A lot of people are obsessed with tiny homes.
Talk about a hashtag that gets a lot of interest on Pinterest… #tinyhouses…. its a wildly popular topic. Pinterest posts with tiny houses are filled with cool space-saving ideas, plans and more…. people love them.
Tiny Houses are so cute!! So will Tiny houses come to Massachusetts?
Will you eventually be able to buy a tiny house in a Massachusetts subdivision?
Tiny houses seem to attract the millennial and hipster crowd and fit a lifestyle that defines their generation.
Though, tiny houses certainly are not limited to their generation.
What is the Tiny House Movement?
The tiny home movement is not only an architectural movement but a social movement as well. It is for people who want to live a minimalist lifestyle as well as leave less of a carbon footprint on our environment.
A tiny house is loosely defined as having less than 400 square feet of living space either on some sort of foundation or wheels.
The average sq foot of a new home being built today is now approaching 2600 sq feet as opposed to the 70s which was approximately 1600 square feet. A
lso coming under the radar are small homes loosely defined as 500-1000 square feet of living space. The appeal of these tiny and small homes is we don’t become slaves to our homes.
Isn’t a Tiny House Just an RV Disguised Under a Fancy Name?
What has been given as a response by tiny house advocates, is they are built with green materials and therefore less toxic. They are also insulated better for full-time living. And the quality of a tiny home is far better than a traditional recreational vehicle.
Also, they can be on wheels or a fixed foundation ….. In most cases and most communities in Massachusetts, you would never get your tiny house past zoning like you would if you built a small cape.
The other reason many cite putting their tiny home on wheels is that it is easier to get past zoning laws.
So Are Tiny Home Legal In Massachusetts?
The answer is yes and no…
If you expect them to be zoned as a single-family residence, than no…. tiny homes will not be approved by most communities.
If it is on wheels it’s an RV or mobile home and can be used in areas designated for recreational vehicles or mobile homes.
If it sits on its own foundation, you may get it zoned as an accessory dwelling…. like a shed or a stand-alone mother-in-law apartment.
Most Massachusetts towns will view tiny homes not suitable for full-time living.
Tiny Houses Come to Massachusetts
So what has prompted me to write this article was like many of you am curious about tiny homes.
Then I ran across an article Tiny House Movement Lands in Lawrence MA.
The crux of the article is an entrepreneur is in the process of convincing Lawrence MA officials into changing zoning laws to address affordable housing.
Really? At a cost of $25,000 to $80,000 a unit. I thought tiny houses are meant to fulfill a lifestyle, not affordable housing. At least that is what I gleaned from most of my reading on the tiny house movement.
Lawrence already houses 80,000 people in only 7 square miles. It’s packed. Now add more families to tiny houses and tiny lots. Then two cars parked out front? They have also talked about them being off-grid. Solar with composting toilets and rainwater collection? Really?
So I am having a hard time envisioning Lawrence seizing land with back taxes owed, to put these homes on to address low-income housing.
And are tiny homes going to be all that cost-effective? If you were to build an apartment building with equivalent specs to a tiny home, it would be more cost-effective. And you could house more units in the same amount of space.
I am all for smart, planned development of more modest housing, but there must be a better way.
Problems to Overcome for Tiny Houses in Massachusetts
So even after the Lawrence story on Tiny Houses, I am still intrigued. But as a real estate agent, I see several issues in Massachusetts. Maybe these issues don’t exist in other parts of the country.
- Zoning is the biggest issue. Many towns have minimum size requirements that single-family dwellings must meet, ceiling height requirements, etc… Never mind the fact that many are on wheels. Much of the zoning in Massachusetts is such to keep mobile homes from popping up everywhere.
- Financing a tiny home is going to be a task. Mobile homes fall under their own category and become a nightmare to finance, though there are companies that specialize in mobile home financing. If it is a fixed structure many home loan programs have a minimum size required to get a traditional home loan unless you can show a small size is typical for the area. In Boston you could finance a 325 sq foot condo. But get out into the suburbs you will be hard pressed to finance a property under 500 to 600 square feet of living area.
