The Seattle Planning Commission report we discussed last week mentions a number of small and not-so-small ways to make Seattle more affordable for families by incentivizing the construction of more 2- and 3BR housing units.  As the report notes, this will likely require controversial zoning changes in Seattle’s current single-family zones.  Even if sweeping change is not on the horizon anytime soon, modest changes can be made to the code today that would increase affordability.

For example, in the last few years there have been efforts to allow more households in single-family zones via accessory dwelling units (ADUs). First came detached accessory dwelling unit (DADU), and later, the ADU (a basement or mother-in-law apartment).  These were a good start, but they never quite took off in large numbers for a couple of reasons.  It takes a fair amount of scratch to build a second house on your land, even if you’re willing to cut down trees or re-do landscaping to make it work. Most homeowners don’t have access to that kind of cash, and getting second mortgages has been a lot harder since the housing crash.   Second, one unit must be owner-occupied, meaning that you can’t rent both units out.  

One modest way to increase the stock of affordable housing would be simply to remove the owner-occupancy requirement on ADUs, making them more akin to a standard duplex. As commenter Eric writes in last week’s post, you could easily build a duplex inside the existing size envelope of a single-family house: built on no more than 35% of the property, obeying setback rules, etc.   Such a duplex would easily “fit in” with the neighborhood.  By removing the owner-occupancy requirement, it would be possible for an investor to build and operate a duplex as an investment property. That would open up a huge pile of potential capital and make ADUs more viable.  If there were a way to sell them off separately as condos, all the better.  

Keep in mind that I’m not talking about increasing the maximum allowable “house” size at all.  The maximum size of a house on an SF-5000 lot depends on several factors, but can be as much as 5,000 square feet if built to three stories.  A duplex of two, 2,000-square-foot units would fit within this envelope with room to spare.  Furthermore, duplexes like this exist today in Seattle. There are a few, small, duplex zones, but some exist in single-family zones as well.  They pre-date the current zoning laws and would be illegal to build today, but the earth still manages to spin despite their existence.  Adding a few more wouldn’t solve everything, but it would give us some more options.

64 Replies to “More Duplexes”

  1. I believe we already have the housing stock needed to house the people who want to live in Seattle. It’s just being underutilized. Most of the houses in Seattle were built when families were double the size they are now. So now we have a lot of 2 to 3 member families living in homes designed for 4 to 5 people. Homeowners should be rewarded for renting out spare bedrooms. “But Sam, people are already rewarded for renting out bedrooms! It’s called the monthly rent check!” I’m talking about tax and other incentives. Let’s make it a really desirable thing for homeowners to rent out a bedroom or basement. Your parents told you you can’t have desert or have seconds until you clean your plate. Same principle. We can’t build more housing until we more fully utilize the housing we have now.

    1. I’m talking about tax and other incentives. Let’s make it a really desirable thing for homeowners to rent out a bedroom or basement.”

      Woo-hoo! Can you say “slippery slope”? “I think I’ll get a tax deduction by renting my son’s old bedroom to my son. Yeah, that’s cool!”

      1. Anandakos, what kind of blog is this? “Well, Sam, it’s a blog that discusses local transit issues as well as …. blah, blah, blah.” Bullshit. It’s blog about problems and solutions. And there’s the difference between you and I. I read posts and come up with solutions to whatever the problem at hand is. I’m not sure what your deal is, to quote Pete Carroll’s question to Jim Harbaugh. Maybe you’re intimidated by my gravitas. Maybe you have a recalcitrant personality, and because I’m an authority figure on this blog, you reflexively feel the need to counter whatever position I take and do battle with the legendary Sam. Or maybe you’re jealous I live in Bellevue, ranked #4 on the 2010’s Best Places to Live. Or perhaps you feel threatened I read the New York Times more than you. But here’s my advice to you: Don’t worry about me so much. Focus on the problem set-forth in whatever post you’re reading, and try your best to come up with your own solution. If you ever need the advice of a respected member of the transit community, I’m always here to help.

