Supersized houses: Bigger Edmonds homes reflect a national trend

Bigger is better; that’s been an American mantra for a century. Atlantic Magazine writer Joe Pinsker nailed it:

  “America is a place defined by bigness. It is infamous, both within its borders and abroad, for the size of its cars, its portions, its defense budget—and its houses.”

                                                 — Joe Pinsker, the Atlantic, 2019

 “And its houses…” Talbot Park, Seaview, Emerald Hills, and other large-lot neighborhoods have featured bigger homes for years. But now the trend is full swing, close to downtown, and in more modest neighborhoods. Builders and homeowners are supersizing new homes.

 300 block Sunset Avenue, Edmonds

 The latest eye-catcher is this new home along Edmonds’ iconic Sunset Avenue. Concrete slab walls, steel beams and a house that fills every inch of space that’s allowed. The original house, built in 1910, sat on a rare 12,000-square-foot waterfront lot, and the ground floor footprint only took up a little over 10% of the lot.

The new house, as permitted by city code, can cover 35% of the lot, or up to 4,200 square feet — on the ground floor alone. Everybody walking Sunset stops to gawk. “I think it’s crazy, it’s just too big,” Art Runkel told me. “Look at everything else.”

Paul Nelson had a unique take: “I’m wondering if there is a tsunami coming or why he’s building the way he’s building there… and if a tsunami comes, can I come here?” Angel Dorr hit a nerve: ”It seems like it might block some people’s views.” It might, but the new house has checked off every box on the city’s building code list.

And, Art Runkel conceded, “It’s their property so I don’t have anything to say about it.”

No, we don’t have a say. City of Edmonds Senior Planner Brad Shipley told me, “it’s the economics of development. People don’t like the size, but because of land value here, in order for developers to make money, they have to build them out to the max.” And they are.

Sunset Avenue, Edmonds

The Sunset house meets city code for height, not more than 25 feet tall. It meets the allowed housing footprint on that sized lot – four times larger than the old house. And the city does not have architectural design standards for single-family homes. “Single-family development is exempt from design review,” said Shipley, and “the house met all the required development standards… no particular architectural style is required.”

Downtown Edmonds in the 1920s, courtesy Edmonds Historical Museum

America has been supersizing homes for a century. In the 1920s, the average home size in the U.S. was a little over 1,000 square feet. But, just between the 1960s and now – average home size has nearly doubled.

Average U.S. home size:

1960: 1,289 square feet

2000: 2,266

2010: 2,392

2020: 2,491

Neighborhoods throughout Edmonds feel the impact – older, smaller homes, close to downtown, demolished – new, bigger homes built right up to the lot line setbacks – which in smaller lots is just 5 feet from the next-door neighbor’s property line.

9th Avenue South home

The most visible supersized home may be this five-bedroom, five-bath house on the west side of 9th Avenue South. Built five years ago on a half acre, the house is 8,000 square feet and valued at $5 million.  But, year by year, other lots across the city are filling up with homes that go property line to property line.

L-R: Cedar Street, View Place, three homes on Pine Street

Along Edmonds Way, builders shoe-horned threenew homes on what had been a big lot with just one old bungalow on it. Each house here meets city standards for individual 6,000 square-foot lots. The old house and land sold for just over $1 million in 2016; the three new homes are listed at more than $1 million apiece.

700 block Edmonds Way

Edmonds has been a hot housing market for years. Our current real estate cool down might cause a pause in supersized home building. But it will be just that – a pause. To make a profit, high land prices and the increased cost of materials equals a simple formula for contractors. “It’s becoming more and more common to just max out the building,” said Edmonds Senior Planner Brad Shipley.

“Maxing out” has an impact on the rest of a neighborhood. The city does review every plan, but Shipley cautions that “city planners don’t have any way to say what’s out of scale for a neighborhood since there are no architectural standards” for single-family housing.

— By Bob Throndsen

  1. Again we are full but if I have to have redevelopment I prefer one giant home rather than 8 smaller ones. Keep single family zoning.

