Starter Home Styles in Seattle – Part 1

If you are planning to buy a home in Seattle for about $350,000, it may be of some help for you to know how to generally evaluate the floor plan, before entering the home. This should make choosing homes to see from the internet photos, and other information available on the internet, a little easier and more productive.

We’ll start with the basic 1-Story w/basement, often referred to as a “bungalow”.

1-story with basement

When you see a house for sale like this one in an Internet Listing, you first note the “Style” as “One Story with Basement”. This is a required data field, so it should not be missing from the listing detail. This cross gabled style was most common from around 1917 to 1922 or so. There are several other styles of one story with basement homes, but the below information should be fairly common to all.

I happen to be looking at one of these right now in Seattle. The mls Listing says 1,550 sf. 1,550 sf sounds like a decent sized house…until you go to the house and say “too small”. In fact, let’s look at the actual comments from a client who viewed it at an open house.

(Note: In accordance with mls rules, the picture of the home is a “reasonable facsimile” from somewhere else in the Country. The rest of the detail is the actual info of a home viewed by my clients in Seattle. Mls rules prohibit identifying the actual home that is currently for sale, in a blog post.)

Actual Client Comments:

Hi Ardell,
We went to the Open House and here is what we liked:

– Beautiful kitchen, good size
– Nice modern upgrades
– nice backyard and outside area
– Neighborhood feel and street was nice and quiet

Things we didn’t like:

– two small bedrooms on main floor, master in basement.

-The setup doesn’t seem conducive to a young family. The rooms were VERY small on the main floor. Living room was small, but if we had to deal with this we could…just not ideal. No dining area or even any room for a table

– House runs on oil. Not sure we like the idea of that

Now that the client has identified some likes and dislikes…we look at the dislikes and check that info against the home’s “main floor footprint”. Not all “1,550” sf homes are alike. You need to break that down to save yourself a lot of time and trouble in your home search process.

An oddity in the Seattle Area as to how we identify square footage in the mls, requires that your FIRST step be to go to the King County Parcel Viewer to identify the square footage of the house (main floor footprint) vs the basement level.

What this client is actually saying, and not surprisingly, is that “a bungalow” may be too small for a family planning to have children.

The Breakdown of the house from the King County Parcel Viewer tells us that while the mls allows the description of “1,550 sf” for “the house”, this is really a 775 sf house with a basement.

That is how using this process for subsequent home selections can save you a ton of time and disappointment.

Let’s look at the home details and learn from both the data and the feedback from the client.

The County Record for this house, plus the mls system data, tells us:

Bungalow Description

You can use the above format as a general template. If you are lucky, you will find a little hand drawn sketch of the original main floor footprint from the County Records site, as I did here.

A few notes:

– Lot size of 4,450 sf is acceptable…but smaller than current zoning requirements
Oil heat…but forced air vs baseboard system. Forced air can be converted to gas and even have air conditioning, as long as gas is “available” in the street. A quick search of the area for neighbors with gas heat and or cooking tells me it is available, and in fact the majority of homes in the area use gas vs oil at present. Note- where is this oil TANK?
– Main floor foorprints of 800 sf are likely too small (I generally like to see at least 1,000 sf)
– Three bedrooms on one level likely preferred, but master on main and two up may work. (Note: There was no such thing as “a master bedroom” at the time this home was built. Master Bedrooms came out sometime after I was born 🙂 which would be 1954. Not common until the 70s or early 80s. “Where is the master bedroom?” may be an odd question if you are looking at a small home built in 1915.
– “dishwasher” included is often a strong indication of a kitchen upgrade, since dishwashers did not exist in 1915. However that upgrade may have been anytime since the 70s when dishwashers became more commonplace.
– an EXTRA 500 sf detached garage is a considerable feature, especially with alley access, as long as it doesn’t take up the whole yard.

Looking at the sketch, the home “as built” was likely 22 feet across and 33 to 35 feet “deep”. Assuming you need 3′ to “pass” into the rest of the home, that leaves only (22-3) 19 feet for the width of both the bedroom and living room on a combined basis. Hence the “bedroom is small” and “living room is small”.

Once you have the basics covered by seeing a few homes, you can save yourself, and the homeowner, a lot of time and trouble by checking some of these things in advance. Master in the basement is noted in this case in the mls detail. The main floor being less than 800 sf is noted in the County Record.

By checking both the mls data AND the County Record data, you can better set your expectations before going to view a home.

If the seller left their home with the baby and drove around the block for a half hour and the feedback is “I don’t like the master bedroom being in the basement”, the seller will often get a little ticked off (or a LOT) given that information was available prior to viewing the home.