        – Sam

      2. Oh, this’s a blog about whatever however-unworkable solution comes off the top of your head? Then let me solve the problem by asking moles to volunteer to dig us more housing underground!

        What? The moles won’t listen to my request? People don’t like to live underground? So much tunneling will destabilize the soil? Ah… so this’s a blog about proposing solutions that would actually work, and pointing out when other proposed solutions wouldn’t!

      3. As a respected authority on moles who is recognized globally, I suggest that you ask the moles nicely. I have an assignment for you: go around Seattle surveying mole sentiments, and write up an article detailing their proclivity towards collaborative digging.

      4. Um, actually, you wouldn’t get a tax deduction. You’d have to report the rent as income (on a ludicrously complicated set of IRS forms — a number of people abandoned small-scale renting when the passive activity rules were introduced) and would be unable to deduct much of anything against it.

      5. Nathanael,

        I concluded Sam was proposing a property tax deduction, not a Federal Income tax write-off. Now maybe that’s an incorrect conclusion, but it’s all that’s in the gift of the city to grant.

      6. Sam,

        Please believe me that I have no jealousy whatsoever of your seat in Bellevue. It’s a whole lot of pretentious auto-centric nothing, IMO. I like to walk and take transit. Yes, I actually like it; it’s not a burden or something I do because I can’t afford to drive. I prefer it because I can use my time in a productive way, occasionally I meet an interesting fellow rider, and most especially, I don’t have to put up with Airbag Narcissists behind the wheel.

        As for your reading the New York Times I say, “Congratulations. I prefer to spend my newspaper money and reading time on The Economist which I like because of the international news it has one can’t get anywhere else, even in the Times“. I prefer the magazine format; it’s physically easier to read. And I really like Kal’s cute illustrations!

        So far as your posts, well, you provide such a juicy target of puffed-up self-importance it’s just TOO HARD not to throw spitballs. Dude, you have no idea how ridiculous you look when you go all Gravitas Contrarian.

      7. In two of the above posts I said “deduction” in reference to property taxes. “Abatement” would have been a more correct word.

    2. When standees are clogging-up the front part of the bus, and intending passengers can’t board, is the solution to the problem for Metro to buy more buses, or for the driver and passengers to yell, “move back?” Same thing.

      1. If Metro, after studying the problem, wanted to buy more buses and had the money to do so but was prohibited from doing so by the City Council – that would be another problem. Developers are in that same position now. Actually, they’re in a stronger position because Metro would be using tax dollars to buy more buses, but developers are only using their own money to build more houses.

      2. William, feel free to agree with the others that more duplexes need to be built. I disagree. To continue the analogy, I say let’s fill up the bus before we add another bus to the route. And, let’s at least try to fill up under-utilized houses before we encourage the building of more housing.

      3. If you change the zoning to allow duplexes, you can be sure that there will be LOTS of single-family -> duplex conversions. This has happened all over the country and the world. Large numbers of houses in my home town were built as single-family houses and are now duplexes or triplexes.

        So, Sam, you should support the proposed zoning change.

      4. Nathanael, there are a great many homes in Seattle with an unused bedroom, den, garage, or basement. Most homes are not duplex conversions. I believe people who live in these underutilized homes are part of the problem. But yes, after we first make an effort to fill these unused rooms with people who want to live in Seattle, then lets make these zoning changes.

    3. The highest demographic group for this region (whole Northwest, not just Seattle) is single. It’s the largest and growing.

      So, what we need are more 1000 sq. ft. homes as even 2000 sq. ft. seems rather large.

      That said, most, I believe, would still prefer their own home over an apartment or condo.

      The best compromise may be something like semi-detached homes which are neither the extreme of large and isolated or too small for human habitation.

      Oddly enough, that picture looks exactly what they are building now in many suburban communities. Monterey Park in Auburn.