- Where can you put them? Right now what are you limited to…. mostly an RV park or someones backyard. This is counter to the popular TV show Tiny House Nation which build these incredibly thought out tiny homes placed on wonderful pieces of land with sweeping vistas.
- Land costs are a premium in the greater Boston area. Does it make sense to spend $100,000 to $300,000 or far more for a lot of land to house a tiny home? Land costs alone would make the affordability of a tiny home …. not affordable or practical. Upscale towns such as Andover see homes being bought and torn down in the 350k to 500k range to make room for large expensive homes.
Are Tiny House Communities Coming to Massachusetts
Towns still have a long way to go to create zoning for the construction and use of individual tiny homes, never mind entire tiny home communities.
Tiny House in Hadley MA
A Hadley MA woman had to put her tiny house in storage after town officials received complaints about her living in a tiny house. Town officials try to find away around by calling it a shed or an accessory unit but town residents didn’t want anything to do with it.
Tiny House in Barre MA
In a similar situation to the Hadley woman a man built a tiny house on wheels and placed it on vacant land in Barre MA. According to the Barre building inspector it is to small to be permitted as a single family home and cannot be considered an accessory unit as there is no “main” house that it goes with.
Tiny Houses in Nantucket MA
Nantucket has passed a bylaw allowing structures under 500 feet in certain districts and will go in front of the state’s Attorney general for final approval. The real appeal for Nantucket is again to provide affordable housing.
If approved Nantucket will be the first Massachusetts community to address tiny houses.
The Future of Tiny Houses in Massachusetts
I guess at this point the future of tiny houses in Massachusetts is still widely unknown.
The best way to get your tiny house in Massachusetts is too put it in your backyard as an accessory dwelling. Find out what towns allow accessory dwellings on a list put out by the American Tiny House Association of Massachusetts. Or, the other solution is put it on wheels and travel from one RV park to another.
An accessory dwelling is a separate unit to house a family member only.
I am sure if tiny houses grow in popularity, which there seems to be quite a movement there will be more and more zoning laws to address the tiny house issue for those tiny house lovers. Right now I would say a tiny house in most areas in Massachusetts would not fly by town officials.
Maybe there will be planned developments of tiny houses or more practically small homes in Massachusetts in the future. Someday, I could be showing tiny houses through the Massachusetts MLS.
But for now, I think in most Massachusetts communities you would be hard-pressed to throw up a tiny home on a piece of vacant land you own, without town officials on your back, like the Hadley woman or the gentleman in Barre.
For me as cool as a tiny house sounds, I think they are just to small. I can certainly see a small house movement of 500-1000 square feet catching on. That is certainly more livable. My family currently has to vacation cottages at 600 sq feet apiece I could see a couple or a family with one child making that work but 275 sq feet….. no. I will tell you the biggest issue in 2 bedrooms in 600 square feet with no basement is storage. Where do you put everything?
Other Resources on Tiny Homes:
- Paul Sian What is a Tiny Home?
- REALTOR.com Is the Tiny Home Movement a Big Fat Lie?
Tiny Houses Come to Massachusetts? was provided by Kevin Vitali of EXIT Group One Real Estate of Tewksbury MA. If you would like to sell or buy a home, give me a call at 978-360-0422 and let’s get the process started.
Real Estate Services in the following areas: Northeast Massachusetts, Merrimack Valley, North Shore and Metrowest. Including the following communities and the surrounding area- Amesbury, Andover, Billerica, Burlington, Chelmsford, Dracut, Groveland, Haverhill, Lowell, Melrose, Merrimac, Methuen, Middleton, North Andover, North Reading, Reading, Stoneham, Tewksbury, Tyngsborough, Wakefield, Wilmington
Your tone is a bit more on the pessimistic end, at the same time trying to remain open-minded. There are a multitude of videos on YouTube regarding Tiny Homes, & I’d encourage you to watch some, if you haven’t already. Many of these owners have storage in places that go to waste in a regular home. Most common is the storage stairs & I’ve seen toe kick drawers, as well as drawer space built around the kitchen/bathroom sinks! As of recently, I’ve found 2 that are 3 bedrooms & have 1 1/2 baths to boot!
