Small is the new green
Increasing environmental awareness along with economic and demographic trends favor smaller house sizes. Many cities are doing their part by updating zoning codes to allow cottage housing and small backyard cottages (detached ADU's) on residentially zoned lots. Seattle and Portland are two cities which allow backyard cottages up to 800 sq. ft. in size. These small houses provide opportunities for families, while increasing housing stock density and diversity. Continue reading for more information about small house design and Seattle's backyard cottage ordinance or contact us to find out if your lot is eligible for a backyard cottage.
Saturday, December 19
Over the holidays when families gather is a good time to start the discussion about planning a backyard cottage. If you are thinking about building a backyard cottage, and would like us to preform a preliminary analysis of your property, please send us an email and tell us your address and what you plan to use the cottage for. We will get back to you after the holidays. Also, we have an invite only open house tentatively scheduled for January 3rd. The exact date is dependent on the construction schedule. If you would to be added to the invite list or to contact us during the holiday break email us at . email@example.com
Friday, December 4
encouraging backyard cottages
Join us December 9th for Mike O'Brien's lunch and learn session about backyard cottages.
Tuesday, November 10
Open house tentatively scheduled for January 16th
If you would like to learn more about backyard cottages and tour a recently completed cottage sign up for our open house invite list.
Wednesday, October 28
appraising properties with accessory dwelling units
Saturday, October 3
Saturday, September 12
a backyard cottage offers a quiet garden retreat in a busy urban neighborhood
Wednesday, September 9
Saturday, August 22
City Council Member Mike Obrien calls for the addition of 4,000 backyard cottages
Mayor Murray's Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee (HALA) report and the subsequent action plan have deservedly drawn harsh critiques. The one item that everyone seems to agree on is that the cost of living in Seattle is high (See previous post on this impacts backyard cottages). One of the least controversial solutions to providing more affordable housing options seems to be adding backyard cottages. To this end, council member, and head of Planning Land Use and Sustainability Committee, Mike O'Brien, wants to add 4,000 backyard cottages to Seattle. This means more cottages like Jennifer's cottage on capitol hill.
Jennifer's cottage like many, will provide a home for a family member in the long term and in the short term will be used as a rental property. It and other backyard cottages, can provide what many housing advocates are seeking, an increase number of housing units within the city. As of a year ago, there have been around 100 backyard cottage built in Seattle since the program was expanded at the end of 2009. Even though interest in backyard cottages is increasing, it seems unlikely that anywhere near the number of cottages envisioned by Mike O'Brien will be built. Why? Based on ongoing study being prepared by the City of Seattle, when those who had built cottages were asked to list the "significant barriers to building a backyard cottage" the number one reason was given was development regulations (71%) followed by the basic cost of construction (64%).
The Seattle City Council is currently considering ways to ease regulations to increase the number of backyard cottages. Of these, the one proposal that would be most likely to have an impact, and one that we are opposed to, would be to eliminate the owner occupancy requirement for accessory dwelling units. Currently, to add an accessory dwelling unit you must live in either the primary residence or the accessory unit for a minimum of six months out of the year. This requirement is almost universal among municipalities that allow accessory dwelling units. Why? It is widely believed that having the owner living in the unit will minimize the impact of having what could otherwise be considered multi-family housing within single family zones. More importantly, it also restricts the types of investors that can buy and hold these properties. Currently purchasing a single family residences as rental property is cost prohibitive which favors owner occupants. However, if developers are allowed to build two units on a single family zoned lot it becomes a much more attractive investment package for a absentee landlord. This would further escalate the prices for single family zoned land and houses.
Owner occupants act differently than developers in a number of important ways. To a home owner building a back yard cottage is a major long term investment. The majority of homeowners finance their cottages with cash or by taking equity out of their primary residence. This makes them cautious by necessity. Also, the primary impact of their development is going to be on their lot and in their neighborhood. When we begin a project a typical client wish list contains the desire to minimize the impact to their neighbors. We have and continue to work with residential developers. Not once has one of them expressed the least concern over how the neighbors might be impacted by their development.
Tuesday, August 18
Friday, August 14
Sunday, August 9
A tight housing market is leading to an increase in backyard cottage construction
While the mayor and city council debate ways to lower housing costs homeowners building backyard cottages are benefiting from the tight housing market. Higher property values make financing easier to obtain. For the owners of rental properties, rising short term and long term rental rates offset increasing construction costs. The real estate axiom, location, location, location, does apply to backyard cottages. Those in close in neighborhoods command the highest rent while construction costs are more or less consistent across the city.
A recently completed project by microhouse, this two bedroom backyard cottage features sweeping views of portage bay and is conveniently located near the university of washington and south lake union. This backyard cottage will rent for $2,500 per month.
Wednesday, June 17
A Salt Lake City delegation comes to Seattle seeking ways to increase the number of backyard cottages in their city.
We met with a group of SLC planners at a recently completed cottage and talked about the ins and outs of the Seattle backyard cottage ordinance. Also in attendance was a Seattle researcher who has been patiently interviewing those who have built backyard cottages and ADUs. The question on the planners minds was how can they increase the number of backyard cottages and what are the hurdles that prevent more people from doing so? While SLC has allowed backyard cottages for two years not one has been built, why?
It would seem that the two primary factors affecting the decision to build a backyard cottage are financial and regulatory. Seattle's hot real estate market makes backyard cottages attractive rental properties and increasing numbers are being built. For example, the two bedroom cottage we were touring will rent between $2,000 and $2,500 per month, proving to be a good investment even with correspondingly high construction costs. The strong real estate market has also made financing easier with many people choosing to finance construction using a home equity line of credit. In cities like Vancouver, B.C., the economics are tilted even more in favor of backyard cottages and roughly ten times as many have been built.
Regulations intentionally create a barriers to construction, one that city planners have control over. The Seattle City Council is considering ways to ease regulations to increase the number of backyard cottages. Of these, the one proposal that would be most likely to have an impact, and one that we are opposed to, would be to eliminate the owner occupancy requirement. For the record, SLC won't be eliminating their owner occupancy requirement any time soon. However, from our experience, the restrictions imposed by regulations definitely shape what can be built, but they rarely make building a cottage infeasible.
We talk with hundreds of people each year who are considering building a backyard cottage. In the past, the most common reason given has been providing a home for a family member. While this is still one of the main reasons people chose to build a backyard cottage, more often now people are planning to use the cottage as a long term or short term rental.
How about you? Are you thinking about building a backyard cottage, why or why not? Planners from Salt Lake City want to know.
Thursday, April 9
Backyard cottages can be used for many things including housing a family member or as a short term rental. Join Microhouse and Ncompass Cottage Company to learn more about backyard cottage design, construction, and use. Bring your ideas, after the presentation we will have plenty of time to answer questions about the specifics of your project.
Tuesday, March 31
Wednesday, February 25
It has been a busy week for microhouse in the press with the lake washington cabin featured in Seattle Magizine and a send up on Portlandia. Portlandia fame aside, we don't actually design houses on wheels. Our houses rest on foundations and are usually between 400 and 1,000 sq. ft. in size. In fact we frequently work with people who are up-sizing from a boat or small apartment, people who are looking for a comfortable place to live that is efficiently designed.
If you would like to tour a backyard cottage please sign up for our open house invite list. Our next open house will likely be mid May.
We also have announced a date for our spring workshop April 15th at the Phinney Center workshop info.
Sunday, February 8