your particular property. That can really get the process moving and then you start walking the alleys in your neighborhood and you start meeting other people with backyard cottages. There is a community of people that are building these. And everybody has their own unique reason why and they're very intimately tied to that reason. It’s one of the things I think is so neat about backyard cottages as a housing option.

Thursday, September 12

new DADU rules explained - workshop tonight

Curious if you can build a DADU in your back yard? The rules for backyard cottages have been radically changed. Join Bruce Parker from Microhouse and Stefan Hansmire from Hansmire Builders to learn what is possible under the new code and how to establish a realistic budget for your cottage

dadu workshop at Phinney Center

Thursday September 12, 7:00 pm.
West Seattle Coworking, LLC
6040/A California Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98136
Space is limited - please consider joining us on November 21st at the PNA.
Thursday November 21st,  7:00 pm.  
Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Association
6532 Phinney Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103