The point is, tiny homes are very customizable, but most ppl aren’t expecting to fit everything to be found in a regular house into one of these. You will have to do some minimizing. You can go with a bigger tiny, but you may run into the issue of not easily driving off with it if & when the inspectors come for you.
The fact of not having a 30+ year mortgage is very appealing to many of us interested in tiny homes, in addition to low cost for heat & electricity. Some folks have a very affordable rent payment when they’ve parked on private property. Many of us in the younger generation want more of our time to live our lives, travel etc, over feeling like slaves to bills! That’s my take on it anyway. If my city would approve of these (I’m not holding my breath 😂), I’d be a happy woman!
Thanks for giving your two cents. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, it just would not be a right choice for me. Tiny no, small yes. The biggest struggle for tiny homes is town zoning to address maybe the nedd or desire in it’s community.
I agree. The tone of the article is clearly indicative of the author’s bias. Tiny homes that are environmentally sound, attractive, and community-friendly would be tough luck for real estate agents. Lower price = less commission. Tiny home communities would be a great way to keep younger people or lower-wage workers in cities and in more affluent communities, enhancing diversity and reducing ghettos. But rich people don’t like to be reminded of how ostentatious and frivolous their consumption is. They prefer to think that their progressive politics can be enacted away from their line of sight.
Tricia- I am sorry you found a bias to the tone of my article. Unfortunately the reality is zoning in Massachusetts as well as the prohibitive cost of land make tiny a homes almost impossible. I don’t think anyone would think it makes financial sense to spend $175,000 to even $300,000 or more for land to sink a tiny home on it.
In many rural areas, even in Massachusetts where I live (esp. western MA), that could be closer to $20K-$30K….
If you buy your own land to build your own home, why would it be legal at 2600 square feet and not legal at 260 square feet in Massachusetts in any town of your choosing? Why would an ADU have to be in a back yard of a friend, or a mobile home park?
Lynne -Towns have minimum size requirement usually in the neighborhood of about 600 square feet. An accessory unit would have to conform to a towns zoning requirements. Not necessarily a back yard of a friend it was just an example of where you could put a tiny home. It all boils down to zoning laws in the community you are trying to put a tiny home.
If one was to become a minimalist than a tiny home would make perfect sense. You could look at it as letting go of things in exchange for freedom; rather than collecting stuff, collecting experiences. Personally, it would give me the flexibility to travel since I wouldn’t be paying extremely high city rent anymore. But I agree, the problem is there are no tiny home communities in MA. Furthermore, it wouldn’t make sense for me to to have a tiny home in a remote area because at that point it would probably be just as affordable to purchase a regular size home. (Well maybe not in MA anymore but say in the middle of nowhere Maine, for example) I also think, that not only are millennial’s looking for affordability and flexibility, but we also want a sense of community, so parking our lives in a trailer park would not be satisfactory.
Thanks for stopping by and the insight Melanie.
I’m single & I own a 578 sq. ft. 1 bedroom condo. At times, I feel like I have TOO much space! I would LOVE a tiny home, like a guest cottage in someone’s backyard. Some cities/towns in Maine allow this. I might have to leave MA.
Is there any progress in the Tewksbury area for Tiny homes? I am downsizing slowly
At 500 square feet I have more than enough space and could reduce by 200 more .
I don’t want to be at the mercy of lack of parking, burst pipes and bug infestation as My former apartment in Billerica. Thanks
To say zoning is prohibitive is a simple statement of fact, but this article is completely negative on the entire tiny house movement. I get it, you’re a realtor. Where would your profits go if , instead of ugly mcmansions, people opted for the grace and comfort of enough space instead of too much?
