Big Things In Small Packages – Are Tiny Homes The Future?

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I am absolutely in love with learning and sharing all things real estate. I’m an agent for Jacaranda Real Estate In Harare, Zimbabwe. This blog will be the ultimate resource for all things real estate so subscribe and stay tuned.

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Tiny is the new black. As more people seem to embrace the minimalist lifestyle and economic trends are showing a greater desire in people to move towards overpopulated and expensive to live in cities; tiny homes seem to have everything working in their favor to be the “housing of the future.”

With that in mind, I’ve taken time to deep dive into the world of tiny-living to give you an overall evaluation of all things tiny. And this is what I have to report.

What Is A Tiny Home?

There is no fixed definition of what tiny homes are, but in general; the vague adage of “you’ll know it when you see” really does hold.

But if you want to have a more fixed definition for it, a tiny home can be stated to be any living structure that provides basic living facilities and utilities within a very small space of up to 600sft or under.

The basics are the following:

  • Bedroom.
  • Bathroom.
  • Kitchen.
  • Living space.
  • Storage facilities

*It is common for most tiny home designs to integrate facility spaces with one or more other spaces to make the most out of the total space appointed for the home. Such as the kitchen, lounge, and storage facilities all being ingeniously designed to occupy one space.

Tiny homes, unlike traditional homes, are commonly seen in 1 of 3 forms which are:

  1. Built on foundation.
  2. Built on trailer (THOWs).
  3. Built prefabricated.

1. Built on foundation.

These are tiny homes that are built through the same process and procedures of building a traditional house.

The foundation, building materials (bricks, cement, wood, steel, etc ), components (electricity, plumbing, telephone, internet, etc) and labor are all integrated on-site and one after the other.

When a tiny home is ‘built on foundation,’ like a traditional home; it cannot be moved by any simple or convenient means and by most regard, is expected to become a fixed property.

‘Built on foundation’ tiny homes, I expect to be built for individuals who expect to live or rent out the minimalist and marginally more affordable lifestyle of tiny homes for long periods.

2. Built on trailers – Tiny House On Wheels (THOWs).

THOWs are tiny homes that are built from the ground up to be mobile. THOWs are not tiny homes that can be placed and removed on trailers but are homes that are permanently built on a trailer-like setup.

They are essentially the next level of mobile accommodation past Recreational Vehicles (RVs). The Tiny Home is by comparison significantly larger than most RVs and would is not self-propelling; requiring the assistance of another vehicle to move it to other locations.

THOWs are tiny homes for individuals who expect to move regularly but wish to do so on their terms and with the convenience of not having to seek out, buy and furnish a new estate each time.

3. Built Prefabricated.

Prefabrication is ‘production line built.’ The parts of the home; walls, rooms, partitions, windows, doors, and everything else that would normally be considered “fixed” in a home are prebuilt and then brought together for assembly on the plant.

You can imagine prefabrication as the process of making a home in the same way you would expect Toyota to make a car.

The only thing fixed for the property becomes the foundation of the home and the home can easily and conveniently be disassembled and assembled at another property.

*Note that prefabricated homes, though popularised by the tiny home model; are not just tied to being for tiny homes. The concept has been utilized for normal large scale houses as well and may become the new housing trend of the future. You can learn more about prefabricated homes as a whole; on my blog post about it (HERE).  

Why Are People Getting Tiny Homes?

On an individual level from the perspective of buyers and renters of tiny homes, their popularity can almost entirely be accounted for as a result of the rise of the minimalist trend.

Keep in mind that minimalism concerning tiny homes is often not a substitute word for cheap – some tiny homes are undeniably much cheaper but the trend for more modern tiny homes can match and exceed the price of their traditional counterparts.

Instead, the trend towards minimalism is more an affinity for efficient use of space to only have what you need where you need and the removal of the majority of bloated space in a home.   

There is also a more economical reason as to why tiny homes are becoming more popular, especially in larger and more established cities and that is connected to the provision of more affordable housing and renting options for buyers and renters.

Where demand is nearing or over the available supply of units in these cities, a new wave push of allowing and often incentivizing the construction of tiny homes from investors (landlords) and homebuyers to create a more stable situation.

Tiny homes become cheaper units – making them more affordable for more people and they take up less space –  allowing for more of them to be built to increase accommodation supply in these areas.

These 2 coupling reasons are making it seem less and less than the phenomenon of tiny homes is just a crazed trend that will inevitably die down and more like it is the natural and inevitable progression of home development.

Who Are Tiny Homes For?

As with all forms of real-estate, tiny homes are properties that will cater to either ‘to live’ investors; who will purchase or build tiny homes with the intention of self-accommodation or ‘to sell’ investors; who will purchase or build tiny homes with the intention of wealth generation through flipping or renting out the properties.

For ‘to live’ investors:

Tiny homes are accommodation options either out of desire or necessity.

Concerning desire, individuals who want tiny homes are attracted to the aesthetic or minimalist lifestyle that is offered from the tiny home concept.

