Tips on Choosing to Live in a Tiny House

by James SheaMay 29, 2018

Kerri Campbell and her husband lived in a 1,100 square foot, three-bedroom house in Kansas City. They enjoyed the life but were ready for a change. In 2007, the couple relocated to rural Arkansas and downsized to a 480 square foot house. It was challenging, but they quickly adapted to the new lifestyle.

“The biggest challenge for me was my mother was an antique collector, and she died shortly before we moved here,” Campbell said. “We didn’t have the room for it.”

The size of the average American house has grown significantly over the last few decades. In 1973, homes averaged 1,525 square feet. Today, they average over 2,500 square feet. At the same time, a reverse trend is happening. Due to economic pressure and lifestyle choices, many Americans are deciding to downsize and live a more modest lifestyle. That has spurred the tiny house movement. Tiny houses average about 350 square feet and make economical use of space. A recent survey found that 35% of people between the age of 18 and 34 were interested in living in a tiny house.

Campbell began blogging about her experiences with a tiny house in 2009, and she wrote a book called Living Large in Our Little House. Campbell offers some words of advice for people who are considering a tiny house.

Tiny house

Freedom From Debt

The main reason why people purchase a tiny home is the cost and the desire to live debt free. A tiny house is a low-cost way to live. A recent study found that over half of the people who own a tiny house have no mortgage. This is partly because of the difficulty of financing a mortgage through a traditional lender. But it’s also due to the fact that tiny homes cost a lot less.

Campbell said younger people are often burdened with school debt, and they cannot afford a traditional home. A tiny home is a way to reduce their overall debt load. Older people are looking toward retirement and want a smaller, less expensive way to live. “Most people in the tiny house movement want to go debt free,” Campbell said.

Inexpensive to Build

People who live in a tiny house generally purchase a piece of property and build the house on the land. Buyers have various options when it comes to building a tiny house. They can purchase plans for a tiny house and build a structure themselves. That costs between $40,000 to $50,000. They can also hire a construction company that specializes in building tiny homes. It will cost $60,000 to $75,000 to have a reputable builder construct the home.

Campbell said people need to research local land-use laws before starting construction. It’s best to speak with someone in county or city planning office before hiring a builder. “If you are going to build a small house, some areas have minimum square footage requirements,” she said.

Lower Taxes

Property taxes are based on the assessed value of a property. Tiny houses are not worth as much as many larger American homes, and thus people who own them pay significantly less in property taxes. If the tiny house is on wheels, you might have to pay personal property taxes rather than real estate taxes.

Campbell said her property tax bill went from $2,000 a year to $300. She also qualified for a tax credit, because she and her husband developed property in a rural area.

Tiny House Interior

Prioritize What Goes in the House

When Campbell and her husband moved into the smaller space, they had to downsize. She says that is often the hardest part of moving into a tiny house because people have less room for important items. She had to give some of her mother’s antiques to other family members and stored other items. She had to make some hard choices. “You can only have things that A) are functional; B) are things you love; and C) both,” Campbell said.

Lower Cost of Utilities and Insurance

The day-to-day costs of a tiny home are less. “Utilities were one of the biggest things,” Campbell said. She said her utilities decreased drastically when she and her husband moved into the smaller space. It’s less expensive to heat and cool a tiny home and her homeowner’s insurance also declined because the cost is partially based on the value of the home. Her home in Arkansas was worth less than the home in Kansas City.

Low Maintenance

A tiny house is easier to clean than a larger home. Campbell said it took her most of a day to clean her larger home, but she can clean the tiny house in a couple hours. Most people who purchase a tiny home are interested in hiking, camping, fishing and other outdoor activities. A tiny house is appealing because the lower maintenance allows people to spend more time in the outdoors.

Need a Personal Space Away from the Home

Campbell says she and her husband have learned to live together in the smaller space, but she encourages people to have a separate personal space. Her husband works in the garage, and she built a small cottage on the property where she writes. Some people have found the library is the perfect place to spend a little personal quiet time. It just needs to be a place where a person can be alone.

Add a Deck or Some Type of Outdoor Space

It can be challenging to entertain a large number of guests with a tiny house. Campbell encourages people to build a deck or outdoor space where people can gather. Most people only use the space during the warmer months, but she spoke with a couple that owns a tiny house in a northern area of the country and they pass around heated blankets for people in the wintertime so them and their guests can gather outside. “I think that is one of the best ways I have heard of entertaining in the winter,” she said.

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About The Author
James Shea
James Shea is an award-winning writer and author. He worked for over 10 years as a reporter where he covered development and land-use issues. For the last few years, he had written exclusively about construction and real estate.