Most RVs are mass produced with thin walls and inferior materials. They’re built to be lightweight and move continually. Every tiny house I’ve seen utilizes solid materials and demonstrates a commitment to sustainable living. Tiny house people are mostly community-minded and environmentally minded individuals who simply are done with the gross excess they see around them. But rather than investigate, you condemn.
You’re not just saying tiny houses are not for you. That would be fine. But you’re putting a whole “there goes the neighborhood” spin on it that really demonstrates your ignorance.
Mary, I am sorry you found the article to be anti-tiny house, that is not my intent. The reality of the situation is you can’t build a tiny house in most communities in Massachusetts. That is a fact. I do not know what I can investigate further.
The point I am making is to bypass zoning you have to put it on wheels to get past most zoning if there is even a possibility. I am sorry but if it is on wheels its an RV. If you read the whole article as I pointed out I would live in a tiny house myself.
I personally have no problem with people who want to pare down the excess in their life. That includes living in a tiny house if they would like to.
Nowhere have I stated that a tiny house would bring down a neighborhood or a community. I am all for planned developments of modest, affordable housing.
The whole point of the article was to point out that Massachusetts, specifically the greater Boston area is nowhere near being ready to address Tiny houses from a zoning standpoint. And don’t forget the financials. For a decent undeveloped lot you are going pay at least 180k to well over 400k, for the land and then drop another $150 to $200k for a home under 400 square feet plus another 15 to 20k for site development. Try to resell that down the road.
I have watched the tiny house shows and have been intrigued. The last one I watched was a family of 4 living in 400 square feet on a beautiful lot of land out in the western part of the country. The image projected there could not happen in Massachusetts because of zoning and financial reasons.
The times are changing. The less conventional, less pecunious, younger generations come into power, they will permit tiny houses, and it’s happening, slowly but surely, right now.
Most tiny houses are as if not more highly designed and well constructed as larger houses, in fact, many owner/builders put some of the savings from being small into superior materials and craftsmanship. Like most homeowners (and more than many), they are proud of their homes, which they can actually afford to maintain! Tiny home owners also tend to be environmentally and energetically progressive and community oriented. Communities which permit tiny homes will NOT become trailer park-like ghettoes.
Realtors won’t lose money on tiny homes, either, if they don’t mind working for it. When tiny homes are permitted, more people, including young, single people, will own homes, so there will be more transactions for realtors to profit on…
I think one reason some people oppose tiny houses is that they oppose antimaterialism, which they equate with anticapitalism. If that’s the case, then so be it.
I personally think tiny home communities would be a great idea more for homeless or extremely low income people. Housing prices are rediculous now a days and people like myself can’t afford it what so ever. And state programs help mainly elderly and disabled people. We have to get something workable for others who are in need.
Sheena- You would think that tiny houses would make it more affordable for homeownership. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily true. Zoning laws would need to change. Currently, even in a low-cost area you still have the land cost which could be $100,000 to $200,000 for a buildable lot. That lot could be purchased an a 2200 colonial be built on it for about $350,000 versus an 80,000 tiny home.
Where zoning would play into it, instead of a minimum house lot of an acre they would allow tiny homes to be built with far less acreage. It’s the current zoning laws that hang up the tiny house.
This is a very pessimistic view of tiny houses, from an author who openly states that tiny houses are too small, and that he doesn’t like them. Who is he to say too small? There are thousands of tiny house owners who think they are exactly right! No, they are not ideal for large families, but it is possible to squeeze a small family into one.
And there is a trend toward not getting married and not having children… why should all those people be forced to live in houses way too big? Furthermore there is an affordability crisis in America, such that the average employed person cannot afford a conventional house. What are those people supposed to do, always piss all their money away on rent?
A tiny house is not “AN RV DISGUISED UNDER A FANCY NAME,” it’s an RV totally transformed to be comfortable, affordable, ATTRACTIVE permanent (but still potentially mobile, a valuable feature for following jobs) housing. It’s “an RV disguised under an entirely new purpose and role in society.
