When Shelby Port and her fiancé, James Stoner, began shopping for a home together last year, their priorities were to find new construction near the light-rail line through Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood.
“We weren’t looking for a big house,” says Port, 29, noting that she’d spent most of her 20s abroad in developing nations and that her fiancé had spent several years in a 430-square-foot New York apartment. “Our priority really was living near light rail.”
In September, they closed on a 1,700-square-foot home at Rainier Vista, a multi-builder mixed-use development in Columbia City.
Their home has three bedrooms — enough space if and when they have children — and 2.5 bathrooms. While their home isn’t tiny, it is nonetheless smaller than the median American home size, which in 2012 was 2,300 square feet, according to U.S. Census data.
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When it comes to housing, “small” is a relative term that can mean a 500-square-foot “micro-house” or a compact bungalow in the mid-1,000-square-foot range.
Small homes, popularized by Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big House” books and the rise of prefab architecture, have become an object of desire — even if they’re hard to find.
Yet young adults — not just downsizing middle-agers and seniors — are coming for them, whether they’re trading in space for a better commute, economic reasons or an ethos about living small in order to leave a reduced carbon footprint.
Finding a compact, convenient home can require trade-offs. Port’s home has what she calls a “tiny” yard, no garage (the couple have a reserved spot within Rainier Vista), and minimal closet and storage space.
Yet the community includes parks and a playground, and their home, designed by builder Dwell, includes energy-efficient features such as triple-pane windows, a tankless water heater and up-to-date appliances that help curb energy waste — and bills. It also features a private rooftop deck with views of the city.
“For us, this is plenty of space,” Port says. “You can’t accumulate a lot of possessions in a home like this, but that’s fine with us.”
Other builders of new construction are offering smaller-package homes to appeal to buyers like Port and Stoner.
Grow Community, a mixed-use development on Bainbridge Island located near the ferry terminal, has sold out its first 3-acre development — which included multiple homes measuring less than 1,600 square feet — and is building more homes that will become available in 2015.
In the suburbs, builders including Pacific Ridge and Lennar are offering smaller-footprint homes under 1,600 square feet at developments in Lynnwood.
Then there are the tiny homes available in Seattle and elsewhere.
Tamara Power-Drutis, 27, bought a 480-square-foot home in South Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood in October. She says she wasn’t necessarily in the market for a “small” house, but she was on a small budget. She bought her 1947 cottage, which sits on a three-quarter-acre double lot, for $130,000.
The house is a bit smaller than her former Capitol Hill apartment, but what it lacks in closet space it makes up for with open space — she has a parking spot, and room to add a garden shed or barn as well as an urban farmstead.
Down the line, she may add a second home to the lot for her parents to retire to or to generate rental income.
“In a lot of ways, I feel I’ve gained space,” Power-Drutis says.