The other day, I came across Oregonianlive’s “Are tiny houses a big, bad idea? 77 reasons critics don’t like them” in a few tiny house Facebook groups. In it, the writer shares 77 criticisms of the choice to live in a tiny house, comments typical of many tiny house-related articles in her area, and I’ll admit I spent a little too much time dwelling on some of the points. Having just passed our one year of tiny living anniversary, I thought it’s a fitting time for us to respond to these criticisms as active members of this community.
The following responses are not an argument against the writer–she’s just sharing what others have said–nor are they to attack the choices of those who own traditional homes or the people who originally made the comments. We don’t even know who they are, and that doesn’t matter. Rather, this response is the other half of a conversation between those who are not a part of the tiny house movement and one who is.
So let’s jump right in. The italicized text is the excerpts quoted from the original article.
Reason #1 that tiny houses are a big mistake: Living full time in a tiny house on wheels is illegal in Portland and most cities.
Most responsible tiny house dwellers have researched this to death and are aware of the risk. We, too, have been evicted from our first spot, but because we were aware of this possibility, we had a plan B (and C and D and E) in place. Next point.
Reason #2: It’s a fad fueled by reality TV shows.
Is it, though? Sure, these shows glamorize and dramatize the building, buying, and living tiny. We would know—we’ve been on one such show, and I can tell you that what you see on TV is only a piece of the subject’s full story. But is anyone running out to buy a tiny house after seeing a few episodes of Tiny Luxury? Probably not. Rather, if these shows do nothing more than expose new audiences to the joy, freedom and financial benefits of downsizing and consuming less, we think that’s awesome.
Reason #3: It’s an unproven niche market and a risky investment.
Depends on how you look at what you’re investing in. In the traditional real estate sense, indeed, tiny houses are risky. But that’s not what people are investing in when they buy one; They’re investing in themselves. They’re investing for the returns of lower expenses, freedom from useless stuff, their own mental sanity and happiness. Plus, there’s also the vacation rental investment avenue, which I’ll discuss later.
Reason #4: You can still live small by adopting a minimal lifestyle at home.
Very true and encouraged. But how is this a criticism against those who choose to go tiny?
Reason #5: Buyers are few and restraints are many.
Reason #6: Supply is high but demand is small, and it might take a long time to re-sell.
I’m not sure I would call the tiny house supply “high,” and “regular” houses might take a long time to re-sell, too. Let’s also consider the high—and growing—demand for unique vacation rental properties. As recently as a year ago, a tiny house was Airbnb’s most popular property, and not even a month ago, a rental platform just for tiny houses launched. As a vacation rental marketing manager myself, I would much rather keep my TH and rent it out nightly for a profit than sell it.
Reason #7: It’s not that marketable; people desire space, bedrooms and bathrooms.
A lot of people do, yes. But a lot of other people desire other things more. In a year of living tiny, I haven’t once missed more space.
Reason #8: The vast majority of tiny homes can accommodate only one or two residents.
That’s part of the appeal.
Reason #9: It’s hard to entertain or host overnight guests.
Yes, and? I and my bank account would much rather pay for just the amount of house we need, rather than extra rooms that get used once or twice a year.
Reason #10: Want to have a party? You’ll have to rent a venue or move outdoors.
Gasp! A few hundred bucks for a memorable evening vs. a few thousand dollars every year for space that rarely gets used plus the cost of the party itself. Hmmm…. Tough choice.
Reason #11: It’s too small even for a vacation residence.
Incorrect. See #6. And are permanently parked RVs not a form of vacation residences? As I type this, we’re surrounded by families vacationing in their RVs that stay in our campground year-round.
Reason #12: An average home allows buyers to grow into it and keep it long term. A tiny home limits the lifestyle.
Exactly! We don’t want to “grow into” a house because that’s synonymous with owning stuff we don’t need.
Reason #13: A tiny home on a piece of property could be a temporary shelter while a larger home is being built and then be used as a detached guest house, but the architectural features would need to match the main house.
Not always. But in those cases, wouldn’t that be cute?!
Reason #14: The concept of downsizing sounds nice, but be honest: We have a lot of stuff and we can’t rent storage space for it all.
So don’t rent storage space. Get rid of the stuff. Next.
Reason #15: There’s no easy way for expansion.