      They have something called paired homes which is an asymmetrical duplex. With a larger home paired with a townhome. This would be ideal for multi-generational (grandparents, family with kids) or just say an urban family with one kid and a single person.

      1. That’s why I suggested the idea of incentivizing renting rooms. Most Seattleites are single. Most homes have at least one unoccupied room. This blog claims to be concerned with affordability. Renting a room in a house is half the price of renting an apartment.

      2. Well…I think part of being a single adult is privacy and independence.

        I doubt if most modern singles would want a room in someone else’s home.

        We would want something civilized, like an apartment or small townhouse.

  2. I’m in London now, and this is essentially what has happened to housing here (and in San Francisco). You take existing houses/townhouses, and turn them into duplexes because you’re not allowed to build enough new housing, or the buildings are protected (basically the same thing)./

    Martin Amis’s “Money” has the best take on this.

    The car and I crawled cursing up the street to my flat. You just cannot park round here any more. …You can doublepark on people: people can doublepark on you. Cars are doubling while houses are halving. Houses divide, into two, into four, into sixteen. … Rooms divide, rooms multiply. Houses split – houses are tripleparked. People are doubling, also, dividing, splitting. In double trouble we split out losses. No wonder we’re bouncing off the walls.

    Anyway, this is a fine idea, but it’s funny what you try when you have few options.

    1. We lived in London in a single room that had been subdivided into a kitchen area, a living/sleeping area and a bathroom, overlooking a square behind Harrod’s. I think it had been one huge house and now was sixteen flats, all about that size. Of course, you can’t subdivide a Wallingford bungalow quite as radically as a “gentleman’s” house that used to house servants and the like.

      1. The history of English housing is largely one of the subdivision of giant houses. The Victorian and pre-Victorian houses were *massive* — the noblemen’s houses would have housed hundreds of people — and many of them ended up as apartment buildings.

      2. Interestingly, this is also a common way for colleges in the US to expand housing unobtrusively — start buying up houses in town and converting them into mini-dorms.

  3. I’d be very interested in knowing more about the history of LR zones. If you look at buildings in the LR zones you’ll see a lot of variations. The oldest buildings are 2-4 story buildings built in the 1920 (think Capitol Hill), then you see a lot of the carport type apartments from the 60’s and 70’s (Ballard). But then in the 2000’s you see a transition to the townhomes.

    My concern is that this switch from apartments to town homes has led to the lower density housing in areas with the walkability and transit service to support denser housing. Obviously this is in indication that this land is more valuable as a town home than as an apartment and it leads me to believe this is primarily because we don’t allow affordable family-size housing options in the more walkable, transit friendly single-family zones.

    1. I’ve noticed that since they removed minimum parking requirements that there has been a shift back to 3-6 story apartment buildings. I’m fine with townhones, but I think at least on the arterial a they should be building apartments.

      1. I wonder how much of that is related to the rental market going gangbusters vs. parking related.

      2. Parking is a big part of why townhomes were so popular: you only needed one spot per home. A three bedroom town home got one spot, while a three-bedroom apartment might require 2 or even three in some cases!

        But as Adam suggests, it’s also definitely market-related. When housing purchases were in a bubble, people built things you could buy, like townhomes. Now that the apartments are in a boom, you build those.

      3. It also seems to be a function of the ridiculous and emphatically anti-urban four-sided setbacks and lot-coverage + FAR maximums, which make it nearly impossible to build a real apartment building on anything less than a gigantic, consolidated lot. Even within “growth areas”.

        I’ve been (slowly) working on parsing and writing up the cause and effect — the primary effects being ugly results and a failure to stitch together walkable areas outside of commercial zones — but just a glance at the setback rules reveals how apartment buildings are explicitly disadvantaged compared to other housing forms on the same LR-zoned lots.

      4. I presume that the same rules which disadvantage apartments also disadvantage condos, which are very similar physically although very different legally.

