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Podcast #41 - Are You Ready for a Big Move Into the Tiny House Movement?

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

In this week’s topic we are going to cover a big movement in tiny house living. What is a tiny house?

According to the International Residential Code, a tiny house is defined as a dwelling unit with a maximum 400 square feet of floor area, excluding lofts.

The Cost for a Tiny House

The average cost to build your own tiny home is a mere $23,000.

The median cost for a tiny house in the US is $59,884.

The expected time to build a house is three to four months.

According to Zillow, the median home price for a currently-listed home in the US is $257,990, while the median sold price is $228,200.

We do know that this can vary. In California the median value is $469,300 and Ohio comes in at $122,400.

The cool thing is being that tiny homes are less expensive, many people can afford to upgrade to high-end furnishings over and above the $60,000 average.

Naturally, the next question is . . . what about obtaining financing?

So, this can be challenging. It is common that lenders want a minimum of $50,000 to provide a mortgage, and that makes sense because lenders need investments to be large enough to make some money when they factor the cost to close a loan and make money throughout the loan term.

The other factor is that lenders typically want the house to be a permanent fixture meaning the house needs a foundation rather than being on wheels. Hence, that would make any mobile home.

According to NerdWallet, referencing Ryan Mitchell, founder of The Tiny Life blog, 68% of tiny homeowners have no mortgage, compared with more than 29% of all U.S. homeowners.

Financing for a Tiny House

One option for financing is to obtain a personal or unsecured loan from a bank, online lender or credit union.

However, here’s a point of note; when paying loans of this type, the term is typically shorter than a standard mortgage and the interest rates more than likely start in the 6% range and transcend upward depending on your credit score. As a point of reference, today's interest rates for a 30-year mortgage are around 3%. This is an important piece of information when it comes to managing your personal finances.

So why don't we look at a few scenarios.

So let's assume that we have a person who is looking to mortgage a tricked-out tiny home for $80,000.

Right off the bat this is where having a good credit score comes into play as we talked about in Podcast #39 last week. The higher the credit score you achieve, the most favorable rates that you'll receive.

Assuming someone has a 730 credit score which is considered as “good,” chooses a personal loan at an interest rate 6% for 20 years, the monthly payment comes to $1,069.

Okay. If we take the mortgage route, when taking the average 30-year loan with an interest rate at 3%, this means that the mortgage payment would be $833 a month.

The Tiny House Trend

So as we know, most people choose tiny homes to downsize or or they may be looking for an alternative for their first home or they may want to have value in a property or asset rather than paying rent.

So let's take a look at that. According to Statisa, in February 2020, the average monthly rent for an apartment in the United States was $1,468.

In addition, this has been trending upward since 2016 when the average rate was $1,348. It seems logical because many people out there in the middle class are being priced out of homes today whether it be existing structures or new home builds. Hence, renting rates have risen significantly.

In fact, when we list our second home there are six offers on the table within an hour and the rent payments can be much higher than the national average to mortgage a home.

Hence, there is a growing market for tiny home rentals. People simply see it as an exciting way to try something new.

Average Cost for Owning a Tradional Home Vs. a Tiny House

According to the Census, the median amount that American’s spend on their mortgage is $1,556 in 2018. Plus that doesn't factor in taxes or homeowner's insurance and anything else that may come with the house payment such as PMI.

All right let's break this down

-Average rent is: $1,460

-Median mortgage payment $1,556

-The personal loan in our example came out to $1,069 a month

-Mortgaging a tiny home in our sample came out to $833 a month

It is clear that a tiny home, even if owning by way of a personal loan, is less expensive based on the averages from our example.

Average Cost for Maintaining a Tiny House

There are a couple more things to consider so let's check these pieces out really quick:

On average according to

Utilities range $10 - $30.

So what about parking? This can vary. To set up shop at an RV park, you can expect to pay a few hundred dollars a month. For example, the Mesa Campground in Colorado charges $615 a month; however, at Birnamwood in Wisconsin they charge $250 per month. This area of the assessment certainly will take some work depending on where you live unless you park your structure on your property or someone else's.

As for insurance, the average cost is about $600 a year or $50 a month so that's not too bad. Another item to consider is if your tiny homes on wheels, it will factor into your auto insurance cost.

The Positive Effect Budget for Tiny Homeownership

There is a hidden gem to offset additional costs of owning a time home; you simply don't have the space to buy things that you would if you lived in a traditional size home. There’s simply little space to store items.

Think about it; if you have a smaller kitchen or hobbies, you can only store a small amount of groceries or equipment. Let’s keep going: clothes, shoes sheets, pillows, technical equipment and there's no place to have a garage to store tools and paint and what have you.

Whatever it may be, you will simply will live within a much smaller budget. So Justin just dug this article up for us from Business Insider and they surveyed six tiny home owners to provide what it costs per month to live under these categories:

Cost of the lot, utilities, insurance and groceries . . essentially everything that you need to live. The average ranged between $600 to $1,000.

So if we take the high end cost for a tiny home from our example which came out to $1,069 and $1,000 for monthly living that's $2,069 to own and operate a tiny home.

So here's a good budget tip: If you're considering taking on a tiny home you can offset the savings from the rent or mortgage payment and apply to the new payment on the tiny home.