    1. What if the trend becomes not homes, but houses? By this I mean super wealthy folks buy very large “prestige” properties and really don’t live in them much of the time because they have many such properties and they move between them episodically. Then we end up with a kind of “ghost” town. Do you want to live in one of those?

      1. Ed I don’t think we have to worry about being overrun with extremely rich people there just aren’t enough of them to make a difference. We must have a well heeled populace though otherwise no one could afford what our town has to offer. Besides those rich folk while they are in town probably spend more in the time they are here than the average person does in a year.

        1. Well the trickle down economic theory has been shown to have very short and weak legs as far as driving steady demand for goods and services. What we should really be worrying about is a super rich sicko making billions of assassin robotic weapons of very small size that could be used to depopulate the planet by a two to four billion. They could do this while they embark on a trip to Mars that is really a head fake and they just wait on the far side of the moon for most of us to be killed. Solves the climate crisis for awhile. I do have a plan to kill them if they do this before they return to Earth.

      2. It’s already a reality. Why is this a negative; fewer people and less noise surrounding these often vacant homes. These owners have the ‘means’ to maintain their properties. In the end, real estate is an investment. They won’t let their properties go to shambles, whether they are living there or not. Ghost town? This will never happen in Edmonds.

  2. My mother used to say, a pro pos very large houses, “Those people must be very fragile to need such a big house to protect them.”

  3. Looks like the military is building that structure on Sunset Avenue! (Doesn’t look like a home to me.) It gives us something to look at and talk about while we’re out walking…

  4. We are lucky to live in a beautiful city. I love our Neighborhoods and only wish we had sidewalks. Our neighborhoods and our single family zoning is what brings families to Edmonds.

  5. Interestingly, a lot of these larger homes are becoming multi-generational. Especially with the high costs of rent for younger or older adults. Alternatively, you can always put mom or mother-in-law in a tiny house in the backyard next to the garage, so you don’t have to fight over what’s on TV.

  6. As my friend Darrol Haug would say, “Edmonds dirt is very expensive.” As I age out, I realize that the indigenous people probably have this ownership of the land thing right. My understanding is their concept of owning the land is like the concept of owning the air we breath or the water we drink. You can use the land and air and water and take care of it, but you can’t really own it in any permanent sense. Our longest term needs for owning space, taking up space, and using earth’s resources are pretty minimal when you think about it. I guess I just don’t get the need to possess or own giant everything because you really don’t actually own anything but the love and acceptance of those around you for awhile – if you are lucky.

    1. Wise thoughts, Clinton. It’s more about sharing and caring than owning. And if we have housing in Edmonds we are privileged because it’s a beautiful place.

    2. Is it ego that people build these monstrosities, the need to impress? I loved the quaint older house’s that were in town when I first moved here, now all gone. What a waste.

  7. We move from Ballard thirty six years for the schools and a view home. I actually had a new neighbor come over to meet us and asked if we would be concerned if they added a second story which would block our view of the sound & mountains. You can imagine how that conversation went. I see these huge houses going up now with no regard for blocking peoples views that they’ve enjoyed for years. Being legal doesn’t make it right. Come on…..Edmonds.

    1. We also came to Edmonds for a good zip code and territorial views 30 years ago. This territorial view was highlighted by the Realtors. Blocking peoples views of trees (that are left) and disregarding all the beauty we came for even in the up hill areas is wrong. So it works both ways Greg. I am not happy either with many ideas for over building. Many come to the Bowl for that very view you speak of and I don’t think that is fair for you or the others here either. Here most lots are smaller so huge houses I doubt we will see. However our air and view is just as important. Stop the building and I hope they can stop the two story blocking views in the Bowl too. Who is going to buy here without the most important thing we have. Our Views of Puget Sound and the Mountains, and our Beaches. No one eventually, it will just be another over crowded city without enough protection and too much crime. Good Luck.

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