  4. “There are a few, small, duplex zones, but some exist in single-family zones as well. They pre-date the current zoning laws and would be illegal to build today, but the earth still manages to spin despite their existence. ”

    More than a few. They’re dotted all over the streetcar suburbs. Some have been converted back to SF homes, but many haven’t. They’re a bit hard to notice because they just look like homes. The obvious ones have two separate front doors, but some have one door to the side or back and are harder to notice.

    Another code modification I’d change is to allow more than one D/ADU. You could theoretically have a DADU and a 5,000sf home, but wouldn’t be able to convert your basement into an ADU (you can have either an ADU or a DADU, but not both, and not more than one).

    And here’s where it gets really confusing. It seems to be legal to rent out a room in Seattle (it’s certainly common practice), but the ADU requirements seem to imply that any room you rent out must be permitted as an ADU. This means you can’t ever rent out more than one room in your single family house. Of course, that’s just my read of the law. It’s actually quite vague on the details*.

    * “An owner of a single-family zoned lot that has more than one single-family dwelling unit… is subject to a civil penalty of $5,000 for each additional dwelling unit, unless the additional unit is an authorized dwelling unit in compliance with Section 23.44.041, is a legal non-conforming use…” – but is a room an ADU? what defines an ADU – do you need a kitchen and a lockable door?

    1. The ADU requirements are different from renting out rooms. The rental of rooms within a dwelling unit is subject to maximum number of people living together requirement. The ADU stuff kicks in only when the room(s) being rented out are a separate unit.

      1. But what does it mean to be a separate unit? Are we just talking about lockable doors? Outside entrances? Kitchens? And which of these features are so impactful on the neighborhood to trigger permit requirements, parking requirements, and a $5k fine per unit for not complying?

        Sam above talks about a subsidy for adding units. I think it’s clear we have some pretty strong incentives against renting out space in your house.

      2. Seriously, the “maximum number of people living together” rules are the worst form of intrusive social engineering. And yet few have questioned them.

      3. @Nathanael: These sorts of regulations were enacted, essentially, against slumlords at a time when slumlords were a real thing, their power ensured by blatant housing discrimination. Their effectiveness is, of course, questionable, just like other ordinances designed to fight what was considered blight or urban decay. Overcrowding was a real problem but mostly for people affected by discrimination. It was solved by ending the most blatant discrimination and increasing the housing choices available to immigrants and minorities, not by these sorts of limits.

        Even if regulations like this aren’t any more effective than banning coughing would be at curing the common cold, they probably serve as some kind of guideline. If the market responds to current conditions by testing the limits of this regulation then we need to find ways to build more proper units!

      4. I should be clearer, since I left something out. The reason they’re the worst form of social engineering is that they all have bizarre exceptions for “families”.

        So, you can’t have 10 people living together — unless you are evangelical parents with 8 kids, and then it’s fine!

        That’s what makes it the worst form of social engineering.

  5. We lived in Audubon, NJ, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, where there were numerous “twin” houses. A twin house looks like a single, but it was split down the middle. It was a stable town, very middle class.

    Virtually every twin had morphed into two distinct houses, with different siding, maybe another gable. Unfortunately, many of them demonstrated a distinct difference in maintenance. Watching that development, i would never put a dime into a duplex or town house that did not have a central control, like a condominium agreement. It is a recipe for financial disaster.

    And on the other side, enough with the mega-mansions on small lots. We have several here in western Ballard that have no place for children to play, and we have a paucity of park area. I fail to see how a growing community can prosper with no children. We have no children ourselves, but I pity the children who live in these monstrosities. I don’t understand how the city measures 35% lot coverage.

    1. Duplexes in SF zones in Seattle have a single owner.

      Showing pity for the way other people chose to live their lives seems like a waste of pity.

    2. I don’t understand how the city measures 35% lot coverage.

      I assume it’s just 35% of total lot area. How else could you interpret that?

