If you watch American movies or television shows, you might think most Americans live in what are often referred to as McMansions, a term for large suburban homes that are often similar looking.
For a long time, bigger was indeed better. A big house was a symbol of success.
However, there has been another trend in the opposite direction. So called “tiny homes”, that are fully functional, but usually are no bigger than about 50 square meters in size.
Measuring the popularity of the trend is difficult as unlike regular homes that are measured through permits, permits are not required to build a tiny home
Some of tiny homes are little more than shacks, while others are aesthetically pleasing, offering all the modern conveniences in a very small space. Most are on wheels so they can be easily moved.
Advocates of tiny homes say they offer the chance to affordably own a home and avoid property tax. Some are downsizing from a larger home they could no longer afford, and some see tiny homes as more ecologically friendly because they don’t require the same amount of energy to operate and use less material for construction. They also offer some the dream of living “off the grid.”
Gregory Johnson of the Small House Society told the New Yorker magazine that those who live in tiny homes “have to remodel your sense of what success is and how important it is to you to convey to the outside world, ‘Hey, I have a big house and big car and I’m successful.’ If you have a piece of inner tranquillity, you don’t have to prove anything to anybody.”
Location still an issue
But getting a tiny home does involve overcoming some substantial hurdles.
For one, banks are often reluctant to lend money to those wanting to buy a tiny home, as many cities mandate single family homes be at least 93 square meters. There’s also the problem of where to put a tiny home. For example, according to the New Yorker, they are often not allowed in traditional R.V. parks.
So in a major city, a tiny home owner would still need to buy land to host their tiny home.
According to CNBC, a tiny home in Bethesda, Maryland, a wealthy suburb of Washington, DC, is priced at over $450,000.
“In the Washington, D.C., market it is hard to justify the land costs and the construction costs on tiny houses. A tiny house has such a limited market,” said Sue Goodhart, real estate agent at The Goodhart Group at McEnearney Associates in Alexandria, Virginia in an interview with CNBC.
“If the goal is to save money, I would have to say tiny home investors would need to go to areas where land prices are low, which means not located near major commuter routes.”
Siren song of reality TV
Yet that hasn’t stopped some.
For those seeking to declutter their lives or save some money, tiny homes might be an attractive way to downsize, but some are skeptical, saying tiny homes are a fad fueled by popular home improvement shows on television such as “Tiny House, Big Living,” “Tiny House Nation” and “Tiny House Hunters.”
According to a July survey of homeowners, real estate web site Trulia found the biggest regret for many homeowners is lack of space. Thirty-three percent said they wish their home were bigger. Only nine percent of those surveyed said they’d be interested in a tiny house.
“I see a lot about tiny houses and micro-apartments in Seattle, San Francisco and New York, these cities who are really grappling with housing issues and trying to fast-track 200- or 400-square-foot apartments,” said Brian Miller, an associate professor of sociology at Wheaton College in an August interview with the Today show. “And yet, the overall pattern across America is that people want these larger houses.
“The economy has gotten better over the last few years,” he continues, mentioning cities like Dallas, one of the hottest housing markets in the country,” he added. “It seems it’s enabled people to (buy large houses) again.”
And American home sizes have been growing.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the average size of American homes rose by 61 percent from 1975 to 2015, with the average size home measuring about 232 square meters.
So will the tiny home movement grow or go the way of many fads?
“About 90 percent of the calls we get are from people who have watched the shows,”said Steven Marshall, founder of Little House on the Trailer in Petaluma, California in an interview with the LA Times. “There are quite a few urban legends out there about what you can build and where. It’s a revolution that probably won’t happen. Half of my customers are farmers providing temporary housing for workers.”