10/24 How to find a tiny house that you can actually live in

Are you a tiny house enthusiast that’s discouraged by unfriendly zoning? If living in RV park isn’t for you and you can’t find another legal place for a tiny house on wheels, consider a tiny house on a foundation.

You can build a new tiny house in some towns (that have no minimum square foot requirements for new homes) yet finding affordable land and a builder willing to put the time into such a small project can be challenging. In addition, fees for permits, impact fees, building a foundation & driveway, and hooking up utilities can make the cost of new construction climb sky high, as we’ve seen recently in Pennsylvania.

An alternative is buying a small, older home. You can search Zillow using their map and putting in sq ft constraints. Start at the home page and enter in a city & state and click “Search”.

Zillow home page

Zillow home page

In the next window, on the top menu, put in your Price Range, select Home Type, and under More, enter in square foot limits.

Narrowing the search in Zillow

Narrowing the search in Zillow

Click on the red dots to see a listing. Here’s one on Staten Island, 1 bed & 1 bath, 400 sq ft for $239,000 (stay with me — I’ll soon show you a house for just $8,900!).

95 Hastings Street, Staten Island, NY

95 Hastings Street, Staten Island, NY

Yes, this house is expensive, but if you do the same search in Arkansas, you get much different results (see below). That’s one of the great things about Zillow – it lets you enter a state instead of having to narrow down to a city. And even better, if you click on the blue lines that made up your search, it expands the map to show results beyond your original limits.

Zillow results for Arkansas

Zillow results for Arkansas

Expanding beyond the blue lines in Zillow

Expanding beyond the blue lines in Zillow

Going back to our tiny house on Staten Island, there are a few more steps we should take before getting excited about it. First, go to Google maps and see if there is a street view. Realtors try to show a house to its best advantage – Google driveby bots are impartial.

95 Hastings Street via Google maps street view, house is behind the big tree

95 Hastings Street via Google maps street view, house is behind the big tree

Our tiny house is squeezed between two larger homes and is hidden behind a tree. This is fine if you like privacy, but gives a different impression from the realtor’s pictures.

Now let’s look at crime in the neighborhood. For this, plug in the address on Trulia.com and scroll down to the map.

Staten Island crime map

Staten Island crime map

Our tiny house doesn’t look too bad, all green in the immediate area.

The next step is to check the address on Realtor.com. While Zillow and Trulia are great for preliminary searches, they’re not always current. Realtor.com is more trustworthy. In this case, the tiny house at 95 Hastings is showing as still for sale.

Realtor.com listing

Realtor.com listing

If you haven’t already done so, look into financing now. Many banks will not lend under a certain dollar amount (often $50,000) or for houses under a certain square footage. Make sure you have your financing approved prior to calling a realtor.

In my experience, for houses with low prices, you are MUCH better off calling the listing agent. Don’t use the email form – agents don’t take these inquiries seriously. And don’t call another agent to ask about that house. The commission is so low that there is little motivation for agents to put in any effort if they need to split the commission. Call the listing agent directly; he is shown in the box in the lower right corner┬áin the picture above on Realtor.com.

Going back to our Arkansas search, we find that we can buy a tiny house for $8,900.

1103 Ninth Street, Mena, AR

1103 Ninth Street, Mena, AR

Google maps street view shows a similar picture, no surprises.

Google maps via of 1103 Ninth Street, Mena, AR

Google maps via of 1103 Ninth Street, Mena, AR

The crime map on Trulia is all green, but in my experience, it’s not as reliable for rural zones, as accurate statistics may not be available. Be sure to spend time in the neighborhood before buying a house in an unfamiliar area.

Most small, older homes will need work, so be sure to budget that in.

While designing and building a new tiny house is great fun, it isn’t the only way to live minimally. An older home is a great way to live our values of reduce, reuse, recycle. Happy house hunting!