Tiny houses, big deal
The trend is to move from McMansions to tiny spaces. But it’s a trend that hasn’t quite worked out its teething problems yet.
TINY houses are big right now.
There are hundreds of blogs and websites devoted to them and the design website Houzz. com currently has 2,716 stories on the subject. Television shows such as Tiny House Nation and documentaries such as Tiny: A Story About Living Small have Americans dreaming of radically uncluttering their lives and living with less stuff and a lot less square footage.
The major attraction of tiny houses is the idea of living a simpler life with fewer possessions. But affordability also is a draw. The low price tag of most tiny houses means financial freedom, at least from a mortgage, in places like California where housing costs are high.
Elaine Walker, cofounder of the American Tiny House Association in the United States, says a tiny house can be built for US$ 20,000 ( RM82,000) if you build it yourself and use donated or recycled materials. Experts at tinyhousebuild. com say it can be done for as little as US$ 10,000 ( RM41,000) if built off- site and transported to a lot. Walker’s 120- square- foot ( 11sqm) home in Palmetto, Florida, is portable.
“I have a beautifully crafted home that’s fully paid for and that I can take with me if I need to relocate,” she says.
Not everyone is content with such a no- frills tiny house. One done by a luxury builder can rise to US$ 80,000 ( RM320,000), Walker says.
“On average, many are around US$ 45,000 ( RM180,000) but the trend has been to make them both bigger and more expensive.”
So why does Pittsburgh’s first tiny house cost more than twice the average? The house, located in the Garfield neighbourhood, actually cost much more to build – US$ 191,000 ( RM780,000) – than its asking price, according to Eve Picker, the architect and urban planner from Australia who spearheaded the project.
Picker, who has been rehabbing old buildings in Pittsburgh since the early 1990s, is CEO of CityLAB and leads No Wall Productions and We Do Property Management, Inc.
Half of the construction cost went toward remediation of the land, which included removing an old foundation, digging a basement and excavation for a sewer line, says Ben Schulman, communications director of Small Change, a real estate equity crowd funding platform.
The two- year project was also complicated by delays in getting city permits and variances for smaller setbacks and other requirements, Schulman says.
The house, which was still being finished late last month, sits on a 1,050- square- foot ( 97sqm) lot between two much older, three- storey houses.
Unlike its vinyl- sided neighbours, its covered in lavender fibre cement siding and set back farther from the sidewalk.
Heather Wildman and Chad Chalmers of Wildman Chalmers Design worked with Picker on its design, which includes one sleeping/ living room measuring about 7m by 2m, a nearly 2m- by- 2m kitchen and a 2m- by- 1.2m bathroom with a half a metre- deep utility closet running its length. The ceilings range from 2m to 2.5m.
Many of the house’s components are also tiny: a half- metre tub, a counter- height refrigerator and a combination washer/ dryer in the corner of the kitchen. The kitchen stove, sink and dishwasher, however, are standard size. The unheated basement offers 32.5sqm of storage space.
The sleeping/ living room has a long desk beneath a front picture window but no other furniture. Picker said the buyer could choose a folding Murphy bed or loft bed for the blank wall at the far end.
The house’s price is almost identical to the median house price in Garfield last year, YS$ 110,000 ( RM450,000). So why did Picker choose this neighbourhood?
“To rebrand Garfield, to turn eyes onto it and to build something affordable in a market where affordable housing is very, very difficult to build,” Picker says.
She says she hopes that Garfield, which is sandwiched between two urban redevelopment success stories, East Liberty and Lawrenceville, will be the next neighbourhood to experience a rebirth.
But the house’s price is raising some eyebrows. Maureen Broge, 58, stopped by late last month to inquire about the price. “That’s kinda steep,” she says. Another woman driving by was surprised at the price and asked how many bedrooms. When told there was just one, she shook her head in wonderment.
Gloria Potter, broker and owner of Lotus Real Estate, has a two- bedroom, one- bath house three blocks away on Hillcrest Street priced at US$ 99,500 ( RM400,000).
“Square footage is how you determine value,” says the agent who has almost two decades of experience. “For 350 square feet ( 32.5sqm) in Garfield, I wouldn’t pay more than US$ 65,000 ( RM266,000).”
Some communities have made special accommodations for tiny houses. Fresno, California, recently became the first US city to allow tiny houses on wheels in neighbourhoods zoned for single- family homes, according to the American Tiny House Association.
Tiny houses on trailers do not need basements or sewerage and are far less expensive to build, but that was not an option here. City ordinances require houses to be tied to public water and sewer systems and have a foundation.
For CityLAB, it was more cost- effective to build on site.
“There was not a prefab house to beat that price,” Schulman says. – Pittsburgh Post- Gazette/ Tribune News Service
Picker in the unfinished living/ sleeping room of the tiny house. The kitchen is to the left and will have a standard sized stove, sink and dishwasher.