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Part Two – Solutions To The Top 5 Barriers Of The Tiny House Movement

This is the second installment of this post, I posted the first part of this here, this is the second part of a post I wrote on the solutions to the top five barriers to living in a Tiny House.

Social Pressures

Social Pressures was something that Lloyd over at Treehugger took issue with because, as he pointed out, much of the rest of the world lives in small houses.  I guess I need to clarify that these pressures I speak about are not on a macro level, but a more micro, person to person, local interaction pressure.  This fact certainly wasn’t lost on me and ironically I had a moment of pause when it came to this article because I know living smaller is pretty status quo for most people.  But ultimately I decided not to go into all that for a few reasons: 94% of my readers are from the United States, an individual will typically get direct social pressure from their friends, family, and those around them, not from someone in another country, finally we are talking about Tiny Houses, not small houses; Building a small house typically can be done within the current legal confinements and are more widely accepted as just being practical, frugal, or a product of density.  Ultimately in the US, Tiny Houses are an extreme and only serve to spark a conversation about how much house and possessions do you really need.

As for dealing with these pressures I think it is very important first have a firm understanding of yourself, from there understanding the issues and engaging in respectful dialogue with opposing view points.  In the end you cannot convince everyone, but knowing yourself, the motivations, the convictions and gaining the support of those close to you can help you manage this.  Most often this is a pretty moot point because those you socialize with are of the like mindset, the rest are often fascinated by how cool your Tiny House is.  Just keep in mind that it isn’t for everyone.

Fear

The final point kind of extends the points from the previous heading, but understanding that to build a Tiny House you must pay a good chunk of change to do it is stressful in some ways.  I guess for me, spending $30,000 in one shot is very stressful and evokes doubts no matter what.  When purchasing my first new car, I remember just before signing the line I had a brief moment of fear hit me, what if I crash the car, what if it’s a lemon, what if, what if what if.  Simply put, for me, spending that sum of money is scary no matter how sure I am, because you are taking the leap.

Things that help with this is to be intentional about what you do, do your homework, think it through, look at ways to mitigate risk.  I always try to put it in perspective, that if I were to live in my Tiny House for 2-3 years, I could walk away after that because I would have broke even when compared to paying rent.

 

What Are your Other Solutions?  Let us know in the comments!

Solutions To The Top 5 Barriers Of The Tiny House Movement

About two weeks ago I wrote a post on the five barriers to living in a Tiny House and it sparked a lot of great discussion and got some coverage around the blog-o-sphere, but I promised to do a follow up post on what might be some possible solutions to those barriers.  So today I wanted to do just that.  This got really lengthy so I have split it in two parts, the next one will go up later this week.

Land

Land is expensive no matter how you slice it, but there are a few things you can consider when looking for land.  If you are willing to live in very rural areas, you can pick up land at a better price, but you trade being close to things and having more employment opportunities.  Since many Tiny Houses are off the grid, you might consider purchasing land that has failed to pass the “perk test” which is way cheaper, but consider the implications down the road.

Many people have found success in parking their Tiny House behind other people’s houses or on a corner of their property in exchange for money or barter of services.  I have seen this particularly resonate with retirees as keeping up a lawn or things that need to be fixed around the house becomes too daunting psychically.  In this case you simply work out an agreement and officially you state that you sleep inside their house, you just happen to park a trailer in the back yard.  Most zoning (but not home owners associations) usually allow for a trailer to be parked out of view of the road as long as it has a market value over a few hundred bucks.  

Next option is cooperative purchasing, co-housing, or intentional community models.  These are a huge topic in and of themselves, but in short, you find a group of like minded individuals that pool their money to purchase some land.

Mobile Home parks, RV parks and campgrounds are the next option, the two big caveats on this is that some places require that an RV or mobile home must be legally designated as such in order to be allowed into the park.  This can good and bad in some ways; you can operate in a box that municipalities know and understand, but also you might be limited by that box.  With Campgrounds you will have to be sure that they don’t have a limit on stays, many do.

