Building a Backyard Office May Require Approvals, Increase Property Value
It should come as no surprise that, ever since the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the United States in early 2020, a substantial portion of the American workforce has been working from home. If you purchased your home with the idea of working from home in mind, you may have selected a house with a dedicated home office or at least an extra bedroom or flex space that you could use as a home office. However, if you bought your home with the expectation that it merely serves as your living space, and not your working space, you may find yourself realizing that there isn’t enough room to adequately serve both purposes.
Enough people have found themselves in such a predicament that there has been a boom in the market for backyard offices—something like a detached backyard shed but designed and intended to be a habitable workspace. If you are considering putting a detached office structure in your backyard, there is more for you to consider than just shopping for prefabricated units or a contractor who can build one for you. Specifically, there may be some red tape and other regulatory hoops you need to jump through before you can commute across the lawn.
For example, you may need to get approval from your property owners’ association to put up the structure in the first place, and may need to have the architectural review board approve the colors and materials, if applicable. Even if the structure, colors, and materials get approved, you may also need to address any prohibition or limitations on home occupations.
Also, you presumably would want to have electrical power in your backyard office, so you may need to check with your electrical utility provider for any requirements they may have for separate metering. Any other utilities that you may want to connect to your backyard office may have other requirements as well.
Your homeowner’s insurance provider may need to be notified of any new habitable structures built on the property, and you may need to adjust your premiums or coverage accordingly.
If you live in the corporate limits or extraterritorial jurisdiction of a city, you may need to obtain a building permit; and, if you live in Texas, a development plat may need to be filed and approved before the permit may be issued if the city has elected to be covered by Subchapter B of Chapter 212 of the Texas Local Government Code. Also, the city may have restrictions or limitations on home occupations in addition to those of your homeowners’ association, so you may need to seek a zoning change, special exception, or specific use permit to be able to use your backyard office as intended.
Finally—and this may already be needed for one or more of the matters described above—you may want to have a survey of the property drawn up by a qualified engineer to ensure that you don’t place the backyard office within any setbacks or easements that may encumber your property.
Backyard offices may be a much more appealing option than shopping for a new home altogether, and may add significant value to your property for when it does come time to sell, which brings up one other point you may want to consider: an improvement such as a backyard office may increase the appraised value of your property, and thus your ad valorem taxes.
Whether you have built or are interested in building a backyard office, or however else you manage to cope with the pandemic and the potentially lasting effect it may have on your workplace situation, I wish you the best and hope that you stay well!
Byron L. Brown is an attorney with the Randle Law Office in Houston, Texas, where his practice areas include municipal economic development, municipal franchises and commercial lease litigation. He graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a B.A. in Criminal Justice, and earned his J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center.