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 affordability. 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.

Tuesday, November 10

backyard cottage workshop this thursday full

next workshop tentatively scheduled for January 31st

Thinking about building a backyard cottage and not already on the list for Thursday's workshop? Not to worry, if you send us your address and tell us a bit about what you are planning to do, we will preform a preliminary analysis of  your property and answer your questions.

We are also tentatively scheduled to do a presentation on backyard cottages at the Phinney Home Design and Remodel Fair, January 31st.  

Wednesday, October 28

backyard cottage workshop, November 12th

Our workshops and open houses, are a great opportunity to more about and meet others thinking about building and living in small houses. 

backyard cottages for fun and profit   ThursdayNovember 12th,  from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, West Seattle Office Junction 6040, Sutie B, California Ave SW, 98136

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. 

so what is your backyard cottage worth?

Choosing to add 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 a cottage? While it may be hard to put a value to 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.  Having established a realistic budget based on your needs and values will guide the many decisions that make up design process.

Read read more

Real estate appraisers struggle with how to value backyard cottages and other ADU's primarily because there simply enough comparable sales to serve as a guide. This informative article by Martin John Brown and Taylor Watkins explains how traditional appraisals are done and some alternate methods that might be used for ADU's.

appraising properties with accessory dwelling units

Saturday, October 3

madison valley backyard cottage preview

Downsizing with style,  this backyard cottage is a soon to be home for a seattle couple. 

Saturday, September 12

capitol hill cottage

a backyard cottage offers a quiet garden retreat in a busy urban neighborhood

Jennifer conceived of this cottage as place to stay when visiting her adult daughter and as future home.  She wanted a separate bedroom, full sized kitchen and an bathroom that could accommodate changing needs.  As it often is, one of our primary challenges was accommodating her needs in the available footprint of 400 sq. ft. The result is a sun filled cottage nestled within her daughter's garden.

Wednesday, September 9

microhouse recommended by houzz

Check out what people are saying about working with microhouse. We use as an independent host for client reviews

Saturday, August 22

4,000 backyard cottages for seattle

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.