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Money for thin air: Selling your home's 'air rights'

Joey Cohn

The air above your house could be worth a lot of cash if you have a view that's enjoyed by others in your neighborhood.

If you have a low-lying home that sits on a bank overlooking Puget Sound, for example, chances are the neighbors on the hill behind you may want to pay you to keep you from building up and blocking their view.

Welcome to the world of "air rights." Seattle-area real estate appraiser Richard Hagar says it's not unusual for a property owner to buy the air above a house that's in front of them for an average of $100,000 to $200,000. "Not only is the neighbor who buys your air rights preserving their view so that they can enjoy it, worry-free," says Hagar, "but they're also increasing the value of their home because now their property comes with a guaranteed view."

Keeping a lid on it

Of course, this means you won't be able to add that additional story to your house once you've sold off your air rights. But if that's not something you're concerned about, then selling this lightweight commodity may be worth your while.

"Who wouldn't want to sell some air and get money for it?" says Hagar.

Air is property, too

It turns out that air is one of the three distinct interests in a property. The other two are mineral and surface rights. And, like the other two, air rights can be bought, leased, sold and transferred.

Some neighborhoods come with a guaranteed view

Hagar says most  "air rights" deals are put together between neighbors, but there are properties in certain neighborhoods that have the right to unobstructed views over a neighboring property—also known as a view easement. And you can find rules concerning views in some homeowners' association's covenants (CC&Rs).

Hagar says Blue Ridge in Seattle is one of those places, as is Somerset in Bellevue.