When Bernie Yee and his wife, Stefanie Smith, moved from New York to Seattle in 2012, after Bernie took a job with video game company Bungie, they had a few specifics in mind for their first home: a modern, energy-efficient house with enough room for their son, an attached mother-in-law apartment to rent out, and a work space for Stefanie’s massage therapy practice. All of this, ideally, in a nice, single-family neighborhood. Within a budget. In Seattle.
“Well, we couldn’t find anything,” says Bernie, to the surprise of no one living in this unprecedented, increasingly competitive housing market. But even in the face of such limited inventory, the couple did not lower their expectations or opt for a fixer-upper that would maybe one day look like the home of their dreams. Instead, they went prefab.
Prefabricated homes—structures built off site, then placed on top of a property using a crane—have plenty of modern perks, says Johnny Hartsfield of Greenfab, which built Bernie and Stefanie’s home. Constructing in a controlled indoor environment protects building materials from the elements and allows for more precise structural engineering and cost control. “So you got the health, you got the strength, and then predictability,” says Hartsfield.
But for Bernie and Stefanie, it was all about the customization. Working from a 3D computer rendering, they added a master bedroom here, the separate work space there, an open staircase, even triple-pane windows for better insulation—all with the click of the mouse, as though tweaking a house in a video game. “It’s so much less painful to build it the way you want it than to take something else and retrofit it,” says Bernie.
Prefab homes might not always be lauded for design choices (think fleets of modular mobile homes), but the clean lines of this structure, accentuated by mixed wood usage, the open floor plan filled with generous, airy spaces, and the overall blend of crisp and comfortable, shows off a distinctly Northwest modern aesthetic. “We aren’t churning out homes,” says Hartsfield, whose company only custom builds around 10 prefabs a year.
But how did the Greenwood neighbors feel about a new tech transplant moving in, demolishing an existing midcentury home and replacing it with a sleek ultramodern prefab? It’s been nothing but positive, says Stefanie. For one, assembly only takes about four months—half the time of traditional construction. It also helped that the existing property had been pretty rundown, not a local treasure. The day they lowered the structure onto the property even became a sort of neighborhood block party, complete with refreshments.
“We wanted our home to be an expression of our priorities,” says Bernie. “From money to space to Stefanie’s work.” As homes in Seattle continue to be bought up at record speed and prices, finding a property that checks off all boxes can be something of a luxury. It’s a brave new real estate market, then, when building and shipping a dream home is just a mouse click away.