The interest in tiny homes is growing

May 15, 2017  
Filed under Feature Stories

Bob Greel, Kate Ziegler and Anderson Page from Tiny House Crafters LLC, sit on the stairway/storage unit in one of the company’s homes. (Contributed photo)

Bob Greel, Kate Ziegler and Anderson Page from Tiny House Crafters LLC, sit on the stairway/storage unit in one of the company’s homes.
(Contributed photo)

By Stephanie Choate

Some Vermonters are looking to something small as the next real estate trend in Vermont—something tiny, in fact.

Interest in tiny homes is growing in Vermont, as well as across the country. TV shows, magazines and websites devoted to tiny homes have proliferated nationwide. Locally, several businesses have sprung up catering to those who want to simplify their lifestyles — or gain some extra income by renting a tiny home on their property.

After nearly two decades in the residential construction business, local builder Amy Judd is shifting her attention to tiny houses.

“I left the company I co-founded at the end of 2015 because I had been reading about and gotten inspired by the tiny house movement,” she said.

After nearly two decades in the residential construction business, local builder Amy Judd changed her focus to the construction of tiny houses like this one. (Contributed photo)

After nearly two decades in the residential construction business, local builder Amy Judd changed her focus to the construction of tiny houses like this one.
(Contributed photo)

Judd said many people are drawn to tiny houses for the financial freedom they offer.

“It offers people financial freedom and simplicity in terms of making do with much less stuff,” she said. “It can free up lots of space for other things, free up time or finances or give the ability to travel.”

Judd built her first tiny house last summer, which came in at under 200 square feet—12 feet by 8 feet. As she was building, she said it at first seemed very small. But as she added a kitchen, loft and clever space-saving amenities, it began to look eminently livable.

She held an open house in December.

 “I got a lot of younger people there, probably in their 20s and 30s, really open to the idea, but I also had some folks there who were older who were interested in the tiny house idea,” Judd said.

 “For the younger folks, they said, ‘Wow, we could own one of these outright for the cost of what most down payments would be on a regular house,’” she said. “The older people were talking more about downsizing and needing less space and having a limited income now that they were retired. Increasing property taxes and having 12 empty rooms wasn’t making sense. There was an understanding about how there is a lot of stuff that we don’t need.”

Kate Ziegler—administrator of Tiny House Crafters LLC, a Southern Vermont-based company formed in 2013—also listed financial freedom as one of the top reasons people are drawn to tiny houses.

“A lot of people are interested in taking control of their finances and see tiny houses as a way to be a homeowner, buy land and have a little more freedom,” Ziegler said.

Ziegler said her company’s tiny houses start at $35,000 but typically run from $55,000-$60,000. A tiny house with all the bells and whistles could climb above $75,000, she said. Judd sold her tiny house for approximately $65,000 to Haley LaBonte-Davey and her husband, Christopher Davey.

Goats mug for the camera in front of Tiny House Crafters’ Nova design. (Contributed photo)

Goats mug for the camera in front of Tiny House Crafters’ Nova design.
(Contributed photo)

The couple took it to Grand Isle, temporarily parking it in LaBonte-Davey’s parents’ backyard.

“We’re both in our early 30s and not ready to buy a full-sized house, but we were also tired of renting,” she said. “My husband’s going back to school and we wanted to get expenses down. Also the environmental benefits and the flexibility helped us feel like this was a good decision for us right now.”

LaBonte-Davey said there have been ups and downs in the four months they have lived in the house, but that they are pleased with their decision.

“I like the fact that we own it. It’s ours,” she said. “It’s challenging, but it’s been fun to learn things…. It’s not as hard as I thought it would be, spatially. Our biggest help was that we also have a shed that stores a lot of our seasonal stuff.”

LaBonte-Davey said she and her husband are saving to buy land, but they haven’t decided where yet.

“All these possibilities are open, but we already have our house in place,” she said. “We could buy a huge piece of land or we know we can stick it on a 30-by-30 plot.”

Ziegler said many young people use tiny houses as starter homes, but she has also had inquiries about building them for older relatives to stay or live in on a family member’s property.

“Living with family on their land can be a great way to maintain independence,” she said.

Both Judd and Ziegler said the tiny houses can be customized for the needs of older customers—like avoiding ladders and lofted bedrooms.

“Our company is based on the idea that every model built is basically from scratch,” Ziegler said. “We’re building for you, and we do the design work from the trailer up.”

But Ziegler also cautioned that tiny houses aren’t work-free.

“There is a lot of upkeep with a tiny house,” she said. “If someone can’t keep up with it in regular house, it doesn’t necessarily mean a tiny house is going to be easier.”

Both Judd and Ziegler recommended that anyone interested in living in a tiny house or hosting one on their property start by looking into the zoning regulations in their town.

“Our first question for anybody is ‘Where are you going to be parking your house?’” Ziegler said.

Zoning laws in Vermont vary drastically from town to town, and even from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Often, a tiny home parked on a property—whether or not it is on wheels—must follow the same zoning rules as a larger home. That means following town regulations for driveways, water and wastewater. Tiny homes can also be classified as accessory dwellings—additional dwellings to an approved single-family residence. Some towns classify them as RVs, as long as they are on wheels.

While some tiny house owners opt to fly under the radar, Ziegler said she thinks it’s important to be above board. As tiny houses grow in popularity, she said she doesn’t want them to have a reputation as flouters of zoning rules.

But Judd said there may be some flexibility when it comes to zoning regulations, and town staff is often willing to work with would-be tiny house dwellers.

“Many of the (zoning department) folks whom I’ve spoken with say ‘These are the sets of laws we have to operate within, but we are totally open for folks to come to us and put together a proposal in terms of changing some of the regulations,’” she said.

In other parts of the country—like Portland, Ore. and Austin, Texas—tiny house communities have sprung up. Judd said she can see Burlington following their example.

“I think it’s a real draw to bringing young people and older people together,” she said. “There’s the opportunity to downsize and live in a community where folks can know each other and take care of each other.”

Ziegler also said she can see tiny houses growing in popularity.

“Hopefully, I see some tiny house communities growing, and see towns and the state accept them as an important part of growing the population here,” she said. “Tiny houses are a great way for people to be able to afford and love what they’re doing, and also contribute to the tax base.”

Judd said she doesn’t believe tiny houses are a fad.

“I feel like there is a movement out there,” she said. “Less stuff and smaller housing equals greater financial freedom and greater opportunity …. It can free up so much energy in so many ways and form a sense of community at the same time.”

 

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