The Townhome Invasion!

The Stranger had an article recently on the latest housing trend, Townhome Invasion:

Townhomes are popping up all over Seattle as development booms, and some developers are using a process called “piecemealing” to expedite new construction. In piecemealing, a developer can purchase several small adjacent lots, file separate permits for each lot, and skirt the pesky public-comment period and environmental reviews that accompany major construction projects.

I get a lot of email at work from Redfin customers who want to be able to filter out townhomes from their searches. Unfortunately the MLS does not have a category for townhomes like it does for condos and so townhomes go in either category as the listing agent sees fit.

The best email exchange I saw about townhomes was initiated by the editor of Seattle Sweet Digs for email me and cc’d our CEO:

Blog readers hate townhomes too! Matt I’ll bake you cookies if you make it so we can filter out Style==townhome!

http://seattle.redfin.com/blog/2007/06/sweet_digs_townhouse_schmownho.html

Phinsmum said:
I hate townhomes and I wish I could exclude them from Redfin searches. I hate how hastily they go up and how unimaginative the architecture is. They’re like roaches.

To which our CEO replied,

I just bought a townhome.

Personally I feel that much of the townhomes are lacking in the architecture department. I know I certainly wish I could have found a nice modern boutique townhome development on Capitol Hill (The 1100 E Howell project is close.)

And of course some readers feel that townhomes are just a ticking timebomb.

About Matt

Matt , Urbnlivn's publisher, has a love for lofts, floating homes and mid-century moderns.

For years Matt resisted becoming a real estate agent preferring to be an executive in the startup world but he recently caved in the spring of 2014 and became an agent.

You can also find Matt on Twitter or skiing.

  • mhays

    I love the townhouse trend. (I’ll never say “townhome”, as that’s a fake word invented by the RE industry to sneak the word “home” in.)

    The architecture is usually fine, or even pretty good. Not inventive usually, just making use of styles we already know and like…if done right. Of course the quality varies.

    The biggest problem is driveways. Apparently it’s hugely cheaper to build units with a garage in each (i.e. houses) rather than a single garage with greenery and houses on top (considered multifamily?). The former means the whole site is taken up by driveways, which are also dangerous for kids to play in. The latter apparently has big repercussions in terms of permitting and I think insurance.

    Townhouses will keep Seattle’s house prices from going stratospheric. Without them, supply would fall behind vs. demand, and we’d get San Francisco type massive price runups (their prices are double ours). They’re also cheaper to build than regular houses, because they use less land and through economies of scale.

  • mhays

    I love the townhouse trend. (I’ll never say “townhome”, as that’s a fake word invented by the RE industry to sneak the word “home” in.)

    The architecture is usually fine, or even pretty good. Not inventive usually, just making use of styles we already know and like…if done right. Of course the quality varies.

    The biggest problem is driveways. Apparently it’s hugely cheaper to build units with a garage in each (i.e. houses) rather than a single garage with greenery and houses on top (considered multifamily?). The former means the whole site is taken up by driveways, which are also dangerous for kids to play in. The latter apparently has big repercussions in terms of permitting and I think insurance.

    Townhouses will keep Seattle’s house prices from going stratospheric. Without them, supply would fall behind vs. demand, and we’d get San Francisco type massive price runups (their prices are double ours). They’re also cheaper to build than regular houses, because they use less land and through economies of scale.

  • brian

    zero lot-line ths can’t have a shared garage, then it’s a condo bldg. kids have to play in the driveway because by building ths, the green space is minimized and the bldgs are maximized. they are most definitely NOT cheaper to build than sfh. lots of sfh don’t have a garage, for example. most sfh don’t take up 85% of their lot for bldg and pavement. but you know what they do well? make loads of money for gcs and developers. and i guess allow people to buy that can’t afford a sfh. i disagree about housing price runups if we didn’t have ths, but that’s another conversation.

  • brian

    zero lot-line ths can’t have a shared garage, then it’s a condo bldg. kids have to play in the driveway because by building ths, the green space is minimized and the bldgs are maximized. they are most definitely NOT cheaper to build than sfh. lots of sfh don’t have a garage, for example. most sfh don’t take up 85% of their lot for bldg and pavement. but you know what they do well? make loads of money for gcs and developers. and i guess allow people to buy that can’t afford a sfh. i disagree about housing price runups if we didn’t have ths, but that’s another conversation.

