Sunday, June 14, 2020

Tiny Home Madness

They aren't Tiny Homes, they are just poorly made RV's.  And God knows, regular RV's are badly made as it is.  For the cost of a "tiny home" you can buy four park model RVs, or just build a goddamn house already!  That poor pickup truck - what did it ever do to deserve this?

A recent listicle online discusses the downsides of the "tiny home movement."   I had a movement this morning.  It was a revelation.  That right there is the problem with this "Tiny Home" nonsense - the naming of it.  People just like to say "Tiny Home" and when they say it, you want to just punch them in the face for no reason.  Tiny Home!  Tiny Home!  Tiny Home!  WHACK!

Calling it a "movement" or a "nation" is just idiotic.  It is like the folks in the Coalition to Hate Jekyll Island, whose coalition comprises five people meeting in someone's living room.  But hey, no one pays attention to the "five cranks who refuse to ride on the bike path to show the authority what-for!"

So "Tiny Home Movement" gets two punches-in-the-face, in my opinion.

In terms of "downsides" - there really aren't any upsides, are there?   The people profiled in the piece are, as Mr. See quickly noted, "the type who can't even use a screwdriver" and thus placed themselves at an informational disadvantage in negotiating their tiny home purchase.   Not surprisingly, they end up getting ripped off, spending over $100,000 on a poorly made nightmare that is unsafe to even tow down the road.

While the RV industry has its share of issues, they at least know how to built an RV that won't be overloaded right from the factory.   Well, actually, they used to do this, but consumers got pissed off and held their feet to the fire.  RVIA (Recreational Vehicle Industry Association) standards dictate that the rigs can't leave the factory over gross weight of the chassis, and have to have a reasonable capacity for cargo and/or people.  Not so, tiny homes.

As the article notes, there are no real building codes for these as they are not homes or houses but in fact, RV's.   Homebuilt RVs.  Poorly made RV's.   Overweight RV's.    But RV's nevertheless.

A lot of people have gotten into this "tiny home" nonsense, selling themselves as builders, after maybe building one for themselves.  As they have no experience as a builder, or even running a business, they vastly underestimate how costly it is to make something, particularly when you are building in small batches, one at a time, each unit custom-made.   It is not unexpected that such folks would end up bankrupt, but entirely expected.

I think also, that this whole "tiny home" nonsense is over-sold to these jaded yuppies.  There isn't as much demand as the television shows would lead you to believe.  So Jughead decides to become a "tiny home builder" and no doubt his wife Lurleeen opens up a cupcake shop.  Both go bankrupt.  Yes, these are trendy things, but that doesn't mean they are sustainable business models. Not only that, Jughead is competing with the existing RV business, which is quick to relabel its existing "Park Models" as "Tiny Homes" and Lurleen is competing against local bakeries that have been in business for decades, and start to push their cupcake products more.

But the main problem is, these "tiny home" builders use materials from the local lumber store - 2x4's and oriented strand board sheathing - and that stuff is just too heavy to be put on a trailer chassis.    Of course, many of these ersatz RVs end up being towed to one place and left there, so it makes little difference if the axles and tires barely survive the trip.  But others try to use these things as RVs, and bring upon themselves a world of woe.

The RV industry uses as an excuse for their quality issues, that an RV is like a house that is travelling down the road, constantly in an earthquake, and experiencing a hurricane.   And there is a modicum of truth to that - which is why we try to keep our speed down to about 60 mph and avoid sudden stops and whatnot.   These things get bounced around - a lot.   But components have been tried and tested over time and modified to work in an RV.   And even then, they don' t last all that long.  Residential house components, even less so.

For example, a set of residential windows isn't really designed to travel down the road, other than to be delivered from the factory to the lumber store.  The glass is plate glass, not tempered (in most cases) and can easily shatter and break, due to vibration and shock.  Not only that, but insulated windows have special problems when you change altitude - the pressure of the gas inside the window may be equal to ambient at sea level, but if you drive up to Denver or cross the continental divide, well, unless the windows were designed to handle this, they can literally explode, or at the very least, break their seal.

But the real problem of this "Tiny Home" [bowel] movement is that is a worst-of-both-worlds scenario.  I have written before about Park Model RV's, which are RVs that are small (some might say, even, tiny) that are designed to be parked mostly, in an RV park to live in.   If you want a "tiny home" you can buy one, sitting on the lot, for a lot less money that some half-ass custom-built "tiny home" that ends up never getting built, as in the article.  Oh, and if you don't have the cash, a Park Model can be financed by the bank, as it is a known quantity to lenders.

The problem with a Park Model, however, is the same as with a Mobile Home (and they are two different animals, really) is that you need a place to park it.  In the article mentioned above, the victims of this Tiny Home scam end up parking their "home" in an RV park or Mobile Home Park - explain to me why this is different that a Park Model or Mobile Home, again?

The problem with that model of living is twofold.   In a mobile home park, you are at the mercy of the park owners as to what the monthly rent will be. They can raise it, and your only choice is to pick up and move your trailer - if you can afford to do so.   You are right back where you started, being at the mercy of a landlord and looking at piles of cancelled rent checks - the reason the couple profiled said they wanted to buy a "tiny home."

The second problem is, well, like so many so-called "full time RV'ers" you are living in a trailer park, and it really isn't all that nice, after a while.   Unless you can find a manicured over-55 park, you could end up in meth-head hell, and starring in an episode of "COPS" - before they took it off the air.