Here’s another budget tip: according to the United States labor and statistics website, the average monthly expenses come out to $5,102 to live on a monthly basis. So if we take our $2,069 example that comes to a $2,943 savings per month.

When you can save that type of money it helps the ability to save for retirement.

Caveats to Owning a Tiny Home?

Well, this is awesome! Let’s do it!

Well, we hate to be the bearer of bad news; however, there are some caveats that you must consider before choosing a tiny home lifestyle.

The first thing is you need to be forthright in making sure that you understand what you're getting into when it comes to getting a home built.

One is that if you're building it yourself even with experience as a carpenter, this is a new adventure. Outside of that just like with any contractor, doing your homework is essential because you never know what you're going to get with contractors.

They often have a bad reputation of not completing the work that was agreed to, making mistakes with the work and not delivering on time. There isn't anybody that we don't know that's had some story about a contractor whether it be a GC, a plumber, an electrician or what-have-you.

In addition, with any job that you have you should factor in some contingency because it's rare that a construction project stays within budget. We recommend that this should be 10%.

So here's the deal; you can go on the Internet and find many people who have horror stories when it comes to getting their tiny homes built including the items that we just mentioned.

Probably the most concerning topic is that due to the popularity of tiny homes, this has increased the number of amateur builders which simply do not have the experience to provide a quality job.

The other point is that there is not much regulation otherwise known as federal building codes in the industry and so it's hard to keep people building your home to standards and or codes that can be quality checked. So on the whole this means there are concerns about safety standards.

If your home is a permanent structure this is easier to manage as there are regulations to follow but not when it comes to something that's technically an RV.

So when you think a house can be built for say $20,000, it may end up costing a lot more which leads people with the perception that they are getting ripped off when a builder wants to charge $50,000 and then there is pressure to lower the budget, so contractors tend to cut corners to meet the needs of the buyer.

Our advice is that you take your time and research the builders that are out there, meaning you may have to speak to 3-5 or more contractors until you get a good feeling about who you're dealing with.

In addition, make sure that they understand zoning regulations and for that matter, do your own research so that you are educated.

Plus, don't be shy about asking them to speak to their prior customers. This means they should have a good number of people to speak to that you can choose from. If they only have one or two customers, this might be a warning signal.

Here's one more item and that is to find anybody that has been referred which may be difficult because there's only so many tiny houses out there; however, word of mouth is usually the best way to find quality contractors.

Where do I Live?

So the next topic is where do I live? The options are to either have land for yourself, land that you can park on, an RV park and or a community which is trending upward across the country.

Hence, if you're used to living in the city, in an apartment complex, or a traditional suburb, this is going to be a large change for you.

How Do I Live?

So this is a common question; how do I live in a tiny home? This is a tough question to answer because the average tiny home is around 250 square feet.

Yeah we've been reading on the Internet and there's some pretty salty opinions about living this way. It seems that the biggest problem is that people just don't have enough space to put their things or as some people call it their “shit.”

I’ve seen comments to that effect with people saying they don't have enough clothes so should I just keep wearing overalls? Or all I do is clean; because it's so small in there you can't afford to make a mess.

I think what it comes down to is that you will always be forced to make a choice meaning, that when you buy something you have to give something up. For example, If you have a hobby that requires equipment, you can only keep so much of it and if you decide to expand your craft then you will have to compromise something that is important to you. At least coffee makers are small.

The other one that I am thinking about is having company over. Depending on the layout, if you have more than two people it's simply just not big enough. If you are especially in a cold climate it's going to be very hard to play a game of darts or shoot some pool or watch the game on the big screen TV.

I would not be happy if I couldn't play any more beer pong. I never get sick of beating those college kids at their own game. Ha ha.

So here is the last one that I'm really thinking about and it relates to the prior item which is where's the privacy?

There are some people who have tiny homes that have a family of four and I saw an episode on Tiny House Nation that was housing seven people.

Let's Do the Recap

The average single family house in the United States is 2,301 square feet which is almost six times larger than a tiny house which is 400 square feet or under in size excluding lofts. That’s enough said right there.

Oftentimes, owning a tiny home can be at least 60% less expensive than paying rent or having a traditional mortgage.

If you choose to go down the tiny home path, it is important to make sure that you find a builder that is regarded in the industry as there is little-to-no regulation for building and safety standards.

This means that many general contractors have entered the tiny house movement that do not have the qualifications to build a safe and sound dwelling for you. It is important to thoroughly check the people that you may work with. Therefore, obtain references for the work they’ve performed for clients and certainly word of mouth is always the best policy when it comes to hiring.

As far as making the transition to being a tiny home owner, it is a great idea to simulate what it may be like to live in a dwelling of such small size. Consider taking an Airbnb trip and live in a tiny house for a week to get a gauge to see if this is something that you can really handle.

It goes without saying that if you live in a tiny home you’re going to sacrifice the amount of things that you can store such as food, clothes, equipment for hobbies, and anything that you can think of such as the 30-pack of Costco toilet paper.

You may also sacrifice your ability to play a game of darts or have enough room to play with the children, have company over and of course having the privacy that you are accustomed to.

All in all, just make sure you do your research before you take on this decision and if it is right for you then you're going to be one of the happiest people on the planet.

Episode Link:

The cost of owning a tiny home


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