Again, exactly. The point of going tiny is not to expand.
Reason #16: You can’t take up a new hobby that needs large equipment.
True. The tiny house life does come with its sacrifices. Allen had to put drumming on hold for a few years. It was a tough choice, but every time we look at how many home expenses we don’t have, it’s more than worth it.
Reason #17: Without a garage, where do you store tools for home repairs or to fix your car?
Ours are in the utility cabinet in our kitchen. Where do you store yours?
Reason #18: If you need to rent a storage unit, you waste money and gas, driving back and forth to it every time you need something.
See #14. Feels a little unfair that this is basically a duplicate criticism…
Reason #19: It’s a tight squeeze if you want a cat or a dog. Where does the litter box go? Dogs don’t like being confined.
We have two cats who sleep in the same two spots for 22 hours a day whether we’re in this house or our previous 1800 sq. ft. one. Their litter box is in our shower, which we take out when we need to. It’s not as easy as just hopping in the shower, but it’s not the end of the world either. I’d guess TH owners who have dogs just take their dogs outside for exercise more, just like people who live in small apartments do. Everybody wins.
Reason #20: If you have a baby, your small house is now too small.
Is it? That’s up to the tiny house family to decide. I could be living in a 3,000 square foot house and have a baby and think that’s too small if I wanted to.
Reason #21: You can’t get a mortgage. Most lenders want a dwelling built to code by professionals and to have a certain minimum square feet.
Yep. Thankfully, many tiny house owners don’t need the approval of a lender to buy or build a tiny house. That’s part of the beauty, no?
Reason #22: Where will you get the cash to build or buy a tiny home?
Savings. Personal loans. RV loans. Business profits. Lottery winnings. Buried treasure. Who cares? It’s no one’s business but the buyer’s where the money comes from.
Reason #23: Where will you park it? A rented space or will you buy land?
I’m not seeing how this is a criticism and not just a question, but since you asked… right now we’re renting a spot in a campground and will do so when we’re traveling full time. We used to rent space in a friend’s yard, and might buy land when we want to “settle down” and park it. We’ll just see where we end up because we can!
Reason #24: It’s not less expensive. You can buy a plain old house for the same money and get much more utility from it. We compared the sale price of a giant Street of Dreams house ($255 per square foot) to a tiny house ($280 per square foot).
How does comparing cost per square foot demonstrate spending “the same money?” (But if you want to stick with this argument, our TH cost $150/square foot, and the DIYers out there spent far less than that, so…) Utility is 1. relative, and 2. not necessarily a the-more-the-better thing, especially when you take into account the secondary costs that come with more space and function, such as heating and cooling, property taxes, insurance, and the like. A huge perk of tiny houses is they can be designed to suit each unique buyer’s unique needs, so all necessary utilities are accounted for—and none go to waste.
Reason #25: If you want to be mobile, RVs can be customized and lenders are willing to offer loans.
Yes, but that doesn’t make RV living an identical substitute to tiny house living. Plus, it comes with its own set of regulations when used as a residence.
Reason #26: “We don’t see a significant portion of the population living permanently in them,” — Keith Thompson, a real estate broker with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Carolinas Realty in Charlotte, North Carolina, told Trulia.
Hey, I’m from Charlotte, too! Pardon me, Keith, but TH owners don’t care if you don’t “see a significant portion of the population living permanently in them.” Go figure the commission-centered real estate industry isn’t into small, affordable properties.
Reason #27: Your return on investment is next to none, Trulia concluded.
Is there an echo in here or what? Since critics are so stuck on this, let’s hash it out again. Let’s say we move out and rent the TH on Airbnb as a vacation rental investment. A slightly smaller unit in a similar market is currently renting for $90 a night, so we’ll use that for reference, even though we could easily charge more in peak season here. Our carrying costs are about $40/day for the next 2 years, so we’d need to rent 162 nights a year to break even. The average vacation rental in our market rents 170 nights, so that’s no stretch. Starting in 2019 once our carrying costs drop to $20 a day, everything else remaining equal, we’d reasonably bank $9,000 in profit annually. That’s hardly an ROI of “next to none.”
Reason #28: People make fun of tiny houses
Ok, seriously? Who cares? People make fun of others because people suck. Besides, no one has ever made fun of us to our faces for our tiny house (on the contrary, most people think it’s awesome.)
