Tiny Home, Massive Heart

Are tiny homes part of the solution to the housing crisis or are we hoping for too much from something so small?

Affordable, contemporary, well-insulated, practical, design focused what more could you need from a home? How about movable? Sound good? Then why not look into buying a tiny home!

It’s All About the Price Tag

The tiny home movement is gathering speed and it’s no surprise. There’s so much to love about tiny homes; it’s safe to say I’m a little bit obsessed. The first tick is the price tag. A freshly minted new build designed to your specifications and with everything installed could be yours for the very reasonable sum of around $80,000. That’s, like, proper affordable! Friends of mine have just forked out ten times that for a place in J’ville (and the bank is laughing). And I’ve heard of another couple spending $700k on what the real estate agent described as “a bit of a shit house”. $80k feels achievable as a sum of money to save between two people with reasonably well-paid jobs. It sounds like a loan that wouldn’t take 35 years to pay back for those with less well-paid jobs. Heck, it doesn’t sound too out there for the Government to splash some cash and have them as state housing…

New build houses cost around $2500 per m2 and with the average NZ home now c.200m2  – even with my limited maths skills I know that’s a lot of dosh to dole out. Anyone who’s seen Grand Designs knows that budgets are mere guides and have a tendency to spiral out of control. The $80k for a tiny home is an ‘all up’ cost, unless you upgrade the interior and go all out for $100k. You might want to add environmentally friendly goodness. You could choose solar panels or rainwater collection to keep running costs low. Or you might want to over-insulate or use thermally broken, triple glazed windows to cut down on heating costs. Either way, heating such a small space with a log burner or your basic fan heater is going to cost peanuts.


Hot Stuff

I like the idea of having less stuff, being less encumbered, but downsizing doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice everything. Freelancers rejoice, a home office is an option! You can fit a bath if you so desire (I do so desire, I do!). They’ll even fit a dishwasher! (My partner insists the space could be better used, but no-one actually likes washing up, least of all me.) Space saving tricks like under-stair storage help, but minimalism is key a tiny home isn’t large (it says so in the name); you’ll have to declutter and decide what you really need.

Multi-use staircase
Multi-use staircase – Image cc Tiny Digs

Time on My Hands

Tiny homes can be prefabricated quickly; one company promises a turnaround of three months. New build houses often take waaaay longer than that due to consents/weather/construction issues/design changes/budgets/whatever else goes wrong. Buying a house that already exists can take just as long with banks and lawyers and all the ups and downs involved. You pay your money and, three months down the line, you have your own place. Now, to find some land…

Just find some land! Oh. Wait. What? Ideally I’d like my own land and that will be at least twice as much as the thing itself. Brilliant. Bloody expensive, land. Where’s cheap? Dunedin? Bloody cold. And it’s not Wellington (I’m totally in love with this city). Could just rent some. There’s an idea. I could do short term renting of land from landowners, something which is apparently important (and a topic to which I will return). The thing’s on wheels, why not move every few months? My tiny home is my home, it doesn’t really matter if I own the land or if I rent.

The most affordable slice of land that I’ve come across in my research is in an awful location, impossible to access and on the side of a hill. But it’s a very reasonable $175,000, so it’s got that going for it. Do we snap it up now and hope for the best before even getting around to buying the tiny home and not being fully au fait with the rules? Ah yes, the rules.


Legally Bland

A tiny home is, in some places in New Zealand, not legally a house. It’s a bit of a grey area with different councils having different rules. It’s on a trailer and is therefore movable and generally subject to the same laws as caravans and motorhomes. This article explains things in more detail.

Another potential stumbling block for first-time tiny home purchasers you can’t draw down your KiwiSaver to help with the cost. Remember, it’s not completely a house? Well, because of this, the government says you can’t use that nice sum of money to help buy one. Bugger!

I haven’t yet done my research on hooking up to electricity, wifi and sewage, although I do know that composting toilets are an option.

Tony Houses


A Home for Everyone

These homes would be great for first-time buyers, childless couples, singletons, retirees, people who want to travel but also live in comfort, families (there are options for those who have children built in bunk beds) people who want to downsize to the max and more; they’re not just for Millennials and hippies. Could they be a solution to the housing crisis? Maybe. If people can get away from the idea that bigger is better and move towards smaller is sufficient, smaller is satisfactory, smaller is another ‘s’ word that means a similar thing.

But would NIMBYism rule supreme? Would our choice to live more sustainably ultimately prove less worthwhile? Or could the movement really start something and change the current rules?

Could they even be a solution to homelessness? You can get really tiny homes for really cheap prices and ensure that everyone has a roof over their heads. Everyone. Wouldn’t that be lovely? Getting vulnerable people off the streets and into affordable housing that they can maintain, that doesn’t take up too much space, that is ecologically sound what are we waiting for?


Could you live in a tiny home? Would you want to?


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One comment on “Tiny Home, Massive Heart”

  • Shirley Goodwin says:

    Please be aware that not all THs are on wheels. Some of the ever-increasing number of TH fans are building on foundations. My TH will be started (hopefully) in spring on an equally tiny section in Central Otago.

    THs are not simply a solution for young people struggling to find a deposit for a first home. I’m a Baby Boomer and I think Tiny Houses are immensely sensible for people my age – I have a friend living in a 4 bedroom house on an enormous section in Auckland, which to me is just crazy for a couple in their mid-60s. A THOW (Tiny House on Wheels) is not especially suitable for us older people who need to go to the bathroom in the night and don’t want to have to navigate stairs, so my design has the bedroom on the flat, with the spare room in a loft space for my children and grandchildren. I see my move to a THOF as being ideal, both in terms of home and land to be maintained as I age, as well as requiring substantial downsizing of my belongings – so that my family doesn’t have an enormous task when I die.

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