Starting a new chapter in life is usually an invigorating challenge that I like to take on wheels first. Moving, on the other hand, is almost always a stressful endeavor no matter your circumstances. When moving with a disability, it can become a true nightmare. I’ve moved more times in my adult life than most do in an entire lifetime; not so much by choice, but due to finances or a lack of affordable housing. I’m finally in a place in my life where cost isn’t as much of an issue, but it’s still far from easy to find a place to call home.
My needs barely require ADA compliance; I just can’t have stairs (or need to have the option to build a ramp) and I need doorways wide enough to fit my scooter through. I’ve worked around dozens of different bathroom setups, and learning to adapt has become a true strength of mine, but the ease of overcoming certain obstacles is not an option for all.
Renting a house (or even just a room in a house) is often not an option for most people with mobility disabilities, so you’re left with very few choices. Such as:
- Buying a house that meets your needs, renovating a house to meet your needs, or building a house that meets your needs. A very costly burden to say the least.
- Renting an apartment that meets your needs. This is also tricky, because most older apartments that may be more affordable are often not accessible. If it’s newer and up to ADA compliance, it’s more than likely going to exceed your budget.
- Living with friends or family. This is what many people end up doing, even if it’s less than ideal. It can offer a great support system for some, but for those like me who prefer their independence, it doesn’t work well in the long run when laundry rooms or kitchens aren’t accessible as they need to be, and you end up feeling like a burden.
I’ve come up with my own solution and plan to embark on an exciting new chapter of my life that will lead to financial independence, the freedom to travel, and the opportunity to truly enjoy life. I plan to build a fully customized tiny house that’s modified to meet my needs. This plan is going to take some time, and it certainly won’t happen overnight, but anything that’s truly life changing is worth the wait.
Living tiny is definitely not for everyone. The idea of having everything you own in less than 400 sq. ft. may sound like torture to some, but to me, it’s a simple solution to a gigantic problem. I’ve considered buying a small house and having a mortgage, but I don’t want to be stuck paying it off for the next 30 years. It would also require modifications which would inevitably increase my cost. Plus, for just myself and my two small dogs, I’d really rather not have an entire house to clean and maintain.
For the last few years, I’ve realized how unimportant “things” are to me, and how I value experiences far more. I’ve always loved the idea of going tiny ever since it became trendy 10 or so years ago, but it’s no longer a trend much more so a movement and an alternative way of life.
Going tiny is far more complex than most realize. I would advise anyone who thinks it might be for them to DO YOUR RESEARCH! There are a lot of factors that have to be figured out, such as:
- Zoning and/or parking – you can’t just park a tiny home anywhere, and zoning laws vary by county. RV parking also varies by county, but parking wheeled and temporary structures may come with their own set of rules and regulations.
- Making sure it’s road-safe (proper trailer for a tiny home) and either RVIA certified or NOAH certified (this comes along with choosing the right builder). RVIA certification is personally my recommendation as RVIA manufacturers are governed by the DOT and NADA ensuring they meet regulatory vehicle guidelines. NOAH certification is not recommended by “builders in the know”. It’s more of self-certification and doesn’t have the same approval process as RVIA.
- Financing – getting financing is tough, but not impossible. If you can’t pay for it in cash, you’ll likely need financing. RV loans are an option, as well as personal loans. If you go through an RVIA certified builder, you can go the RV loan route, but your max width can only be 8.6 feet, which could be a problem for accessibility needs. If you end up not following travel trailer RV standards (wider than 8.6 feet) a personal loan might be a good option. Lightstream is recommended by many builders and they even offer a tiny house specific loan.
- Insurance – just like a full sized home, you’ll want to insure your tiny home and there are specific companies that do so. Tiny homes that are RVIA certified can be insured under traditional travel trailer RV policies.
- Many people go the DIY route and it can significantly cut down your cost, but again, I seriously caution you to DO YOUR RESEARCH! I had originally planned to DIY, but decided it would be more of a headache than I was willing to endure.