Reasons #29-38: People don’t understand the appeal, as explained by Lauren Modery, who lambasted tiny houses in her blog, hipstercrite.com. She said tiny house dwellers are trying to live out their life ‘like a Wes Anderson character.’”
What difference does it make to me if someone else doesn’t understand the appeal? None.
“You can’t tell me that you don’t lie awake at night, your face four inches from the ceiling because the only place your bed fits is above the kitchen sink which also acts as your shower, and think, I’ve made a terrible mistake.”
Actually, I stretch my legs straight up to the ceiling. It’s relaxing and great for the hammies.
How do inhabitants of itty-bitty homes escape smells? “You have nowhere to run. All you can do is walk three feet to the other end of the house and pray.”
True, but to be fair, I have to escape the gassy by-product of marriage no matter where we are—car, museum, zoo.
Where are clothes, shoes and towels stored? “Do you just have overalls and Birkenstocks and one towel that you share with your entire family?”
We have a closet system under our stairs for our daily use items, storage ottomans for our shoes, and baskets in our storage loft for seasonal needs. We have 8 towels that hang up behind our bathroom door, like, you know, a normal bathroom.
Where do you wash laundry? “Do you have a tiny river that runs behind your tiny house? I bet you do. I bet your whole property is whimsical.”
I wish. We wash our laundry in the washer-dryer combo I’m currently using as a side table for my coffee because us tiny house folks have to repurpose everything, of course.
Despite magazine photos, a tiny house is not always clean even though, “you only own a tiny sofa, several throw blankets and pillow, one cooking pan, one antique book and one framed photo of you laughing in front of your tiny house.”
Judgmental much? Sure, we actually do clean a lot more often. But, it only takes us about 20 minutes, which is great because that’s about as long as I can stand cleaning. How long does it take you to clean your kitchen, living room, bathroom, dining room, master bedroom and bath, guest room, other guest room, and office?
Modery’s big issues: Composting toilets and lack of privacy.
Ummm, where do you think the toilet is? Outside by the picnic table?
Reason #39: Without the requirement for city inspectors and permits, construction could be faulty.
Yeah, but doesn’t this happen in regular homes too? And when it does, is it not a significantly more expensive issue? Tiny house owners should, and do, plenty of research, but mistakes are made on both ends of the deal just as they are in any other construction.
Reasons #40-57: Shelter Wise tiny house designer and builder Derin Williams has seen inexperienced builder produce leaky, wobbly structures and offers tips for buying a tiny house[…]
Since these aren’t actually criticisms, I’m skipping these SEVENTEEN items. Thanks for the advice, though.
Reason #58: Tiny house dwellers have more to fear when a storm roars in around them. Most of the wood-framed homes erected on travel trailers are homemade projects, meaning they might not be sealed from wind and rain to the same level as a professionally built structure.
Are we sure most tiny homes are DIY? And is the point of a THOW is that it’s portable? When our island calls for a hurricane evacuation, we have the benefit of being able to evacuate with our house and all of our belongings. That’s a pretty big plus, I’d say.
Reason #59: Since tiny houses on wheels are not legal to live in full time, they also don’t have to adhere to strict building codes that require windows, walls and roofs to withstand powerful weather forces.
True, but I’ve also seen plenty of up-to-code structures ripped to shreds or flooded up to the attic. Let’s not be fooled that codes equal complete safety and security.
Reason #60: And, they aren’t anchored to a solid foundation.
Sweet! We’re not tied down, literally.
Reasons #61-63 continue on about tiny houses and inclement weather. Moving on.
Reason #64: You still need to insure a tiny house.
Ok, and? Insuring a tiny house is far less expensive than insuring a regular house.
Reason #65: Answer Financial, the online cross-shopping platform for auto and home insurance, says the best way to protect a tiny home is to anchor it to foundation. That means buying or renting a plot of land or a spot in a tiny home community.
Reason #66: Getting your home certified by the National Organization for Alternative Housing (NOAH) may make it easier to purchase coverage from some insurers, says Answer Financial.
Reason #67: The insurance site also recommends that if a tiny home is mobile, it should be certified by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.
