In the last year I have seen no less than 9 new tiny house builders crop up across the United States and 5 shut their doors. That percentage just isn’t great no matter how you look at it. It doesn’t even adhere to popular statistics as recently re-emphasized by Forbes magazine; “7 out of 10 new employer firms survive at least 2 years, half at least 5 years, a third at least 10 years and a quarter stay in business 15 years or more.” Of the tiny house businesses that have survived a number of them have at least one unit sitting on-grounds waiting to be sold. These range from 160 sq.ft. to 384 sq.ft. Some are marked down and some are just waiting for the perfect buyer to come along. My theory is that it isn’t people not being interested in living in a tiny house or people being able to afford one. The reason these surviving businesses have overstock or are stuck with inventory or that they aren’t being flooded with new clients is because there are so many obstacles to living in a tiny house. The most popular are probably if a person wants to buy a tiny house, they don’t have the land to park it on, if the person wanting to buy a tiny house has the land, it isn’t zoned correctly, and lastly, if a person wants to buy a tiny home they can afford it on paper but simply can’t get out of one financial situation to escape to another. So where does the cycle end? What’s the big idea with the tiny house market?
Let’s first review why tiny houses are sound purchases and situations for many. Most are priced at $60,000 or less. They are financially affordable with light financing or after a few years of aggressive savings. So they are liberating for any age. They make perfect transition homes for couple without kids who aren’t decided on where they want to grow roots or if they want to start a larger family. Tiny houses are nice for older people who are winding their career down, don’t have kids at home, and want less to take care of on the homefront. They are cheaper than college dorms and offer an alternative for college students looking to get a jump start on life. They are economical to run so they are easier on the pocketbooks of many. They are also great situations for those concerned about their carbon footprint and a more sustainable lifestyle. The pros are endless. These homes should be being built like the Model T in 1916; one after the other without stop! So where is the boom? Why is the focus still on bust for so many?
JUST PLAIN ILLEGAL. So there are a few people who have found pockets of America where a tiny house is legal due to a grandfather clause or an ill-defined RV code or some other factor. More recently though a number of RV parks have opened up spaces and legal options for tiny housers. But in the majority of America – highways, bi-ways, rural, and urban – living in a tiny house is just plain illegal. They are called unsafe, unsightly, and downright disturbing. Fortunately, folks like Andrew Morrison are speaking up and working hard at having the IRC (fancy acronym for international you-can-build-it-like-this code) recognize tiny houses. Even then municipalities will have to adopt the terms and begin to set them in place. To my opinion, we are past the days of flying under the radar and hoping a neighbor doesn’t turn us in. We are now having to fight for legality and until that happens, tiny houses remain just plain illegal.
THE PURSUIT OF LAND. Go on the popular Tiny House People group on Facebook on any day and you will likely find someone asking about land in some state of the union. Where can I park? What if my friend own this or leases that? Can I live in a state park? Exhausting questions, the lot of them, because there is no easy answer. Even though you “own” your land, we don’t live in a carte blanche democracy. Just because you have the deed to one acre on Easy Street, you don’t automatically get to raise bald eagles on the land that fly over top of your Caprice Classic collection, all of which are sitting on cinderblocks with empty engine compartments. There are zoning regulations and rules to be followed. So just because you may subscribed to the “it’s my land and no one can tell me what to do” mentality, it doesn’t make it true. In fact, try withholding property taxes for a year or two and see who actually does own your land.
WHAT INSURANCE? Fortunately we are moving beyond the days when insurance was impossible to find for a tiny house on wheels. Thanks to the work of people like Martin Burlingame with Strategic Insurance there have become more options. But it requires finesse and really understanding the ins and outs of a policy. Unlike a more traditional RV or sticks ‘n bricks house, you can’t just call up Flo at Progressive and get a cheap and easy policy. Doesn’t happen.
The big idea is this. It ain’t over till I start to sing and the reason it is called a movement is because it doesn’t stop. It just keeps pressing on. Throw up a roadblock and it will juke to the left, spin, and find a new path toward the end zone. In order for this to happen though a more mature attitude has to be present in us all. We aren’t talking about what is good for “me” anymore. We are talking about redefining the housing structure in America so that there is a better chance of all people having safe and affordable housing. Heck, for a nation founded on homesteading and hand-cobbled, two-room houses, we have even turned our backs and placed legal ramifications on gardens in populated neighborhoods and homes not built by state certified contractors. We have fallen a long way from grace and the big idea is that it is time for us to stand back up – revolution or not – and reclaim the American Dream.
NOTE: Featured photo is courtesy of National Park Service and shows Richard L. Proenneke’s with his cabin at Upper Twin Lake in the Alaskan bush.