      Anyway, there is an exception for lots under 5,000 square feet: 1,000 square feet plus 15% of lot area is the maximum.

      Even if you have a “full-sized” lot, the 35% only counts the building. The required yards eat into the space that’s available for kids to play (or any type of recreation, really). Suppose your lot is 50′ x 100′ (a pretty common set of dimensions after the minimum size was instituted). Your building can have a 1,750 square foot floor area. The required side yards are 5′ on each side. If you build the maximum house with the minimum side yard, that means you have a 40′ wide house that is 43’9″ deep. Add 20′ for the required front yard (which tends to be dominated by a driveway and front steps and a bit of landscaping on most houses without an alley in back), and you’re left with 36’3″ in lot depth for a backyard (or 1,812.5 square feet).

      So even though the building is only 35% of the lot area, the required yards mean that you can only use 36.25% of the lot area for a kids’ play area if you want to build as large of a house as possible. On a smaller lot, common in the neighborhoods that were built up before the minimum lot size requirements were started in the 1950s, the remaining area is even smaller (1,066 square feet on a 40′ x 100′ lot, for example).

      1. And if you build a DADU in that too-small kids’ play area, then you end up with no play area at all. And we say we want to encourage families with children in Seattle…?

      2. DADUs have the same lot coverage requirements as the main house – if you’re out of land to build you can’t add one. Besides, Seattle has no lack of single family homes with yards.

    3. The way to get the most possible contiguous yard space is probably to minimize front yard space and put it all in the back. So while you see a tiny yard from the sidewalk (one that looks especially small if the house is tall) there’s probably more space in back. But no matter how big the house you’re not going to have much of a yard on a 5,000-square foot lot.

      The urban form of streetcar suburbs was originally a result of trying to accommodate the masses’ desire for suburban personal space within the constraints of practical urban transportation and land availability. Today their form is the result of trying to accommodate levels of housing demand that call for urban density within the constraints of suburban zoning codes.

      1. In the Sunset Hill area of Ballard there are two developments going in that have essentially no yard space. The houses cover so much ground that easements are granted to gain access to basement garages and still keep the lots within the SF code. I suggest you look at the developments at the SE corner of NW 64th St and 36th Ave NW – three houses were one used to be (the really big house was originally there and moved to one side of the old 16,000 sq ft lot) and the NW corner of 36th Ave NW and 61st St – seven houses where two used to stand. Not a stitch of playable ground and a whole lot of concrete and asphalt surface to be drained. The nearest playground is 8 blocks away and if the county doesn’t get more money, the nearest bus about 12 blocks away.

      2. “Not a stitch of playable ground and a whole lot of concrete and asphalt surface to be drained. ” That’s an interesting comment. There is no law that you need a yard, and I’ve seen many homes pave their whole lot for parking or ease of maintenance. Are you suggesting that all homes should be required to have grass? Because think of the children!

        Seriously – let people make their own choices. It does not harm you if someone else builds or buys a house without grass. There is such an oversupply of single family homes in Seattle compared to smaller units that a large percentage of them are owned by childless couples, many of whom would have happily owned a walkable condo with a view if it were a better value.

      3. There are sensible reasons for limiting the amount of impermeable surface in SF zones. Think of the storm water!

        That’s not the same think as saying it has to be devoted to grass.

    4. Those are conventionally referred to as “semi-detached houses”.

      There were tons of duplexs intermingled with single-families in the stable middle-class Milwaukee suburb I grew up, where pretty much all the kids walk to school:,-87.992163&spn=0.005088,0.009077&hnear=Wauwatosa,+Milwaukee,+Wisconsin&gl=us&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=43.057774,-87.992165&panoid=8mNQQ4dCP_fLQxtj9jdcrw&cbp=12,302.67,,0,0.07
      There are even some post-war ones:,-88.003428&spn=0.005056,0.009077&hnear=Wauwatosa,+Milwaukee,+Wisconsin&gl=us&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=43.055882,-88.003424&panoid=DBi9sa-M1kNd71Ni40NhzQ&cbp=12,55.23,,0,-1.17
      Duplexs are really common all througout the Milwaukee area. Although the mixed single-family/duplex neighborhoods are very walkable, they aren’t particularly walking-oriented— they’re still not dense enough, and most people drive to their jobs due to the job sprawl taking many of the jobs out of downtown. The grid makes for good bikeability even without specialized infrastructure, though, since there are nearly always calm side streets.