Reason #68: Builders who are RVIA certified can provide an RV VIN (vehicle identification number), which also makes it easier to get tiny homes registered.
**Sound of crickets** Still waiting on a criticism here…
Reason #69: Don’t expect your tiny home to appreciate like a traditional dwelling, says Answer Financial.
Hey, thanks, Answer Financial! See the dozen previous investment items.
Reasons #70-77: People who have left comments on Oregonlive stories have other reasons to dislike tiny houses.
Gives new meaning to “trailer trash.”
Awwww, how sweet.
The $78,000 price tag on the 280 sqft house is absurd. Maybe $8,000.
Maybe $8,000 what? Annual savings over renting a 2-bedroom home nearby? We’ll take it! PS. Our house cost less than half that price tag.
Conceivably people who want to live in an RV park could buy an RV and rent space in an RV park…but these folks want to live in someone’s backyard with an extension cord heading to some main building because these are cute and RV Parks are transient and not-so-cute?
We’ve done both, and not to brag, but both options are cute because our tiny house is f*cking adorable.
Not legal. Stop posting this stuff. It has been posted, discussed and dissected. You still like defending this person? Do a little research before you try to come to the aid of criminals who admit to the crime in your ‘article’ and yet still feel they were the ones wronged.
Not always illegal. Keep posting this stuff. It hasn’t been posted, discussed and dissected by enough people. I still like defending this person—Wait, who? Who’s a criminal? Someone living within their means? Yeah, lock them up! Better yet, shove them in a big house they can’t afford and make them work to pay for it, clean it, and maintain it. That will show them.
She knew it wasn’t legal when she built it, and now she wants the laws ignored for her personal gain; go fish, Ms. Dummy!
Hey hey, no need for name calling. Yes, tiny house owners take risks and make mistakes. But how ‘bout we turn that blind rage toward things that actually deserve it, like human rights violations or climate change?
They were not paying property taxes.
**Eyeroll.** Insightful. Whether they were or weren’t, the property taxes on a TH wouldn’t cover the coffee at zoning board meetings. Let’s turn those blinders toward the corporate tax breaks that never actually “trickle down.”
The money they spent on a tiny house could have gone a long way toward a down payment on a home, or rent.
OR, it could go the whole way in buying a whole tiny house.
Wow…6 people, including four kids, in 350 square feet. I think I would be suicidal.
I know, right? Loving parents who want to be close to their kids? Gross.
If you’ve followed along all the way to the end (thanks!), you may have noticed The Oregonian’s list didn’t have a full 77 criticisms. Still, I have some points of my own:
- Tiny houses are as diverse in style, purpose and cost as their owners. Stereotypes and criticisms are moot and a waste of time.
- Municipalities and zoning codes are slowly opening up to tiny houses. Even better, tiny houses and TH communities are becoming more widely recognized as affordable homes for communities who need them, like veterans, homeless people or those affected by natural disasters. You may not “get” the tiny house movement, but that doesn’t make it wrong.
- Tiny houses are a wonderful antidote to our consumption culture that convinces us we have to go into debt to buy more than we can actually afford and produce an environmental footprint that rivals that of a small strip mall.
- There’s a lot to learn from the tiny house movement beyond minimizing stuff. This type of purposeful living reminds us all that we’re not guaranteed tomorrow, so we should live our best lives right now. In a lot of ways, that means bucking conventions, designing your home and life to fit you, not the other way around, and surrounding yourself with only the things you love.
- Some people DIY their tiny houses with reclaimed materials, others spend six figures on a little luxury cabin on wheels. For both ends of the spectrum and everyone in between, that’s totally OK. It’s their money and their home.
- Tiny houses inspire—and require—creativity and innovation, and that’s a good thing for everyone. We learn to do more with less and solve old problems in new ways.
- Just as critics like to talk about the opportunity cost of money “wasted” on a tiny house, we’d like to argue the opportunity cost of owning a big home. The cost of home insurance on an average sized house could cover a Caribbean cruise. The mortgage could put kids and grandkids through college. The power bill could cover a monthly dinner date at the city’s best restaurant. And all these savings could add up to early retirement.
- Tiny house living isn’t for everyone. We get that, and it’s totally OK. All that matters to us is that we love it and it works for the life we want.
Any fellow tiny house dwellers have anything to add?