Is Tiny House Retirement for You?
October 12, 2016 | Enjoying Retirement
In the 1960s, Baby Boomers were encouraged to “think small” by getting behind the wheel of a Volkswagon Beetle. Today, a similar movement is taking shape and is impacting Boomers nearing retirement. But now the focus is on smaller houses instead of cars—specifically homes of 100 to 400 square feet in size that are built on moveable trailers.
If you’ve watched any of the home networks lately, you’re probably familiar with shows such as HGTV’s Tiny House, Big Living that chronicle the tiny house craze. Spearheaded in the mid-2000s by Millennials looking to live a pared-down life, the tiny house movement is now attracting people of all generations.
According to builders on both sides of the country, this includes Baby Boomers. “I’ve got about four on the waiting list,” says Pat Mosely, owner of California Tiny Homes in Fresno. On the opposite coast, Dan Louche, of Georgia-based Tiny Home Builders, estimates that about 35 percent of his clients are Boomers.
Retirees Drawn to Freedoms of Tiny Home Living
While Millennials are drawn to tiny homes by a desire to spend less and live more, Boomers are gravitating to them to make the most of their years in retirement—without the expenses and trappings that come with conventional housing.
Says Louche, “The largest bill most Boomers have is a mortgage that’s tied to a house they are using less.” Moving into a tiny home is a way to shed that financial burden and enjoy more freedom.
While some tiny homes are stationary, most are made to be transported. “All of our homes are built on wheels and can be hitched to a truck like a normal trailer,” says Mosely. It’s the kind of mobility that can come in handy when a change of scenery is in order. Or, as Mosely points out, in the case of natural disasters like wildfires or floods, when a change is absolutely necessary. “When you own a tiny home, you can move it out of harm’s way.”
Kathy Truhn, a Baby Boomer herself, might attest to this. She was Dan Louche’s first tiny home customer and happens to be his mother. Truhn may have benefited from a home on wheels when Hurricane Jeanne did a number on her Lakeland, Florida, trailer house in 2004. While she and her husband worked to make it habitable again, her son was secretly building them their own tiny home.
“When I visited Dan and saw the flatbed trailer, I assumed he was building a float for the scouts,“ says Truhn. When Dan finished the home and surprised her with it, she fell in love with it instantly.
The layout included a kitchen and dining area, bathroom and living room plus a loft for storage. All of this was contained in a space smaller than a semitrailer. “We had a futon we’d use during the day and fold out at night,” says Kathy. “Everything was within a few steps, and if we had company, we’d move outside.” When a Florida rain shower made this impossible one time, the tiny house came through. “We had seven people and two dogs inside, but everyone found a place to sit and eat and enjoy the company.”
How does a tiny home differ from a recreational vehicle (RV)? According to Louche, a tiny home has several advantages over an RV, starting with durability. “RVs were never intended to be lived in full time,” he says. “They just aren’t manufactured to wear like a tiny home, so they end up falling apart much more quickly than you might expect.”
However, a tiny home can be hauled to an RV park and can be set up just as easily. In fact, most of them are designed to work with RV electrical hookups and water supplies. And since they typically feature composting toilets, the waste water a tiny home produces is no more harmful than runoff. “You can use it to water plants,” says Mosely.
Insurance, Taxes and Other Costs
According to Mosely, tiny homes can be insured just like an RV or large vehicle. Plus, there are no property taxes to deal with or building permit hassles. So when you buy a tiny house, the only expenses you need to consider up front are the cost of the home, sales tax and insurance.
The price of a Mosely-built California tiny home can run anywhere between $40,000 and $80,000. A tiny house built by Louche will run between $40,000 and $60,000. Both builders point out that price boils down to what someone wants in a tiny home. In comparison, an RV can cost more than $100,000.
Shorter Construction Time
If you choose to go the tiny house route, the work can usually be completed in six to twelve weeks—a fraction of the time it would take to build a conventional home. Adjusting, however, may take a while, especially if you’re scaling back. But Truhn was already ahead of the curve. “I went from a trailer to a tiny home, so I was in pretty good shape.”
The economies of scale can make up for sacrifices elsewhere. “My utility bill was $25 per month,” says Truhn, which allowed her to keep the air conditioning on and the appliances running. As you might imagine, the time it took to clean was also drastically reduced. And these are the types of savings that can be applied to a richer retirement.
While the tiny home movement may not be for everyone, for a growing number of Boomers, it’s a way to live life to the fullest in the tiniest space imaginable—and a way to think small on a whole new level.