The tiny house movement has made huge strides in the past few years by promoting efficient living spaces and minimalist lifestyles in 400 square feet or less. More homeowners are seeing the benefit in downsizing to lessen environmental impact, save money and eliminate home-related stressors.
While it’s true, building a small home is generally less complicated than planning and constructing a large home, there are a few challenges presented with embracing the tiny life. Aside from downsizing, simplifying and the logistical aspects of living in a tiny home, one of the main questions is: where do you put your tiny house?
I put together a video that outlines the challenges involved when searching for land for a tiny house, whether you choose to lease, buy or borrow. Please check it out.
The Challenges of Buying Land for Your Tiny House
When you decide it’s time to find and buy land for a tiny house, you may be faced with a big challenge: it’s more difficult to find appropriately-sized and cost-effective land for micro homes than it is for average-sized homes. Most micro home builders aren’t looking to pay full price for open plots, since tiny homes are more economical to build. At the same time, small lots are hard to find and come by. Landowners often aren’t eager to split up their property to sell, especially in rural areas.
This presents a major challenge for those who are ready to take the plunge. How do you find the right-sized land to buy for your tiny house?
If you’re ready for a simpler life and you’re interested in joining the tiny house movement, consider these three tips for finding and buying land for a tiny house.
Tips for Buying Land for a Tiny House
1. Look for the Right Location, Size and Price
First the good news: Micro homes can be built anywhere as long as construction follows state building codes. Some states even allow homeowners to build micro homes in their backyards also known as accessory dwelling unit commonly referred to as ADUs.
However, a lot of people considering building tiny homes don’t have preowned properties to use for construction or to park on. After all, economics is usually a big reason behind the shift toward smaller space. Property is expensive, and chances are, you need to find a plot of land that fits your needs and your budget. It’s important to have the size, location and price in mind before you begin your search.
Use sites like Zillow, LandWatch or Land And Farm to find land based on location; just search within a designated city under home type: lots/land. You can also search based on size or price, if any of these factors are negotiable. Of course, regardless of size, prices will vary by location, accessibility and other factors. Typical tiny house proponents stray from city centers, as the land is more expensive and prone to complicated building codes and zoning laws.
If you’re still weighing the merits of exactly how much space you’ll need, you can even check out sites like Try It Tiny to rent of visit a tiny house for a short time. Before you take the plunge to purchase, this will give you a taste of small-space living.
2. Consider Zoning Laws
I wrote an in-depth post about all of the considerations that need to go into your land setup for your tiny house. One of the biggest concerns is zoning and building codes. Especially if you plan to connect to city water (or if you plan to be on the grid). It’s extremely important your tiny house is up to code because each of these connections will require a building inspector to come to your house and see it in person.
Zoning is a set of rules about how land can be used—think of it like rules that help neighbors get along. Zoning will dictate the type of building, its placement and its function; while building codes regulate how it should be built safely.
Tiny house builders sometimes find that building codes will require them to build a larger home than they first thought, and zoning might require you to park your tiny house in a campground or trailer park because it’s on wheels (and thus considered close to being a camper).
Tiny house folks should start with a basic plan and a conversation with their local municipal building code enforcement office. From there, you’ll be able to understand some of the requirements of your local town hall, identify issues that need to be addressed, and get a realistic picture of what can and cannot be done in when it comes to tiny houses.
There are also some cities who encourage building and will even offer lots for free to interested parties. Cities such as Spur, Texas, Portland, Oregon and Marne, Iowa use these incentives to encourage city development and boost revenue. That said, it’s important to review the zoning restrictions for building even on these free lots. In the case of Marne, dwellings must be at least 1200 square feet. There are opportunities for free and very inexpensive lots available throughout the U.S. but be sure to research the restrictions thoroughly.
It’s also worth checking out government auctions. There is a lot of land out there and the government holds auctions where you can buy it for dirt cheap. Some of this land is seized for tax reasons while some is surplus land. Other properties are environmentally degraded, needing extensive bio remediation. If you go this route, be sure to do an extensive search on toxic waste sites through the EPA’s website. If you have a desire and willingness to revitalize such land, it can be an incredibly cheap way to acquire property. Check out Govsales.gov to view these listings.
For all you need to know on tiny house coding and zoning, please check out my book, Cracking the Code where I outline all you need to know.
3. Use Your Network
A few years back, I had to suddenly move my house to a new piece of land. I’ll admit, finding a plot I could lease was one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had when it comes to tiny homeownership. Fortunately, in my case, I was able to find someone who was willing to let me lease his lot in exchange for covering the insurance on the property and helping him with computer work. I realize everyone isn’t so lucky.
One of the biggest ways to help yourself on your tiny house land search is to network with other tiny home owners. When I was starting out, my network was so valuable to my journey. In fact, connecting and sharing with other tiny homeowners was largely the impetus for my starting the blog as well. If you’re wondering how to connect with others and find local tiny house owners, check out this video below.
