Weird and Wonderful Real-Estate Ep 4 – Residential Tree Houses.

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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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I think it’s a fair enough assumption to say we’ve all “once upon a time,” wanted a tree-house; a secret bunker to get away from it all or a fantasy fort to hold secrets and master plans.

Though the concept was usually held as a monopoly as a “kids'” dream. Today, the treehouse dream is, as a viable notion for a kid’s hideout as it is as an actual residential home for adults and families.

And being as untraditional and unorthodox as the thought is, that is exactly why Residential Treehouses are getting the spotlight on today’s’ episode of weird and wonderful real-estate.

As usual, we’ll begin with the basics…  

What Is A Residential Tree House?

If I asked you to picture a regular treehouse, I think we’d all imagine the same basic structure on a single enclosed room space, elevated and constructed high around a tall and strong tree, accessible through either a ladder or stairway structure. Imagine Bart Simpsons’ treehouse fort.

The traditional treehouse is more a room than a house. A residential treehouse, emphasizes the HOUSE part.

Residential tree houses, aspire to do what traditional residential homes do but built elevated and founded around a tree for support. Specifically, I will say that a residential treehouse must provide the following rooms and purposes:

  1. A bedroom to sleep in.
  2. A kitchen area to cook.
  3. A bathroom for toilet and bathing purposes.
  4. A lounge area for general purposes.
  5. General security and safety from external forces.

At first glance, this might seem like a simple way to classify residential tree houses but as I previously stated and as we’ll likely find as we go through evaluating residential tree houses by that the above criteria; most “residential treehouses” are simply treehouse rooms than anything else.

To give residential tree houses a fairer shot at actually working, I’m going to give the concept more flexibility by saying that the above rooms that make up a house will only need to be constructed around a tree structure than having to be constructed elevated in a tree.

The History Of Residential Tree Houses.

Tarzan, I’m pretty sure it was Tarzan. This is only half a lie because I am pretty certain that the rise in popularity and by association; the rise in residential treehouse innovation was in part founded by peoples’ desire for freedom to live like the fictional man amongst the apes.

The other half-truth and most likely the far greater foundational truth of the history of residential tree houses would come from the fact that there were and are actual tribes who live this way; in tree houses.

One such tribe, which I won’t say was the originator of the concept of living in the trees though they are most likely the most popular association we have with the idea; it is from the people of the Korowai tribe.

 This not a deep dive on the people of the Korowai but if you want an interesting read about them (after reading this post of course) – you can learn more about them (HERE). For this blog, all you need to know is that they do indeed rely on the concept of “residential treehouses;” per the criteria, I stated above – though at a much less modern level.

Immediately, the Korowai tribe proved that residential treehouses are viable and as I’ll cover below; modern renditions of them are not few and far apart.

How Do Residential Tree Houses Work?

Residential Treehouses live in a space where they are some odd mix of off-grid living and unconventional tiny home living. As such, some of the considerations and expectations for how living in a treehouse would work are a mix of those avenues.

With, of course, their little nuances resulting from living in a tree.

Considerations – What You Should Know About Shipping Container Homes:

  1. Legality – Government and Home Associations.
  2. Foundation and the environment.
  3. Privacy and Security
  4. Construction – Expertise vs DIY.
  5. Basic amenities – furniture, utilities, power, plumbing, water.

1. Legality – Government and Home Associations.

Though treehouse living has been documented as a viable way of living since at least 1974 from the Korowai tribe. It has only recently (the early 2000s) gained momentum as a viable alternative to traditional home living.

And still, it’s more something you’re more likely to see in the not-so-heavily regulated world of living off-the-grid than what how you would expect your average neighborhood homeowner to live in.

As such, most governments and home associations aren’t going to have much active regulation and laws over how constructing and living in a residential treehouse should look like and work like. And what isn’t legally regulated is often problematic – if not restricted.   

Anyone who wants to build a residential treehouse would have to go through the government or go fully off-grid to get it done.

2. Foundation and the environment.

Construction of a residential treehouse has one fixed-aspect that is usually both integral to the overall stability of the home but is also the aspect that is the most variable and uncontrollable; that being the tree upon which the treehouse is built around.