 

Loans

Loans are a tricky one; banks inherently want to manage risk, which means they don’t want to step outside the box.  Some people have had luck with securing personal loans, but this option has had limited mileage.  The kicker is if you build a Tumbleweed style house yourself then you are often looking at what is normally 2-3 years worth of rent.

The solution I advocate for is to be self funded, aka save up and pay with cash.  This is not what many people want to hear, but philosophically I feel that it is very much in line with the Tiny House movement.  We have recognized that how our society currently conducts itself isn’t always the best approach.  Part of the philosophy of living in Tiny Houses is to reduce the things you have to remove the clutter and stress from your life.  Entering into a Tiny House without debt is essentially removing stress from your life so you can enjoy it more and focus on what is important.  A Tiny House is not inherently the solution, it is the process and change in living that brings it.  

Realizing that no matter how much I try to convince others that saving up is the solution, many will not heed my advice, there are other ways to get there.  Some people found a low APR credit card (all things relative) and used that to pay for the house, then treated the monthly credit card bills as their mortgage payment.

Some have been able to have family or friends loan them money and they work out a payment schedule.  Some even pay interest to them.  The downside to this is that it can put a strain on relationships and change the dynamic, so proceed with caution.

 

Laws

When it comes to laws you need to make a decision, are you going to abide by them or not and understand that there are very real consequences to both sides.  It is a tricky problem. 

For those who want to be above board on everything, the best advice I can give you is hire a contractor/developer who is sympathetic to your cause.  What you are buying is their expertise and knowledge on how to navigate the codes and permitting process.  They know how to get variances, they speak code enforcement’s language and might even have relationships they can use.  When approach them, make sure that your homework is well done, you should have sample drawings, plans, photos, and copies of sample codes that other municipalities have used to deal with Tiny Houses.

For those who wish to do it under the radar, understand you are technically breaking the law, it could have criminal consequences.  I personally haven’t heard of people getting in trouble, but there is a potential and legally they have the right to pursue criminal charges.

When it comes to skirting the law, there are some things you can do to mitigate the risks.  First off, be a good neighbor, this will go a long ways.  This is because most municipalities are complaint driven, meaning only when code enforcement gets a complaint, do they investigate.  The other thing to add to this is, don’t be obvious.  Have your house be out of sight of the public and keep a low profile.

Next powerful tool to have in the tool box is know the laws, codes and speak the language.  I can’t stress this enough, it take a lot of time and it is a frustrating process, but being legal savvy is very helpful.  For example, if you state your primary dwelling is, in fact, the normal sized house you park your Tiny House behind, this means that you do not live in the Tiny House and it is simply a trailer.   By knowing the system we can exploit it’s weaknesses in a legal manner, much as a shady lawyer would do to get his client off on a technicality.  Basically you want to legally show you live somewhere else, that no one lives in the trailered Tiny House, and that it is a trailer that is compliance with zoning.

The last way to mitigate risks legally is know that many municipalities now use satellite and or aerial photos to do tax assessments.  Essentially they take photos at different times and compare to look for changes in your land.  If they find something has changed, they will often send someone out to check it out.  Usually this is a tax assessor or they just send a letter, but you can usually settle their fears when they see that it is on wheels and you can say that you are storing it here for a week, month, etc. in accordance with zoning laws; at that point pull out a copy of the code and they will generally leave you alone.    Again, knowing the legal speak can get you out of this.

 

The rest will be continued in part two in a few days.   UPDATE:  part two is here

Top 5 Biggest Barriers To The Tiny House Movement

I was driving into work today when the idea came to me for this article.  Why does it have to be so difficult to achieve the life so many of us would love to live?  There are no simple answers to our reasons, but we need to face them head on.  Since I don’t like to focus on the negatives too much, my next post will be on some of the possible solutions and approaches to overcome these barriers.

