5/9/2011 - Promoter hopes tiny homes will turn into huge sellers
by Wayne Faulkner
Smaller homes on in-town infill lots are getting more and more popular - and practical! Asheville firms are already leading the way in building this type of structure to meet a serious housing need - and making them green and healthy along the way!
Less living space, but also less money, less hassle, lower utility costs, and more of a contribution to the concept of green and sustainable living, some homeowners, builders and architects believe.
Green is big, home builders say, and small is almost necessarily green - fewer materials and waste, small footprint and more.
Has the time come for the truly small new house, like less than 1,000 square feet?
Some architects and builders say yes. The biggest home-building trade group says maybe.
The trend toward smaller homes is clear, however.
In a survey by the National Association of Home Builders, builders expected the average size of homes to be 2,152 square feet by 2015, down 10 percent from the first three quarters of 2010. But 2010 was 50 percent more than in 1973, said Stephen Melman, the home builders' director of economic services.
The 'tiny' home
For some, even 1,000 square feet is too big.
A Wilmington man has built a website on the idea that so-called "tiny homes" will be in greater demand.
Those tiny houses, which range from sheds to about 500 square feet, are the reasons for tinyhouselistings.com, run by Steven Harrell from his houseboat in the Cape Fear River.
His site is the connection between people who are interested in tiny houses and those hoping to sell one to them.
Tiny houses seem to be most popular in mountain regions where they can be built or trucked in without fear of the zoning authorities.
He did not know of any on the ground in this area, but one Asheville firm builds them.
The attraction? No mortgage and low operating costs, Harrell said.
"Some come in kits and you put them together yourself," he explained.
"Some of the homes are driven in, and you have to finish them," he said, but some are turnkey.
"You hire a shipping company and they will bring it to your location. Some people have the option of buying a two-bedroom house and these can be a guest house or home office."
Most of us are probably not ready for tiny, but small is sounding more attractive, especially to those approaching retirement or already there.
"The baby boomers no longer need the five bedrooms or the large lot," Melman said. Perhaps they want upscale flooring rather than space. Anyway, they want to control costs, he added.
Anne + Bradshaw General Contractors in Wrightsville Beach has showcased smaller homes in a six-lot development it is building just south of Market Street on 29th Street.
Called Midori, two of a potential six homes have been built, sold and occupied, said Pam Fasse, general contractor and partner at Anne + Bradshaw. They're about 1,500 square feet and can be two master bedrooms or a master and two smaller bedrooms.
It takes a certain personality for these homes to fit with people, Fasse said.
"Retired engineers are big on this concept. They like the tight building envelopes. Science can be applied to these things.
Plus, "They don't want a lot of space to clean."
More hous eholds
An increase in household formation might be a boon to all housing, including small homes.
Last year saw a record low 357,000 household formations - meaning mostly that kids have moved out of the house.
The net rate for this year is estimated to be 750,000 to 1 million, though that's still far below the long-term average.
"Buyers continue to be cautious. They're just going to buy the home that they need," Melman said. "People are going to want a home for shelter rather than an investment.
"When we ask builders what do we expect" are the most-favored features, "the great room is coming out on top. The kitchen extends to the family room and part of the living room. The living room could disappear," Melman said.
But smaller homes don't mean that young people will accept small space, even if it means lower upkeep.
"The problem that we have right now in reaching people with an 800-or 900-square-foot house is that most people have accumulated a lot of stuff. The storage issue is a deal breaker," Fasse said.
"People want a king or queen bed. They want to have big closets," she said. And this applies especially to young people.
"The paradigm may be the big suburban house that they grew up with. Small is offensive to them.
"I'm finding that the people who want this concept are people 50 and over. They want a smaller space. They want outside spaces, gardens, big windows.
Woodsong in Shallotte
Take the cottages being built at Woodsong, a development in Shallotte by Buddy Milliken of the Milliken Co.
One that is sold and occupied has two bedrooms and two baths in 958 square feet, plus nearly 300 square feet of outdoor living space. It costs $203,600, including land. Another one built and sold has 851 square feet.
"I worked with Eric Moser (of the Moser Design Group in Charlotte), who designed several of the Katrina cottages and took Katrina types to be adapted to other homes," Milliken said.
"The philosophy is, in exchange for someone getting a higher-quality green home, they take less square footage to save money. They use outside space to expand the livability.
"A smaller house has fewer rooms, but the rooms don't have to be substantially smaller than larger houses'," he said.