The above considerations are some of the important basics to look into when considering going tiny, but the following are the things I started with when making my plans.
I plan to park my tiny at the Acony Bell Tiny Home Community located in Mills River, NC. It’s less than 30 minutes from Asheville, NC which happens to be one of my favorite cities.
I took a tour a few weeks ago and met with the owner. As soon as we started wandering the property, I knew I wanted to call this place home. It’s an adorable community nestled in 56 acres that are surrounded by mountain views. The community is the first in the nation to be built solely for tiny houses instead of mobile homes. You can rent a lot of land for $550/month which includes your water/sewer/power hookups, as well as trash/recycling, mailbox, and community upkeep. They have a fully accessible clubhouse, a dog park, and a community garden. You even have the option to park your tiny in the “vacation section” if you wish to rent it out via a property management company. Since I work remotely, I’m considering doing this as an extra source of income while I travel and visit friends.
There are tons of tiny house communities all over the country. A great resource for finding your own perfect community is SearchTinyHouseVillages.com, as well as, TinyHouseExpedition.com which has a wealth of tiny house knowledge and resources.
2. CHOOSING YOUR BUILDER
This is an extremely important step and you’ll want to take your time talking to several builders to find out who has just what you’ll need. Most builders have standard floor plan options, as well as completely customized tiny models where the sky is the limit.
Personally, I know I’ll need financing, so my best option will be going with a builder that is RVIA certified so I can obtain an RV loan. In the future, I’m hoping there will be more options on how to finance with better terms and interest rates. If the mortgage industry opened themselves up to financing tiny homes, they could make a killing, but also completely reshape the affordable housing shortage in America.
I’ve emailed several builders and have decided to start as local as possible. I had a few top choice builders on the west coast (TruForm Tiny and Tiny Heirloom), but the cost of shipping was going to eat into my budget too much. I have a few in mind at the moment, but my front runner is Perch & Nest.
P&N has some of the cutest tiny homes I’ve ever seen! They’re based in Winston Salem, NC, which is not too far from my current location and my delivery site, so I won’t need to worry about astronomical shipping costs. The owners have been extremely attentive and willing to discuss all of my ideas and needs. We haven’t met in person yet, but they’ve gone above and beyond to make me feel like I matter. We have a consultation coming up and I’ll be staying overnight in their Roost 36 vacation tiny. The Roost 36 has a cozy farmhouse feel, whereas another one of their builds is encased in black metal siding for a sleek modern look.
All of their builds are completely customizable and have some really cool features that I haven’t seen in other tiny homes. They have screened-in porches that are built onto the trailer and are retractable, as well as their signature P&N soaking tubs! They have customized storage solutions that are open and spacious, which is so important in such a small space. They also focus on using environmentally friendly and recycled materials, which I’m a big fan of!
With these homes being RVIA certified, you have to remember that the maximum width is 8.6’, so I will need to go longer to make everything work on one floor. My scooter needs more room to turn around than a standard wheelchair, so tailoring the floorplan is going to be a bit tricky. I love the idea of going 36’ long, but with extra length comes extra cost, so I’m trying to stick to 30’ instead. We’ll see what we can make happen!
Here’s a list of my major wants for my tiny:
- Built-in headboard and under-bed storage. I love the idea of my bed being in an enclosed nook for privacy. An elevator bed could also help me double my living area while minimizing costs by still having a shorter trailer.
- Hanging storage and drawers for my wardrobe.
- Built-in media storage/folding desk for working and eating.
- Pantry/trash/recycling storage cubby with doggy dish drawers.
- Kitchen with accessible storage options – induction stove cooktop, fridge with bottom freezer, dishwasher drawer, built-in microwave, and I’d like an apron farmhouse sink (but that is definitely a want, not a need).
- Washer/dryer combo on a pedestal, so I won’t have to bend over quite as much.