  • confusa

    These things are atrocities! They are ruining Seattle and turning us into anytown USA. There is absolutely nothing “craftsman” about the designs though they are all marketed as such. Looks like every developer is using the exact same plans…so sad.

  • confusa

    These things are atrocities! They are ruining Seattle and turning us into anytown USA. There is absolutely nothing “craftsman” about the designs though they are all marketed as such. Looks like every developer is using the exact same plans…so sad.

  • http://www.designlines.wordpress.com kh

    the faux craftsman style is not appealing to me at all. i’ve worked with a few developers in the past who were doing the cookie-cutter approach. while they did maximize profits in terms of stream-lining materials and reducing construction errors (if they can say to do it like the last building instead of having to follow the new plans/details) it is EXTREMELY boring to both the design team and potential buyers…

    i think the dwelling company is doing a great job of thinking about the architecture of their urban townhomes. http://www.dwellingcompany.com

    a few other good ones i’ve seen lately are nomo12 in west seattle http://www.nomo12.com, and modern on 64th in ballard http://www.modernon64th.com.

    for people who don’t want to deal with a yard they seem to be a good alternative to single family homes. i’m all for a new movement to increase the level of standards during the design review process :)

  • http://www.designlines.wordpress.com kh

    the faux craftsman style is not appealing to me at all. i’ve worked with a few developers in the past who were doing the cookie-cutter approach. while they did maximize profits in terms of stream-lining materials and reducing construction errors (if they can say to do it like the last building instead of having to follow the new plans/details) it is EXTREMELY boring to both the design team and potential buyers…

    i think the dwelling company is doing a great job of thinking about the architecture of their urban townhomes. http://www.dwellingcompany.com

    a few other good ones i’ve seen lately are nomo12 in west seattle http://www.nomo12.com, and modern on 64th in ballard http://www.modernon64th.com.

    for people who don’t want to deal with a yard they seem to be a good alternative to single family homes. i’m all for a new movement to increase the level of standards during the design review process :)

  • mhays

    The nomo12 link doesn’t seem to work. Modernon64th is freaking hideous! It’s the sort of thing many architects would love but few others would. Even a mid-quality “fake craftsman” looks better. I do like the project in NW Downtown Bellevue and some other projects that mix traditional elements with modern ones.

    Brian, you say townhouses don’t cost less to build, but they sell for less than SFRs. Sounds inconsistent. A townhouse is just a SFR that’s typically more stacked and has parking inside the unit. The living space is generally more per square foot due to the stacking and code issues compared to a basic house. But the economies of scale and (sometimes) smaller square footages keep the prices from reaching SFR level on average.

  • mhays

    The nomo12 link doesn’t seem to work. Modernon64th is freaking hideous! It’s the sort of thing many architects would love but few others would. Even a mid-quality “fake craftsman” looks better. I do like the project in NW Downtown Bellevue and some other projects that mix traditional elements with modern ones.

    Brian, you say townhouses don’t cost less to build, but they sell for less than SFRs. Sounds inconsistent. A townhouse is just a SFR that’s typically more stacked and has parking inside the unit. The living space is generally more per square foot due to the stacking and code issues compared to a basic house. But the economies of scale and (sometimes) smaller square footages keep the prices from reaching SFR level on average.

  • http://www.designlines.wordpress.com kh

    (minus the comma) http://www.nomo12.com

    “Modernon64th is freaking hideous! Its the sort of thing many architects would love but few others would.”

    haha – i disagree, but i’m an interior designer. :) i would hope that more people have appreciation for a building that incorporated design elements and style rather than what joe builder did down the street. of course style/taste is a personal thing – i like modern design, others likes craftsman, colonial, ranch style, victorian… you get my point. that what makes walking through our neighborhoods interesting. nobody likes cookie cutter anything lined up right next to each other.

  • http://www.designlines.wordpress.com kh

    (minus the comma) http://www.nomo12.com

    “Modernon64th is freaking hideous! It’s the sort of thing many architects would love but few others would.”

    haha – i disagree, but i’m an interior designer. :) i would hope that more people have appreciation for a building that incorporated design elements and style rather than what joe builder did down the street. of course style/taste is a personal thing – i like modern design, others likes craftsman, colonial, ranch style, victorian… you get my point. that what makes walking through our neighborhoods interesting. nobody likes cookie cutter anything lined up right next to each other.

