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The Big Secrets Of Living Small

A Tiny House Can Save You Money. But Living In One Isn’t Always Easy.

BY Liz KnuevenJuly 18, 2019

The tiny house trend is more than just a sign of the times. What started as a counterculture response to rising mortgage debt and sprawling McMansions has become an increasingly mainstream way to cut costs, live freely and even open an accessible route to home ownership.

The trend has achieved legit movement status, having spawned communities across the country and more TV shows than even this vicarious tiny house aficionado can reasonably watch.

But tiny houses are more than just adorable. In fact, moving in to one involves complicated and sometimes less-than-glamorous lifestyle changes. Here’s the good, bad and just downright different that HGTV might not tell you about the tiny lifestyle.

1. Tiny House Owners Have Serious Financial Freedom

According to statistics collected by Tiny House Society, tiny dwellers tend to have more savings and less debt than the average consumer. The tiny house education and advocacy group looked into credit card debt, mortgage debt and savings account balances of their ranks, finding that 89 percent of tiny dwellers had less credit card debt than the average American and that 55 percent had more in savings than the average homeowner. Additionally, 68 percent have no mortgage at all. Sounds nice, right?

Also, tiny houses are going up in value. For those building their own houses on land, it’s not uncommon for owners to see property values appreciate. According to CNBC, in December 2016 the median list price of homes under 500 square feet (the average tiny house is under 400) increased 19 percent from 2016 while the overall market list price increased by only 9 percent.

2. Tiny Houses Aren’t Cheap

When tiny house dweller and blogger Jenna Speserd first built her tiny house, she put a good amount of money into the initial build.

“Most people are surprised to learn that Tiny Houses are quite expensive to build, and they almost always cost more per square foot than a regular home,” she told Fair in a recent phone interview. “It makes perfect sense, though, if you think about it. A tiny house has most of the expensive parts that a large home has—appliances, for example—and they eliminate the cheap parts of a regular house.”

While it’s never as cheap as some make it look, the real advantage comes into play because you’re not putting huge percentages of income into rent or a mortgage.

3. Also, They’re Not Always Legal

Due to building codes and zoning ordinances, it can actually be hard to live in a tiny house legally. While the rules vary widely by city and county, most tiny houses have fewer square feet than the minimum allowed space for a legal single-family dwelling.

Put some wheels on it, and you’re facing a whole different set of problems. Is it an RV? Is it a mobile home? Speserd said she actually ran into these problems in Colorado.

“I was parked in a friend's backyard and we were told to leave within 14 days by the county,” she said. “So, we left and found another spot. The house is on wheels, and we use them.”

Speserd said she’s parked her tiny home all over the place—from campgrounds and national parks to rest stops and Walmart parking lots.

While the legality of tiny houses is a gray area, that doesn’t stop many tiny housers.

“I've parked more permanently in Colorado, Oregon and Washington,” Speserd said. “Sometimes legally in a full-time campground, and other times below-the-radar in someone's backyard.”

4. You Might Have To Go Without The Very Basics

Those tiny houses on TV only show a small slice of the life tiny dwellers actually lead. For example, they never mention the composting toilet—a waterless toilet system that uses a natural decomposition process to eliminate waste. If your house is off the sewer system, you’re basically your own plumbing system. And the smells aren’t exactly better when contained to 400 square feet.

Also, it’s going to take some serious Marie Kondo-ing to get your life ready for a tiny house. You might even have to consider the weight of certain items. After all, that new TV might simply be too heavy for your house on wheels. You’ll also need something relatively heavy-duty to tow your house if you plan to move it—most likely a pickup truck and a serious gas budget.

Utilities like electricity and water can also be difficult when you’re not living in a home connected to the grid, a situation that might take some dedicated effort on your part. Because of this, some tiny housers decide to go without them.

Still, Speserd said her experience is mostly a net improvement in the efficiency game.

“When I was on the road the first year, I sometimes was off-grid with my solar generator and water tanks,” Speserd said. “There's a lot that goes into it, but you get in a routine and you end up using and wasting less.”

A credit friendly option for grads.

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