You can't just park these things anywhere, such as on the street (as illustrated in Grace and Frankie - one of two series on Netflix that glamorize this whole Tiny Home nonsense).  Unless you own a piece of land that is zoned to allow you to put a trailer on it (and these are trailers, period) you have to rent a space from someone else.    And if you own a piece of land in California where the profiled couple lived, well, hell, just build a house on it.   For $100,000 you could build a helluva house.  We built one, for Mark's Studio, for about 1/4 that cost.

You could build this "tiny home" for under $50,000 perhaps even half that.  We did.

A house built on a piece of land will appreciate in value.  Not so a "Tiny Home".  Yes, they may call it a "home" but it is a trailer, and all trailers, whether Mobile Homes, Park Models, or RV's, depreciate in value over time.  You may spend $100,000 on a "dream" tiny home, but odds are, you will sell it for a fraction of that price, eventually (and eventually you will sell it, too) as no one wants your overweight nightmare trailer, just as they don't want your old "skoolie" bus conversion.

But suppose you really are determined to live the "tiny home" lifestyle?   Well, here would be my advice - buy a Park Model or a regular RV.   Why?
1.  They make millions of them, and you can go inspect the one you want to buy on a dealer lot.   None of this putting down deposits with sketchy "builders" who then go bankrupt and keep your cash. 
2.  They cost a lot less - at least half as much as a custom-built "Tiny Home" if not 1/4 the cost.  This is a lot of money, and if the goal here is to save money, then for God's sake, save money.   Spending more money than it costs to build a freestanding house, to live in a trailer makes no sense at all. 
3.  Since they are a regular commercially-made product, you can easily get a loan on one, although I would advise to be careful not to end up upside-down on the loan!   Put down a large enough down payment. 
4. You would have an easier time finding a place to park it.   Many RV parks, Park Model parks, and even Mobile Home parks have rules about homebuilt campers and other nightmares, and the rules are "NO, No, and what part of No didn't you get?"   The nicer parks have these rules, anyway.  The meth-lab parks will welcome you with open arms - assuming that you probably have a meth lab in that home-made nightmare. 
5.  When you finally come to your senses and realize that living in a trailer isn't a "lifestyle choice" unless you are near the end of your life, you will want to sell the damn thing (and indeed, even the old folks in Florida living in park models eventually sell theirs, as they go to the home).   A standard park model or RV has a resale value and market.   A "tiny home" could be difficult to sell, other than to some other nutjob. 
6.  If the park you land at raises the monthly rent, you can at least move the damn thing.  RVs are pretty easy to tow.   Park models a little harder to do, but the are designed to roll.   But a tiny home that barely has enough chassis under it to make it from the manufacturer to the park, is going to be popping tires going down the road  - and bending axles.
If I sound pissed-off and like I haven't had my morning coffee, it is because raw deals infuriate me, and people who laud raw deals infuriate me even more.   It pisses me off when human beings say things like "Well, you know, poor people don't have any other option than to use a payday loan!" or "Leasing a car is the only way some folks can afford one!"   Arrrrrgh!   But then again, I pretty much hate all humans as it is.

But stupidity trying to mask itself as intellectualism particularly trips me off.   People who buy into this "tiny home" nonsense are often college-educated people (that degree in art history is really paying off!) who, like Mark said, don't know one end of a screwdriver from another.  And you have to be handy, if you want to own an RV.  They create this mythology about "tiny homes" and a lot of idiots - like the ones profiled in the article - get sucked into this and end up broke.

It is like this idiotic "Van Life" movement, which we used to call "Homelessness."   You can't "live" in a van, much as you can't "live" in your car.   Living in a vehicle is not an "answer" to anything, it is just plain giving up.

And so is living in a "Tiny Home."  The folks doing this are younger people in the prime of their lives, and they are sacrificing a productive life because they think that their rents are too high.  And often, the rents are not that bad.   The couple profiled above, complained that after seven years, they had spent $108,000 on rent.  That works out to $1285 a month.   That's a pretty decent rent - about what I charge for my condo in Alexandria, and not much more than Mr. See and I paid for our apartment in Alexandria in 1989 ($900 a month!).

$1285 a month is what it will cost you to live in a house, even if it was paid-for with no mortgage.  These folks didn't have, say, an onerous rent, such as the $3000-a-month some pay for studio apartments in New York or San Francisco.  Sheesh!

Housing always seems like it costs too much - get over that.  Blowing a hundred grand - the equivalent of seven years' rent on a poorly made trailer and then still having to pay rent on a lot (at least $500 a month in most places) is just very, very poor financial decision-making.   And the name of this blog is "Living Stingy" - not "throw your money away on a half-assed trailer."

And yes, we have a trailer.  But it cost only $30,000 and is made of one piece of fiberglass and weighs only 5,000 lbs (on a chassis rated for 7000 lbs).   And yea, you could live in it, full-time, I suppose, if you wanted to.

But I don't want to.    That would not be a "lifestyle choice" but rather just falling down the economic ladder.  There is a big difference!

UPDATE:   There are, of course, some tiny homes which are just merely houses that are tiny. I'm not sure why this is different than just building a house, other than to make a house that is somewhat quirky and hard to sell.

I'm also not sure why this is a better idea than building apartments or Condominiums, which would increase housing density which is better for the environment.  It also allows more people live closer in which reduces commuting costs, and again, environmental impact.

I would think if I was to build a tiny home as a free-standing structure, that is to say, a house built according to local housing codes, I would construct it in such a manner that it could be expanded into a regular house, is that would improve the resale value and also the flexibility.

You could literally build yourself into a corner with a tiny home. For example a young couple starting out builds a tiny home and then decides to raise a tiny family. They quickly will need more room and end up having to sell their tiny house to move to something less tiny.