Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

two families one home

Kurtiss and Jessica Partnow live downstairs and Alex Stonehill and Sarah Stuteville and their kids live upstairs with a tenancy in common agreement. Photo by Joshua Huston

Where we live: Two families own one home

The benefits flow upstairs and down

“The kids always knock before they go in, but they absolutely love their ‘Titi’ Jessica. We usually eat together at least once a week, and we see each other almost every day.”

That’s Sarah Stuteville, a mental health counselor and mom of two, talking about her best friend Jessica Partnow, who co-owns the nearly 3,500 square-foot Central District home Sarah and her husband, Alex Stonehill, purchased in 2009.

Friends and family

Jessica and her husband, Kurtiss, live downstairs; Sarah, Alex, and their kids live upstairs. They all own the property together—Sarah and Alex 60%, Jessica and Kurtiss 40%. They have been co-owners since 2021. 

As housing becomes more unaffordable, families in the greater Seattle area have adapted. One such adaptation is shared homeownership. While most shared ownership agreements are between multigenerational families or tech workers (think HBO’s “Silicon Valley”), sharing the cost of a home with trusted friends is an attractive alternative to, say, paying $200,000 for a down payment.

Tenancy in common

Tenancy-in-common (TIC) agreements allow two or more individuals to own a property together. Right now, with the median home price in Seattle almost double the national median and mortgage rates the highest in decades, sharing a home may appeal to families who have been squeezed out of the market.

In a TIC, each owner has an undivided interest in the entire property regardless of how much of the property they own. Everyone is responsible for maintenance and repairs.

At the Stuteville-Stonehill-Partnow residence, each family manages issues specific to their space, but they split the cost of utilities, repairs, and taxes. “We are like family,” says Alex, “so it’s not really a negotiation. We just trust each other.”

Extra set of hands

Like a family, Jessica and Kurtiss provide “an extra set of hands,” according to Sarah, in raising the kids, Malcolm, 8, and Hellenore, 5. The children have learned how to live in community as a result of the arrangement. Hellenore says likes the chance to “do a mission, like take Titi and Kurtiss olive oil when they’re cooking.”

“Sarah, Alex, and I have been friends and business partners in so many ways over the years,” says Jessica. “All of those years, building our trust and friendship has made owning a house together feel like the most natural thing in the world.”

The friendships formed by this tight trio became a lifeline when crisis struck.

Making homeownership possible

In 2020, Jessca and Kurtiss were house hunting when Kurtiss suffered a stroke. Hopes of owning a home were dashed. Kurtiss would need a living space to accommodate a wheelchair, and his care took precedence over other expenditures. 

This could have been the end of the couple’s dream of homeownership. Instead, it was the start of something amazing. 

Together, Sarah, Alex, Kurtiss, and Jessica came up with a plan. Jessica and Kurtiss would buy into the residence, purchasing 40% of the property. The couples renovated the first floor to accommodate Kurtiss’s wheelchair. 

“Kurtiss’s stroke really showed us why building a community is so important,” says Jessica. “If we were on our own, I have no idea where we’d be living.”

Since Sarah and Alex rented out space in the house before their children were born, the kids are accustomed to living with other people. They pop downstairs for snacks, and Jessica and Kurtiss will often let a babysitter leave early and keep a baby monitor downstairs when Sarah and Alex are out. 

Few difficulties

The children are also smitten with Uncle Kurtiss’s service dog, Queso. 

“They are really good with Queso. They learned right away he’s only allowed to play when he’s ‘off duty,’” says Jessica.

Most difficulties the families encountered came from outside the home.

“We struggled to find a lawyer who understood what we wanted,” Sarah says, “and everybody thought we were crazy.” 

Ironing out social connection is important

Zach Burr, a property lawyer with Burrwood Law Group, hasn’t negotiated many TICs or shared homeownership agreements for separate families. He said more families are building Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), like backyard cottages, which they can then rent out or sell off. But for the most part, ADUs are a separate living space entirely. 

“There are definitely financial benefits to sharing a home, but you have to take into account the social issues,” says Zach. “Adding people to your home isn’t stress-free.” He recommends drawing up a community guidelines agreement to which each owner can adhere. 

We do it marriage, why not with friends?

For his part, Alex doesn’t understand reticence toward shared homeownership.

“You enter into an agreement like this when you buy a house with the person you marry,” says Alex. “Why do we trust that immediately, but not our friends?”

An extra set of hands at the ready? Support through life’s curveballs? Enjoying a meal with your best friend every week? 

That doesn’t sound crazy at all.

Read more:

Seattle’s Child March/April 2024 issue: Where we live and why

5 easy green living tips for families

About the Author

Elizabeth Hunter