Coming up with some general parameters based on viewing homes at Open Houses or viewing vacant homes for sale, can save you and the seller a lot of time, trouble and frustration.
“A House is a Box you LIVE in”.

There are really not a lot of variations as to how that “box” can be constructed, as noted in that linked post. You really shouldn’t have to visit 100 homes to find the one that is best for you.

Making some general observations, and charting them out as you go
(or having your agent do that for you)
may help to keep you from “settling” for a house that you really don’t want,

just because you are tired of “the process”.

I will cover the other “basic” home styles in subsequent posts, and link them below. This multi-part series should help make your home search process a lot more productive, and enjoyable.

12 thoughts on “Starter Home Styles in Seattle – Part 1

  1. It would be easier if this were listed as a “775 sf house with a finished basement. Finished basement has a master bedroom and bath”. That defines the house much better, and why I always check the main floor footprint out in the County Records. That is pretty much the first thing I do, when beginning a valuation study.

    I don’t think appraisers approach valuation that way. But they will significantly downgrade the allowable price per square foot of rooms that are fully or partially underground on the basement level. That seems to be giving them some problems these days, as they can’t always find comps of like kind with the volume of sales so low.

    The hardest ones to evaluate are the 1 1/2 story, common in older homes in Seattle. The 2nd floor “footprint” may actually be, and often is, the same as the main floor. But the 1/2 story ceilings are “sloped” or sharply angled down toward the floor. The County deals with that by negating the footprint for any portion that doesn’t have at least a 5′ clearance. That will take a bedroom that is 150 sf by footprint measure down to 100 sf of “usable” space. The listing agent will often show that as “County Records are wrong”. 🙂

    Huge difference between a 1,550 sf house with a same sized unfinished basement and a 1,550 sf house including the finished basement. To me, finishing a basement does not change the “size” of a house.

    Showing ceiling height is an idea whose time has come, for sure. But that has never been a “data field” in either the mls or county records, except for the higher ones being noted in the mls remarks. If they are not a straight 9′ or 10’…they are usually called “soaring ceilings”.

    Going from 8′ to 10′ at the peak, with a soft peak, used to be called a “cathedral” ceiling. 8 feet at one end up to 12″ at the other, with no peak IN the room, used to be called a “vaulted” ceiling. Now they are all too often defined as “come see the high ceilings”.

    It boggles my mind how far agents will stretch to find nebulous descriptive language like “dappled sunlight streaming in” or “an oasis in the city”…and yet not look for the accurate architectural definitions for the house itself. The rule of thumb seems to be…when in doubt…just call the darned thing a “craftsman”. That seems to be a big “catch-all” definition around these parts. 🙂

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  3. Ardell-
    Your “Starter Home” RCG feature got me thinking about this. J

    These Mercer Island “Starter Homes” are often “Finisher Homes” too when the kids are all grown and gone and a simpler, easier lifestyle is more practical. I’ve helped a number of clients find and/or redo a number of these modest homes to move down to as they become available. Heres a Link telling about how well this has worked for the 2 of us- Jerry-

  4. Wow! This is a great post! For first time home buyers, this guide to online home searching is really such a huge help. Yeah, bungalows are good starter home and interested home owners should know how to assess a property even if they just look at it online through its photos, descriptions and virtual tours.

    • There is so much available online these days that helps people evaluate homes, the safety of a neighborhood, the quality of the schools and so many other things.

      I agree with your comment, but there is so much more to evaluate than merely “the house” of it.

  5. Very informative post, this article will help first time buyers to asses and evaluate a house especially if they are buying something like this one a bungalow or a starter home. I hope they read this post to have some ideas.

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  7. Thanks for the post. It was the picture that drew me in, as I am trolling Google Images for examples of cross gable bungalows. But in reading the article I agree with your insights. While I’m sure the rules are different in Chicago, there are still many things on listing that are not considered in the appraisal, and that makes it difficult to truly understand market value of a house. My realtor explained that listing a basement 3rd bedroom, for example, was the norm. Square footage calculations are also not exact in this area. Where this hurt me in the sale and still hurts me a year later is in the comps, since appraisers use the info from MLS listings and compare that misleading info to my actual house. The house next to me sold last year for over $70K less because the family was in a rush to move. It was listed as 1,200 SF whereas mine was listed with 1,080 SF; however, I’ve been in that home and it is actually much smaller than mine.

    Where is the picture from that you used in your article? Do you have a higher resolution copy? Do you have any other examples of one story, cross gable bungalows? My bungalow was flipped in 2008 and they enclosed the porch, which I like, but this left the front door off center from the eyebrow dormer and gave the house a flat, squat exterior which lacks curb appeal. I’m looking for creative examples to solve this problem without re-opening the porch.


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