For most residential treehouse designs, the tree is the most important founding structure but is also the most vulnerable. Rot, drying out, diseases, pests such as termites, and heavy water are all factors that can negatively affect a trees’ (and by association) a residential tree houses’ livelihood and viability.

Appropriate and diligent research on what trees can and cannot be used to build the home on and the seasonal factors that affect the tree within the year are all points worth consideration.  

3. Privacy and Security.

Because of the current general lack of the necessary environmental and legal requirements for residential treehouses concerning a wide range of trees within a properties boundaries to find the most viable and laws and regulations over how the property must be constructed; most residential treehouses will have to be built on potentially off-grid locations.

Off-grid locations in this regard will normally be forests or farm areas, where there are multiple trees to test for viability and where construction regulations for private property may be laxer or more open for testing.

Such areas will be generally more private and secure (not accounting for how the property is built) concerning people, simply because they are in areas with low population densities. Depending on the exact location, these areas would be at higher risk from wildlife such as animals and natural threats such as fires.

4. Construction – Expertise vs DIY.

Though building a traditional “hangout” treehouse could be a weekend DIY hobby project. When you’re considering building a feasible home alternative in the trees, it’s going to need as much attention to detail as a traditional home would. If not more.

 A Residential treehouse needs a mixed bag of skills to construct properly; from carpentry to architecture to dendrology (the study of trees) which unless you know a company who specializes in just that; it’s going to need you to bring a lot of potentially expensive people together and find a way to get them to mix and mingle fluidly.

These days, there are multiple companies and specialists who do specialize in the construction of residential tree houses and they are most likely the most convenient path to get the structure built if you are not an expert.

5. Basic amenities – furniture, utilities, power, plumbing, water.

Alongside the amount of effort and work that will be needed to construct the external structure of the residential treehouse, there is also the work that will be needed to move furniture and utilities into the home; which may be a few stories up in a tree.

But before that, there is the crucial matter of connecting the home to off-grid alternatives for general on-grid services and utilities such as electricity, plumbing, and septic tank requirements, and access to water.

This is really where all the restrictions and requirements of off-grid living start to take effect and must be considered when planning to like in a treehouse; full time. You can learn about all the differences you’ll have to expect between on-grid and off-grid living (HERE).

Pros and Cons Of Living In A Residential Tree House.

Accounting for the above considerations; essential for residential treehouse living, the following is a detailed list of the pros and cons that you can expect if you decided to go full steam ahead in building and permanently living in a residential treehouse:


Pros Of Living In A Residential Tree House.Cons Of Living In A Residential Tree House
The Pros of Tiny home livingLegalities around construction.
Eco-friendly.Access and restriction to basic amenities.
Privacy.Coverage costs – insurance.
Novel lifestyle.Vulnerable structural integrity.
Novel Business opportunity.Lifespan and value.

Pros Of Living In A Residential Tree House:

1. The Pros of tiny off-grid living.

Though it’s not impossible to build a residential treehouse as comparably large as a traditional home and on a site with on-grid services, I will be going forward under the assumption that most designs will be following a minimalist tiny home-like design on an off-grid site.

This is because though possible, residential tree houses are still globally among the “new age” of real estate where regulations are vague or inexistent so the smaller the better and the more likely the home will be off-grid.

As such, residential treehouses will benefit from the following perks of tiny off-grid living:

  • Environmentally friendly.
  • Cheaper land.
  • Sustainable living.
  • Freedom and self-regulation.
  • Reduced utility bills.
  • Increased control over personal necessities.

You can read the following comprehensive blogs on Off-grid living (HERE) and Tiny Home Living (HERE).

2. Eco-friendly.

Aside from the environmentally friendly benefits that naturally arise as a result of a tiny home and off-grid living, the overall means of constructing a home around the founding structure of a tree reduces overall energy usage as no labor, materials, and power need to be used such as when creating a traditional home.

This is also coupled with the fact that the residential treehouse would be constructed primarily out of lightweight materials such as renewable wood.

3. Privacy.

Compounding the fact that your home would not only be situated away from the vast majority of the society plus the fact the home is also elevated somewhere in the middle of the woods, will all lead to the developments of a very private living environment.

A true haven for peace.