  6. It seems that I find a detail that others either don’t think of or that ultimately that detail is not very important. But, with all this desire to ‘fill in’ the empty areas, I want to ask: how will the Seattle utilities deal with this expected increase? All I hear about right now is that the electricity grid is getting maxed out at times here in Seattle. The water and sewer systems are getting close to being maxed out(except for maybe up north with the Brightwater sewer system.) How is Seattle supposed to get more water from the mountain snow? How are we going to get more electricity from the dams or windmills–especially if more people decide to buy a Nissan Leaf?

    Maybe these questions ultimately are not important or the answers have already been found?

    1. Who are you hearing this from? Seattle has access to more water than we could ever use. Bonneville sells electricity to California every year. Sure, our sewer system gets overwhelmed during heavy rains, but that’s because of all of the gutters hooked right into sewage.

      Yes, overall we save more fish if we conserve water, burn less coal across the country if we save electricity, etc. But allowing people to move to the city actually saves quite a bit of these resources. Our lawns are smaller, as it the surface area of our houses, and we even need fewer street lights per person when there’s more people in a small area. Retrofitting old utilities is a far more important problem around here than adding capacity, and the more tax payers we have the easier that retrofit is to afford.

    2. Water is gradually becoming an issue here as the population increases and the climate changes. But acute shortages and significant rationings are a long way off.

    3. Regarding electricity, it’s easier to supply a dense cluster of people than a spread-out sprawl. Total usage is not an issue in Washington state, and per capita, it’s lower in dense areas anyway.

      Same is true of telephone, cable, and Internet.

      Regarding sewer, it’s again easier to supply a dense cluster than sprawl, *unless* the sprawl is so diffuse that it can use septic systems.

      Regarding water, it’s again easier to supply a dense cluster than sprawl. Putting in one big water line is expensive, but putting in a dozen little lines over longer distances is *more* expensive. Total usage is not an issue in Washington state.

      Gas lines, it’s again easier to supply a dense cluster than sprawl. Putting in one big water line is expensive, but putting in a dozen little lines over longer distances is *more* expensive. Total usage *is* an issue, but it’s lower in dense areas (due to less building surface area per person to lose heat with).

      Have I covered all the common utilities?

  7. A linguistic note: The word “duplex” means a very specific housing type in many older areas of the US. To them, it specifically means that one unit is primarily above the other. Side-by-side units are usually called “twins” or “doubles” or “two-family attached houses” in those places – but not duplexes. Seattle appears to define it as two units that get recorded as one piece of property regardless of positioning, but frankly I’m not entirely sure. I am even guessing that some readers define “duplex” more specifically than others! Can someone who knows the Seattle codes well clarify so we are all on the same page? Could a definitional change make a difference in the viability of “duplexes” or “two-unit attached housing units” in the development community?

    1. Common usage here is two units, almost always side by side. I never heard of vertical duplexes until I saw a documentary about Canadian cities, which said that Montreal’s traditional duplexes are vertical.

    2. I’m from the Boston area and always thought of a duplex as the side by side variety. The ones where each unit had it’s own floor were called “Two-Family” and three stacked units were referred to as a “Three-Family” or a “Triple Decker.”