In general, ‘to live’ investors are often looking at the following benefits of tiny homes:

  • Less living room waste.
  • Cheaper to maintain and furnish.
  • More attractive and convenient for small households.
  • Less costly concerning energy and other utility usages.
  • Cheaper and faster to construct.

Concerning necessity, as previously stated above; some cities are either lacking the supply of available traditional properties to sell or because the properties have become far too expensive to become reasonably viable for investors who are looking for a property to live in.

Tiny homes solve this issue by providing cheaper properties to accommodate as well as making more properties available In the market.

For ‘to sell’ investors:

Tiny homes are an investment opportunity out of the opportunity.

Where prospective tiny home landlords can see a rising trend of the above ‘to live’ investor reasons becoming more prevalent in a market; savvy real estate investors will shift their investments building and buying traditional homes to tiny homes to rent and sell.

‘To sell’ investors will focus on the following trends when deciding whether or not tiny homes are a viable avenue of wealth generation:

  • The desired trend of prospective buyers and renters.
  • The necessity trend of the market.
  • The legality of tiny homes in the market.

Are Tiny Homes Legal?

The legality of tiny homes is one of, if not the most influential factor in their development and housing opportunity of tiny homes. As it stands, most cities and states at their best have iffy and sketchy rulings on the legality of tiny homes and at their worst classify tiny homes as illegal.

Why are tiny homes illegal in most states?

The answer is this; tiny homes are a relatively new phenomenon in the world of real estate and new things have little to no established and necessary regulations for zoning laws and safety standards that are needed to protect the occupants of such properties.

With all other forms of real estate – traditional single-family homes, apartments, attached homes, cluster properties, duplexes, and even tower estates; there are established regulations that simply classify whether the properties are fit to accommodate. This is not the case for tiny homes, in most states.

Whether you are planning to build, buy, rent, or sell a tiny home; it will always be best to check the laws regulating such a property. Just because construction firms can build it – doesn’t mean the city will approve of it.

Neglecting this can lead to some hefty legal repercussions.  

Should You Go Tiny?

If legality is not an issue for any form of investment in tine homes, the following advantages and disadvantages for such properties should be considered by both ‘to live’ and ‘to sell’ investors of tiny homes

Considerations of tiny homes:

  • Flexibility in cost and financing.
  • Maintenance.
  • Lifestyle.
  • Utilities and Amenities.

1. Pros and cons of Flexibility in the Cost and Financing of tiny homes (construction, mortgage, energy, utilities, and furnishings).

Pros:

– I previously stated above that modern tiny homes are not necessarily cheaper options to accommodation when compared to the cost of construction when compared to traditional homes; I consider to be completely true but only half of the story.

The whole story is that there is a greater deal of flexibility in tiny homes than all other forms of properties when it comes to the minimum viable monetary investment to get legally approved accommodation.

You would be hard-pressed to design and construct a legally approved traditional property for less than  $20, 000 – this is not the case in tiny homes.

– Another financial pro of tiny homes is the natural correlation that stems from the fact that a smaller property requires and allows for less energy and general utility bills.

There is less space to heat or cool down dependent on the season; thus lowering the cost of energy and having less overall space for energy-consuming utilities and products like large fridges and general electrical outlets leads to less consumption.

-The final financial pro of tiny homes is that having less overall rooms and space to occupy – leads to less overall space that needs to be furnished. Homeowners, tenants, and investors of tiny homes require less money to sufficiently furnish their property.

Cons:

– The largest financial con of tiny homes comes in the form of limited financing avenues to fund its construction.

The fact that tiny homes are significantly cheaper than their traditional counterparts makes them very appealing for individual homeowners and home investors to self-fund the construction of the property but reduces their viability for mortgage brokers to fund.

This is because the smaller size of loan for the property, though often less risky for the mortgage broker – is also less profitable because of the smaller interest generated and the shorter loan period that would be needed by the individual who takes out the loan.

This leaves investors to almost always rely on self-funding for the construction of tiny homes which would often result in a significant loss of liquid money to use for other issues or will require the individual to take out normal or mortgage broker loans at likely significantly higher interest rates.

2. Pros and Cons of Maintenance in a tiny home (Frequency and severity).

Pros:

– When it comes to maintaining tiny homes, those responsible will often realize the benefit of having to deal with less severe cases of maintenance when it comes to cleaning, repairing, and renovating the property.

This is because there are fewer spaces and substances needed to clean, repair, and renovate on the property.

Cons:

– A con to the above point of maintenance is that though the severity of damage or cleaning on the property concerning how much needs to be cleaned and how badly damages can build up is less than in traditional homes.

The necessarily required frequency of cleaning and repairing the property is so much more. The dirt and damage won’t build up to huge amounts because they become so noticeable when just a little dirt or damage builds up.

3. Pros and Cons of Lifestyle in a tiny home (current and expected).

Pros:

– Tiny homes offer many options not available in traditional homes to cater to the lifestyle of individuals; particularly for single to small households (2 people) who want or live a more nomadic lifestyle.