  • mhays

    Even cookie cutter can be nice if done right. Walk down a London side street full of old houses!

  • mhays

    Even cookie cutter can be nice if done right. Walk down a London side street full of old houses!

  • http://www.designlines.wordpress.com kh

    mhays, i do agree… and row houses in boston & san fran are very nice and timeless as well.

    i guess it’s the cookie cutter of less than desirable design styles that i don’t appreciate. (ie. faux craftsman!)

  • http://www.designlines.wordpress.com kh

    mhays, i do agree… and row houses in boston & san fran are very nice and timeless as well.

    i guess it’s the cookie cutter of less than desirable design styles that i don’t appreciate. (ie. faux craftsman!)

  • JasonC

    While I agree most of the quickly-built townhouses are cheesy, especially those faux-craftsman ones, I can’t blast them because of their lack of yards or “green space”. Are Victorian or Georgian row houses ugly because they lack yards? What about NYC brownstones? Yards are kind of suburbany and American to me, and while they have their place and certainly don’t expect them in urban construction. They can be great, but I won’t fault a place for not having them.

  • JasonC

    While I agree most of the quickly-built townhouses are cheesy, especially those faux-craftsman ones, I can’t blast them because of their lack of yards or “green space”. Are Victorian or Georgian row houses ugly because they lack yards? What about NYC brownstones? Yards are kind of suburbany and American to me, and while they have their place and certainly don’t expect them in urban construction. They can be great, but I won’t fault a place for not having them.

  • JasonC

    PS: I like modernon64th

  • JasonC

    PS: I like modernon64th

  • seattle67

    Don’t townhomes make a nice transition between larger 4-story NC-40 type multi-use developments and single family zoned properties?

  • seattle67

    Don’t townhomes make a nice transition between larger 4-story NC-40 type multi-use developments and single family zoned properties?

  • http://www.designlines.wordpress.com kh

    seattle67, i think they do make a nice transition, espcially in the more dense areas like queen anne, capitol hill, eastlake, etc.

    quotes from the stranger article:
    “[Developers] are being allowed to do virtually whatever they want. By the time they began construction, it was too late.”

    “It’s not the density that’s a problem for us,” Thaler says. “We’d like development to be compatible with existing neighborhoods. There are a lot of [developers] out there who will put in any old crap. When they come in to develop… [they don’t] allow for meaningful input from the neighbors.”

    from Alan Justad of DPD, “We’re hearing that some [developments] look great, but there are others that… don’t fit in as well as they could. We’ve started to brainstorm about which [designs] work and why.”

    i think most agree that density is not the issue, but rather what it looks like.

  • http://www.designlines.wordpress.com kh

    seattle67, i think they do make a nice transition, espcially in the more dense areas like queen anne, capitol hill, eastlake, etc.

    quotes from the stranger article:
    “[Developers] are being allowed to do virtually whatever they want. By the time they began construction, it was too late.”

    “It’s not the density that’s a problem for us,” Thaler says. “We’d like development to be compatible with existing neighborhoods. There are a lot of [developers] out there who will put in any old crap. When they come in to develop… [they don’t] allow for meaningful input from the neighbors.”

    from Alan Justad of DPD, “We’re hearing that some [developments] look great, but there are others that… don’t fit in as well as they could. We’ve started to brainstorm about which [designs] work and why.”

    i think most agree that density is not the issue, but rather what it looks like.

  • http://designlines.wordpress.com kh

    here’s another architect in seattle that’s designing great looking modern townhouses, Pb Elemental:

    http://www.elementalarchitecture.com/projects/multi.html

  • http://designlines.wordpress.com kh

    here’s another architect in seattle that’s designing great looking modern townhouses, Pb Elemental:

    http://www.elementalarchitecture.com/projects/multi.html

  • http://modernon64th.com Dean

    kh, I appreciate your comments regarding Modern on 64th. It may not be for everyone, but I am so tired of the same old zero design that’s out there.

  • http://modernon64th.com Dean

    kh, I appreciate your comments regarding Modern on 64th. It may not be for everyone, but I am so tired of the same old zero design that’s out there.

  • http://www.modernfurniture4home.com/ Contemporary Furniture

    Pretty nice article!

  • http://www.modernfurniturewarehouse.com/ Modern Furniture

    Great article! I learned a lot from this.