If you decide to purchase land, whether large or small, it’s important you search for a real estate professional who will aid in your tiny land search. This is another member of your network who will really boost your search and point you in the right direction. There are agents who specialize in niche markets—tiny homes included. Make sure to check up on an agent’s qualifications before hiring them to ensure they are the best fit for your tiny house land search. A well-versed agent will lead you through the process without too much stress.
You may wish to search for property online first; once you have a piece of property selected, check on the listing agent. If the property is for sale by owner, you may still wish to get a buyer’s agent to help you through the process. It’s tempting to forgo an agent (and paying the commission) but you’ll face fewer problems down the road if you have someone in your corner.
It’s important to remember land often can’t be leveraged in a loan with the bank. For most land purchases, the property will need to be paid for outright and in full. An agent will walk you through the process and help you navigate.
While these steps won’t guarantee the perfect plot for tiny home construction, they certainly help homeowners get started. Leasing property is of course another option (and the route I took). There are considerations to be made when you’re leasing property too, but in many ways the pros may outweigh the cons.
Tiny House Experts Weigh In On Finding and Buying Land
Because this is such a challenging topic for tiny homeowners (and what I would argue is the number 1 dilemma we face), I asked 12 top tiny house experts to give their best advice on such a big topic: finding land for your tiny house.
I asked them, “What is the one tip you would give to someone looking for a place to park or land for their tiny house?”
Talk to friends and community members about it all the time. You never know where the parking spot will come from. While I have been lucky on Craigslist, I think by far the best way to find parking is through a friend of a friend of family or friends. Network and ask all your local contacts before resorting to CL. — Alek Lisefski: tiny-project.com
Get out and talk to people. You need to expand your social circle in a big way. Have a solid game plan in place, develop your pitch for landowners, focus on overcoming objections and putting fears to rest. Then let people know what you’re looking for in a clear concise manner. — Ryan Mitchell: TheTinyLife.com
Ping your own network of folks that really enjoy and support what you are doing. Provide a quick message about who you are and what you are looking for, that they can forward along. They are far more likely to connect you with people of a similar mindset, therefore more open and willing to help you out or further your cause. — Jess and Dan Sullivan: livinginatinyhouse.blogspot.com
Honestly – be secretive. Get along with your neighbors and they’ll have no reasons to rat on you – zoning enforcement is often complaint-based. In some areas, it’s legal or “more legal,” and in others it just won’t happen, so do your research. Farmers too – look into talking to them, they could use the rental income, and have the land. — Deek Diedricksen: relaxshacks.com
Check out wwoof.org, a fantastic organization that places volunteers with organic farms the world over. I see it as a great resource for someone looking to move somewhere unfamiliar. Find a willing farm, tow your house over and you have a place to park, food to eat and work to do. — Ella Jenkins: littleyellowdoor.wordpress.com
Start with people you know and put the word out. Your network will produce your best leads when it comes to finding parking. — Ethan Waldman: thetinyhouse.net
Flyers on local supermarket and library walls are actually a very sensible place to advertise this kind of information. We know a lot of people who have found their tiny house parking matches using those channels. — Gabriella Morrison: TinyHouseBuild.com
Reach out to local communities. Try Facebook groups, Meetup and Craigslist. Don’t be afraid to talk about your Tiny House. The more people that you meet, the more likely you will have an opportunity to park it somewhere. — Jenna Spesard: TinyHouseGiantJourney.com
I think the best way is to find land and then ask the owners if you could work out a deal. People are more receptive than you might think. — Kristie Wolfe: Kristiewolfe.com
I wish I had a good answer. We bought land well before we decided to build a tiny house, so it wasn’t an issue for us. I do recommend that people get involved in local politics to make changes in their own communities that can help pave the way for tiny homes. — Laura M. LaVoie: 120squarefeet.com
Get creative, build your network, be open and honest and try to be ‘on the radar,’ it will make you feel more secure during the ‘living’ part of tiny house living that you will appreciate once you are living. It stinks to feel like any knock on the door may be asking you to go. — Macy Miller: MiniMotives.com
Don’t be afraid of building your tiny house before finding a place to park it. The majority of my clients and other tiny housers found their spots during their construction. After finishing the shell with the exterior siding, you can place a photo with a description of what you’re looking for on Craigslist. Most property owners will rent their space only after they can see an image of your tiny house, and what utilities you will need. This has proven a success time and time again. — Vina Lustado: vinastinyhouse.com
Check with local codes in the area you wish to build or park a tiny house. If it is not allowed you need to find an alternative route or do it under the radar somehow. — Kent Griswold: tinyhouseblog.com
A special thank you to all the experts who weighed in on this important topic. Finding and buying land is one of the toughest aspects of the tiny house lifestyle. It may take time, but eventually, using these smart strategies, you’ll find a spot. Explore all your options before you decide.
If you’re looking for land to buy, it’s possible. For more on finding land to buy or lease, check out my Ultimate Guide to Finding Land.