    3. Interestingly, my block in Seattle has a “flat” style duplex. It’s done so discretely that I didn’t even see that it was a duplex for several months after I moved into the block. There’s a front door visible to the street for the main level, and a side door for the top level really isn’t visible until one reaches the front porch. It’s actually a very useful housing type, because each living space can be all on one floor; the residents don’t have run up and down two or three floors all the time like in a townhouse. That makes it attractive for lots of situations, like a retired couple or a couple with a young child that can still use stairs but have difficulty using them frequently. Seattle has lots of townhouse-style housing, but the marketplace doesn’t really encourage the “flats” and frankly it’s too bad. Sure there can be noise issues with someone living upstairs/downstairs, but the tradeoff of having no stairs in the house can be profoundly important to lots of people.

      I was raised in a town that allowed two units in any residential zone in any configuration. It was a relic of the “servant’s quarters” days. As long as the housing met the lot coverage, setback and height requirements, it was allowed by right. The result was a variety of different two-unit homes for all sorts of situations! For example, it was a way to have an extended family have a house – and when the grandparents got too old they switched levels with their kids’ family. Another example is where two physicians and their wives retired, but both wanted both a city home and a resort home – so they sold their mansions and built a nice new duplex in my hometown and bought adjacent condos on the beach with the rest. That way, either couple could keep an eye on the property if the other one was away on the beach. A decent architect can easily design something that’s attractive and fits within any neighborhood.

      I’m curious whether the “coop” ownership option is available in Seattle. In other cities, one can buy into two or three unit housing as the house is owned by the coop rather than individuals. The coop organization has to agree to the change, but usually that’s not a problem. Another option is the “condo association” option and I’ve had several friends in other cities own homes in two-unit buildings this way.

      1. These are allowed in multi-family zones. I believe there’s language in the “congregate housing” part of our code that’s intended for coops. Actually, as part of the proposed rule-changes for aPodments, they’re trying to make sure aPodments can’t use the congregate housing rules by requiring common kitchens in order to “regularly and customarily engage in aspects of group or co-dependent living”. (living together is not allowed unless you eat together!) Seattle has a really weird obsession with kitchens. (here’s my summary of that story)

        I’m a fan of SF or NYC style row houses with flats. You buy a house with the intent of occupying a floor or two, and rent the lower unit out. Or, you can buy just one flat (at least in SF – not sure about NYC). This flexibility is great for those that don’t want to be landlords and makes housing more affordable (you don’t have to qualify to buy the whole house), plus it gives good incentives to build densely.

      2. Why is it that municipalities feel that it’s appropriate to poke into the personal living arrangements of people sharing a house? It’s really bizarre stuff to put in a zoning code.

    4. In Milwaukee duplexes are nearly always up-and-down, and are very common on pretty much every pre-war residential block.

    5. One thing I’ve never understood about vertical duplexes. In the horizontal kind the two units are usually identical, so neither person is getting more than the other. But in the vertical kind the top unit seems to get a worse deal because the bottom unit gets the main door front and center and the top unit’s door is up stairs and off in a corner. It makes me think they should charge substantially less as compensation for this, otherwise why would I (for instance) buy a top unit when I can get a bottom unit elsewhere for the same price? Of course, that would reverse if the top unit has a splendid water view, but most duplexes don’t have splendid views.

      1. I’m confused about why you’re confused. If a top unit and a bottom unit are priced the same and you like the bottom unit better, you should get that one! If everyone likes the bottom units better, these will fill up first and they might have to lower the prices on the top units so people move in to those as well. Nobody is suggesting that anyone should be prohibited from setting different prices for different units based on market demand.

      2. That’s my question. Are upper units generally priced lower or the same? Is it harder to fill an upper unit, or do most buyers not care?

      3. I think that depends. On the reasons you listed, as well as unit size, windows, whether the lower unit is a basement, whether the upper unit is in an attic, yard access, layout, etc. etc.

      4. Upper units are generally slightly cheaper in my area. This is because of the long, narrow staircases leading to them — the greater “disabled access” makes the lower unit more valuable.

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