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Originally published January 24, 2014 at 8:03 PM | Page modified February 1, 2014 at 10:16 AM

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Addition by subtraction: Many buyers go small

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.

Special to NWhomes

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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.

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.


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