- Tiled shower (possibly tub combo), with a customized folding seat.
- Hidden sliding shelf storage in the bathroom.
- Doggy door. I plan to have a dog-run attached to the side of the house so I won’t have to leash my pups multiple times a day just for bathroom breaks.
I’m constantly coming up with new customizations that will help me incorporate my entire life into what will most likely be less than 300 square feet.
This is the most crucial piece, and it has to be sorted out before the build can even begin. So, once you have your numbers in place, the fun can really start!
I’m planning for some significant up-front customization expenses for my tiny home, but tiny houses can be built for far less. That’s the beauty of going tiny! You can go DIY and spend less than $30k, or you can have a mini-mansion and spend $150k+. I’m somewhere in the middle.
Like I mentioned above, I plan on going the RV Loan route, so let’s run some numbers. None of these numbers are solid yet, but for a general idea I figured out that I could afford the following:
- Financing at the high end: $85,000 at 5.75% interest for 15 years = $705.85/month, which is about what I pay now for my half of a non-customized rental house.
- Land Lease: $550/month (This can be avoided if you already own land/have somewhere to park)
- Insurance/Internet/Electric Bill – $150 (An estimate on the high end)
GRAND TOTAL $1,405/month for 15 years. If this affordable? I suppose that depends on how much you make and where you live. With my current salary, it’s feasible, but I’ll have to keep a strict budget. Let’s also remember the option to rent out my tiny home, which could help pay for it much more quickly.
Let’s factor in a few other options to get a more complete picture.
If I finance $85,000 at most, once we add in appliances and finishing touches, I’d say my total estimate is more likely to be around $100,000.
Over the course of 2020, I have plans to live as frugally as possible and assuming that I don’t have any unexpected costly expenses (fingers crossed), I should be able to save $20,000 towards my tiny. I also plan to sell pretty much everything I own, which factors into that $20,000 and gives me a little wiggle room as things may come up throughout the year. I’m also hoping to qualify for a down payment assistance grant from Operation Tiny due to my disability. Now I can’t bank on this, but it could significantly lower the amount I need to finance. I’d really like to get that monthly figure much closer to $1,000, but we shall see.
I could also compromise on some of my wants/needs to lower my overall price, but when you want something badly enough, you find a way to make it work and that’s the plan!
Unfortunately, I’ve already had a bit of a setback on the financing front. Although I don’t plan to start building until early 2021, I wanted to get a more accurate price quote and get pre-approved for an RV loan. Sadly, I was denied. I know the issue is that oh so awful bankruptcy I filed in 2016 that will be etched into my credit report for another three years.
As an individual with a disability I know I’m not the only one who has racked up debt that couldn’t be paid off. Living off of SSDI and having medical expenses, mobility scooter costs, car repairs, etc. adds up quickly, and I did what I thought was best at the time. To be honest, filing bankruptcy was the healthiest financial decision I’ve ever made, but I wish my student loans could have been dismissed along with my credit card debt. Anyway, my bankruptcy is the only negative mark on my credit, my score is close to 750, my payments are always made on time, and I never carry a credit card balance these days. My only sources of debt are my student loans and my hefty auto loan for my modified Kia (I’ll be paying that off until I’m almost 40).
I hope in a year’s time that I can get the financing I need. I even have a co-signer to help me get the best interest rate possible, but I may be turned down again and will just have to keep saving until my bankruptcy clears. By then I might actually be able to pay for a good portion of the tiny house in full.
In the meantime, I’ll need to find a new place to live pretty soon. In an effort to minimize my life and finances, I’ve been looking into intentional communities. I can take my work anywhere in the country, so why not expand my horizons and head in a whole new direction! I’m happy to add another exciting chapter to my book of life.
One way or another I’ll be building the tiny house of my dreams. I hope it’s sooner rather than later, but while I wait I’m going to enjoy this crazy journey called life and keep pushing forward!