4. Novel lifestyle.

Did I mention that you’ll be living in a treehouse? An actual residential treehouse! Your home’s history and design will most likely be the most unique amongst your friends.

Waking up to view that would be envied by most, surrounded by life and knowing you’re the only one who gets to wake up in a treehouse!!

Truly a unique experience – Which I want.

5. Novel Business opportunity.

As I covered above, living in an adult ready treehouse is an extremely novel idea. Most individuals may not be ready to take the plunge to permanently live there and replace their traditional fixed-on-the-ground dwelling place, but they may want to try it out over a weekend.

Residential treehouses will certainly set themselves apart from the crowd when it comes to weekend vacation getaways and Airbnb properties.

Cons Of Living In A Residential Tree House:

1. Legalities around construction.

For all “new” residential real estate, the greatest issue for development and habitation is government regulations or specifically the lack of it. When the government is generally unaware of how to regulate something new, it is typically either made illegal or highly restricted.

In many states, residential real estate falls into this pit. States that are unfamiliar with them will make it very difficult is not near impossible to convert residential treehouses into viable traditional home alternatives.

2. Access logistics and restriction to basic amenities.

Commonly, dependent on how elevated the residential treehouse will be when constructed; the home will not be the most convenient to access and would require a level of athleticism to enter when climbing stairs or a ladder.

Despite personal access, this hindrance would carryforwards to moving furniture, utilities, and general items in and out of the property.

The above inconveniences are also accompanied by the labor and investment that will have to be made to provide off-grid alternatives to on-grid utilities; especially for water, electricity, plumbing, and waste disposal (septic tanks).  

3. Coverage costs – insurance.

The legal issues surrounding residential treehouses directly and negatively influences the cost to insure the property. This, coupled with the fact that residential treehouses naturally are not designed to last a long time as well as being vulnerable to many more factors than the average home; makes them one of the most expensive forms of real estate to ensure.

4. Vulnerable structural integrity.

Residential tree houses are hindered in design by 2 factors:

Firstly, they largely have to be built out of lightweight materials as they need to be sufficiently supported by connections to the main tree, and second, the overall stability and reliability of the home are connected to the state of said main tree(s).

These 2 factors make the home, less than ideal in the face of natural threats such as heavy storms, winds, earthquakes, and pests that can harm the tree such as tree diseases and burrowing animals and termites.

All in all, residential treehouses may realistically be the most structurally vulnerable form of real estate and would require consistent and diligent maintenance and review of the property to avoid catastrophic disasters.

5. Lifespan and value.

A traditional homeowner would be less than impressed if they heard that their brick and mortar or wood home was built to last less than 100 years. On the other hand, residential tree houses, with all their innovations and popularity; are only expected to last as far as the 50-year mark in the best-case scenario.

This significantly hinders the long term value of the home as well as damaging the long term investment viability of residential homes.

Who Are Residential Tree Houses For?

Residential tree houses are one of the weirdest dwelling places I’ve had to evaluate so far in this series and they also have one of my weirdest recommendations thus far.

I see residential treehouses as a case of property that is designed to be a traditional home replacement for a permanent dwelling that is more viable and more likely to find success as a hotel and Airbnb alternative.

Their inconveniences when it comes to entering the property and setting up off-grid amenities when coupled by the very short lifespan and multiple avenues of structural risk and failure cannot make recommend residential treehouses as viable home alternatives for anyone but the most dedicated person who wants one.

For the lodging industry, it’s a different story. Because people won’t be accommodating the property 24/7-362 the home is less likely to suffer from wear and tear damage as well as it being more possible to routinely tend to the property and evaluate its state without inconveniencing people who would have normally been living in the property.

Concluding Thoughts – Is Living In A Residential Tree House A Good Idea?

Well, I want to (and yes I know what I just wrote above) but residential treehouses are probably the most fascinating and unique form of real estate you’ll find in any tropical location and I want one.

My personal biases aside, I have to stand by the facts and conclude that for residential purposes, residential tree houses just aren’t currently at a stage where they offer a reliable return in both investment and security for their offering of novelty.

But keep in mind, technologies innovate quickly and the day might come when we perfect permanent treehouse living and on that day; I’ll have to revisit this blog.

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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.