UPDATE:   Here are the solutions to these:   Part 1  and Part 2

 

Land

One of the largest hurdles for people wanting to live in a Tiny House is access to land.  Land is expensive, in growing short supply and people want a balance of having land and being close to city or town centers where they can access services, entertainment and employment.  These things are often in conflict with each other.  The closer to the city center, the smaller and more expensive the lots.  To have a Tiny House, you don’t need much land for the actual house, but you do need enough to be able to obscure the house from prying eyes in order to fly under the radar of code enforcement and curmudgeons.

Loans

At this point, banks don’t feel that Tiny Houses are a viable option because they don’t have a good resale value.  This means their loan isn’t secured with collateral.  It is this dynamic that means for us to get access to loans, we need to get creative.  Some borrow from a family member, some save up years to pay with cash, others use credit cards and carry a balance.  There isn’t a good answer in this area yet, it’s a tough problem to crack.

Laws

Despite the approach of putting a tiny house on trailer, this isn’t the magic bullet that it is often claimed to be.  The issue comes when you look at your municipality’s minimum habitable structure definition.  These definitions almost always exclude Tiny Houses from being a dwelling and give code enforcement a strong leg to stand on when it comes to condemning your Tiny Home and/or levying fines.  This code does serve a good purpose; it prevents abuse on the part of slum lords and gives a mechanism for the courts to hold slum lords accountable.

Social Pressures

In our society today, bigger is better, more is better, we are conditioned to want more and more stuff.  These cultural norms are a very strong current in maintaining the status quo.  Tiny Houses fly in the face of such things, questioning much of what people hold dear.  People can react in a very visceral way when we suggest there is a problem with the way things are.  People work their whole lives to get as much stuff as they can, to suggest that is wrong, in a way, is to suggest their life’s work is wrong.  People can get very defensive and social pressures can make the shift to living a simple life in a Tiny House very difficult with some people.  We need to be sure not to come off as judgmental or preachy, we want to present it simply as an alternative.

Fear

This ties into a few of the above points, but is none the less a real barrier.  When faced with the prospect of bucking the system, initiating a radical lifestyle change, and spending a good chunk of money to do it, it can be scary.  I know from personal experience when you are close to the moment where you must make the decision, where you have to take the leap, a whole series of self-doubts come to the surface.  You are left trying to decide if these doubts are simply normal big decision jitters or if they are valid concerns your unconscious is trying to make you aware of.  The sorting of these thoughts and processing of them is taxing, a little emotional, and of course scary.  Even those of us who deal with change well will struggle with this significantly, fear is a powerful emotion and we must face it to achieve our goal.

What are some ways we can over come these?

Let us know in the comments!

Is It Worth It?

This past weekend I had the chance to meet with several alternative housing folks to talk about various issues.  It sparked some introspection and then I read a post over at Earthbag Building Blog which pointed out if you were to account for the time the average American spends earning money just to pay for standard home in the US, you work 15 years of your life just for your house.  Fifteen years!

More than a third of the average American’s after-tax income is devoted to shelter, usually rent or mortgage payments. If a person works from age 20 to age 65, it can be fairly argued that he or she has put in 15 years (20 in California) just to keep a roof over their head.

It struck me how the cost of a traditional home is not only money, but your time and what is time, but it is our lives, that precious commodity that we cannot buy more of.  That said the case made for alternative housing based only money alone is pretty compelling.  Here is the breakdown of what the average American ends up spending on their standard sized home.   (source: Wall St. Journal, 2007)

So when you can buy a home for $10,000 or 30,000 or even $50,000, the amount you save and the life you gain back, the numbers are pretty compelling.  Add to that the risk involved with taking a mortage, if you mess up once at any time over 30 years, all your money is gone and your credit ruined.

So let’s take back our lives and put that money to a better use!

