Tiny Homes Spark Big Movement

July 10, 2014

A 164-square-foot home may sound like a squeeze to most Americans, but to some home buyers, it may very well be the perfect fit.

“Dramatic downsizing is gaining interest among Americans, gauging by increased sales of plans and ready-made homes and growing audiences for websites related to the [tiny home] niche,” Bloomberg reports. National interest in the search term “tiny house” has been soaring since May, according to Google trends. A+E Networks Corp. started airing “Tiny House Nation” this week, a series that highlights the growing small-home movement.

Tiny homes, defined as 500 square feet or less, allow people to cut their housing expenses, live simply, and go mortgage-free.

Such homes weren’t considered so tiny by historical standards. In 1950, single-family homes averaged 983 square feet, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

But the tiny home movement has grown at a time when new homes have bloomed to the biggest on record. The median size of new single-family houses was at a record 2,384 square feet in 2013. Only 1 percent of home buyers are purchasing a home that is 1,000 square feet or less, according to housing data from the National Association of REALTORS®.

“Since I got into the small-house game 15 years ago, every year seems like it’s the biggest ever,” says Cotati,Calif.-based architect Jay Shafer, who founded Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in 1999 and later Four Lights, both micro-building and design companies. “It shows people how little some need to be happy, and how simply they can live if they choose.” Shafer, his wife, and two young children share a 500-square-foot home.

“Tiny houses are no longer strange,” Debby Richman, the company’s chief marketing officer, told Bloomberg. “They are now ‘cute.’ The cultural mores have changed.”

Who’s occupying these “tiny” homes? The largest share — 23 percent — of “tiny home” inhabitants are between ages 31 and 40, according to The Tiny Life blog, which conducted a nationwide survey of more than 2,600 people. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they had zero credit-card debt.

“Wherever you find expensive housing on the East Coast or the West Coast, you find a higher concentration of tiny houses because people understand the need,” Shafer says.

Source: “Tiny Houses Big with U.S. Owners Seeking Economic Freedom,” Bloomberg (July 9, 2014) and “Tiny Houses Offer Big Potential in Some Areas,” The Associated Press (July 8, 2014)