THOWs allow individuals to simply tow their property for wherever they want to go.

Prefabs can be disassembled and assembled at a new location.

and all tiny homes will generally require less attention if left alone concerning running utilities, setting up security measures, and packing away property to move.

Cons:

–  As a con in this category, tiny homes offer very limited, to no growth potential when it comes to household tenants and home improvement renovations on the property.

A traditional home offers enough space for a household to comfortably accommodate a guest or another family member (children).

tenants within a tiny home will almost always be forced to relocate to a larger property to effectively accommodate more individuals in the property.

*Tiny homes can be built with larger accommodation offers but this will usually significantly raise the cost and investment of the property; either initially or later on through home enlargements – but this requires that there is enough space on the property to expand, will be very inconvenient for the current tenants and will likely require much legal procedure to get done.

4. Utility and Amenities.

Pros:

– Tiny homes as stated above can often enforce more efficient use of certain utilities such as energy usage. This is simply because the limited space often requires individuals to make more energy-efficient decisions (smaller fridges, televisions, and cooking units).

– Another pro of tiny homes comes in the form of making 3rd party amenities more accessible to the tenant of the property; particularly with solar power and security.

Sustainable solar powering for a traditional home is a huge financial investment as are the requirements to effectively secure your property – In general, the larger your home is; the more it will cost to apply size dependant amenities.

Cons:

– A con regarding utilities and amenities of tiny homes is that for all the ingenuity of designing the property to effectively mix and mesh different facilities and utilities in one area; the likely the more inconvenient it is to interact with everything.

Tiny homes are often spacious and smart when it comes to storage but this still makes it inconvenient to store large amounts of goods such as clothes and food. Occupants of tiny homes are forced to live by minimalism and the drawbacks of it (less space for emergency packs of food and clothes).

– An additional con for the more movable forms tiny homes (Prefabs and THOWs) is that they are not connected to most skeptic systems and will often involve the inconvenient reliance and cost of legally disposing of the waste on the property.

– Lastly, most tiny homes will also be appointed to proportionate small property zone boundaries which offers smaller than average backyard space and privacy on the property.

*This is primarily the case for built on foundation properties that often share a lot with multiple properties or are found in the backyard of other estates as pseudo-attached properties.

How To Own A Tiny Home?

If you’ve gotten this far and have evaluated all the above considerations of what goes into a tiny home, the inevitable next step is understanding just how you go about owning a tiny home for yourself and as an investment to sell or rent to someone else.

Ownership of a tiny home will come in 1 of 3 forms:

  • Buy.
  • Rent.
  • Build.

How to buy a tiny home?

Buying a tiny home doesn’t deviate much from the procedures and processes of buying a traditional home; with only key differences that can stem from the following

  • Financing.

Inconveniently, buying a tiny home steers towards self-financing as most mortgage brokers will not see the potential gain of financing a tiny home to be worthwhile without the addition of far greater interest rates.

Borrowing from banks is more viable and likely but will still involve higher interest rates.

  • Construction.

Conveniently, construction of any form of tiny homes takes only a fraction of the time it takes to construct a traditional home; with homes often taking 3 months or less to build.

How to rent a tiny home?

Renting a tiny home, is identical to renting any property and as such; I would recommend any prospective tenant or landlord to read the following posts that bolster the likelihood of success in a landlord and tenant arrangement:

– How to find a great landlord: (HERE).

– How to screen a tenant effectively. (HERE).

– The difference between a renting and lease contract. (HERE)

How to construct a tiny home?

Now, if you’re planning on going down the road of building your own tiny home, there are 3 routes you can take to build a tiny home and they are

  1. Self-construction.
  2. Normal building companies.
  3. Specialty tiny home developers.

I have written a comprehensive analysis of all 3 routes (HERE). And you might be amazed at which route I would personally recommend.

Concluding thoughts on tiny homes.

To be honest, I am a bit mixed on where exactly I stand on the entire tiny home debacle.

On the one hand, I cannot in good faith; see the concept becoming so popular as to replace the more traditional property options offered in the world of real estate.

That coupled with their general inflexibility for growth; almost always means that they are not a permanent living structure and individuals will likely grow out of them when they want or need more space as their household becomes larger through family growth and pets.

But, on the other hand; I cannot deny their growing and lasting trend year after year and how economics is generally saying “This is the future” as more and more people move closer to cities and less and less accommodation becomes available and viable in those exact cities.

Tiny homes also seem like an incredible opportunity for rental investors in popular cities as they are cheaper to construct, accommodate less space and the rent for the properties will likely still be attractive.

The fact of the matter is this, tiny homes are here and they are likely going to be here for a very long time. We might as well make the most out of them.

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I am absolutely in love with learning and sharing all things real estate. I’m an agent for Jacaranda Real Estate In Harare, Zimbabwe. This blog will be the ultimate resource for all things real estate so subscribe and stay tuned.