How To Get Started – A Practical Guide: Buying Land

We are coming down to the home stretch, today we will be talking about finding land to put your tiny house on.  In my last post in this series I spoke about the legalities of Tiny Houses (read it here), so make sure you read that one as a backdrop for this post.

Finding land where you can have a Tiny House is an exciting process.  At this point you can see things coming together on your Tiny Home.  It is worth mentioning that it can sometimes be easier to purchase land with a home on it, rent that house out, and put your Tiny House elsewhere on the property; This helps you with the whole primary dwelling issue.  For some they just want raw land.

Regardless, I encourage everyone to take some time to create a list of attributes they want in their land.  What size do you want, are you able to conceal a Tiny House on the property, does the land have access to municipal utilities, does the land “perk”, if you are going have a septic system, where will it go and where will your house go.  Other things include the location of course, what town/city and what part of town do you want to live in?  For some, good solar exposure for solar panels or water on the property.

For many people it makes sense to talk with a realtor as in many states it doesn’t cost a buyer anything to use their service and even if it does cost, it might be worth it.  Regardless if you use a realtor there are taxes and city/state fees that are required, so you will need to plan for those.

If you do decide to get a realtor, don’t just pick one out randomly.  Do your homework, make a short list, then interview them, I’m totally serious!  Even as a buyer you want to know their background, the record, references etc.  In the interview come prepared with a few photos of the house you would like to build, the plans/floor plan and be ready to talk about how the home you want to have isn’t quite above board.  You need to find a realtor that is comfortable with this and get one that knows the rules and how to creatively get you utilities, certificate of occupancy, etc.

During your interview it is important to discuss the fees, taxes and terms.  Do they charge buyers (not all states do)?  Remember that their commission is negotiable, don’t ask them if it is negotiable, just negotiate.  If you don’t they will just charge you the maximum and take your money gladly.  Another thing to be warned of is if they use terms like “the going rate” which there is no such thing and they can even get in trouble for suggesting it.  In a down market, they are usually more open to negotiation.

You also want to get references from them and review the terms (exclusive or not) and how they typically handle the process.  Never just sign something on the spot, take it with you, review it carefully and sleep on it.

For those of you who don’t want to use a realtor or realtors cost money In your state we need to get creative.  The fact is that realtor’s association is a bit monopolistic in my opinion because they closely guard their MLS listings, get regulations in their favor and other tactics.  To find land we need to again make our list, then start our search.  We want to check EBay, Craig’s List, the newspaper,  do a search for local realtors website’s to get addresses,  find property owners through local tax records (usually online), word of mouth, and finally just driving around.

You will still need a lawyer to handle the documents, remember to have your own lawyer, don’t use theirs.  Take time to review things ahead of time, if they are trying to rush you tell them to back off or you walk away.

Once you find a land you want to be sure that you are clear on the boundaries, when was it last officially surveyed?  Where are the build-able sites on the lot?  What about utilities, internet, and trash?  Septic tank site and does it perk?  Ask about zoning in the areas around the property and consider what might be able to be built there.  You should always walk the land and the property lines, looking at flat spots, run off/erosion, is there trash from people dumping, consider clearings and if you might need to make more space.  Most often you will not be able to build in a community/neighborhood, but ask about home owners associations or other land restrictions.  For those who like to garden, a soil test is a good idea too.

I also suggest mapping out where the closest grocery store, gas station, hardware store, restaurants, hospital, airport etc.  Going out to the property early so you can drive the route from there to your work during normal commute times is useful too, know where traffic is and how it would impact you.  Finally consider road access to the property, making sure it is not land locked, how will you get to your property, could a delivery truck make it to the property?

So in summary, there are a lot of things to consider, take your time and don’t let emotions get into the mix.  If a realtor/buyers agent doesn’t cost you anything, then I’d recommend it as long as they interviewed well and their terms are agreeable.  Regardless you will have to pay some lawyer fees, taxes etc.

Because this is such a huge topic here are 4 great resources for you to read to get a handle on it all:

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