Actually, tiny homes are being accepted in more and more towns in MA. My own town permits detached, permanent “accessory apartments.” This will serve me perfectly! I will build a really smart tiny house (without wheels) in the corner of our back yard for our very well adjusted but intellectually challenged daughter, at
She’ll have a really nice little place of her own (so to speak), complete with privacy, yet be nearby where we can all provide each other the familial support we will all most likely need.
Tiny houses are a wave of the future. There is a need for them.
Richard- I am sorry if you feel my view is pessimistic. My opinion is a 300 sq foot living space is too small…. for me. I never said I don’t like them, as a matter of fact, I am intrigued by them. It is probably not a choice I would make. But if it is a choice you would like to make, have at it. I am actually a proponent of an individual doing with their land what they want with far less regulation and government intervention.
And, yes based on zoning laws a tiny house on wheels is a glorified RV. What is an RV… a home on wheels that is movable, is that not what a tiny home is when it is on wheels? Let’s call it what it is… it is a home built on wheels that is movable, it is an RV.
And, I did address that using tiny homes as an accessory unit is a viable option and is the easiest way to get a tiny home approved. While an accessory use is great and can fill a need for many people, the intent for many is to use a tiny home as a permanent primary residence that is not in a family member’s backyard to sidestep zoning laws.
The entire crux of the article is about zoning laws preventing the building of tiny homes and making it near impossible for someone to buy land and build their own tiny house as a primary residence. If that is a choice someone wants to make for themselves, I believe they should be able to and I certainly would not stand in their way.
My reality in greater Boston is homes are being purchased in some communities for $700k to a $1mil to be torn down and build a new home. It is not a wise financial choice to even pay $150k for a lot and put up an $80k tiny home. Never mind the thousands it would cost for the site work and untilities. That is the reality.
Furthermore, I don’t think tiny homes are a great solution to address affordable living, which is what started this whole article. Tiny houses are about a lifestyle choice, reducing carbon emissions and reducing energy costs.
But take a half-acre lot in an urban setting and put 8 individual units on it to address affordable housing is crazy. The cost per unit would be exorbitant compared to putting up a multi-unit building with shared walls and utilities.
The fact still remains, my opinion aside about tiny houses, is current zoning regulations, financing options and the economics, make tiny homes a nearly nonexistent option in most Massachusetts communities. Yes, more and more towns are making some provisions for tiny homes, but in no way are they making it easy for tiny homes to become a mainstream viable housing option.
And thank you for visiting and commenting. Discussions are important.
I agree that your tone in this posting not only has bias but is condescending in nature as well. Let’s address the fact that Mass clearly doesn’t support the lower or middle income household. Proof of that is the rising cost of living/ housing in our state. Not to mention that there’s lots of housing being built, none of which is actually affordable to the people that live and work in these areas. Massachusetts is becoming a gentrified state. I’m watching luxury apartments go up all over Worcester and none of it is affordable. This basically forces the people that need to live in the area to work, out to more rural settings that only increase the cost of living through travel. Perhaps we should have more folks actually supporting these communities instead of scoffing and sticking up their noses at them. It will end up being why we move from here and take our small business with us too.
Lauren- I am curious about how you find it condescending. I am stating fact that tiny homes are near impossible to construct anywhere in Massachusetts. I also pointed out that the initial concept behind tiny homes were to reduce your carbon footprint and to live a simpler life, not to address affordable housing.
The underlying fact is current zoning laws prevent the construction of tiny homes. Also, the cost of land is prohibitive and it does not make sense to buy a lot for 200,000+ to construct a home for $150,000 OR less. Who would pay $350,000 for a 350 sq foot home? Affordable housing needs to be addressed on many levels, first starting with prohibitive zoning and building codes allowing for planned communities. I don’t believe tiny homes are the solution. Tiny homes are a lifestyle choice, not an affordable housing solution. The cost to secure land and build a tiny home is cost prohibitive in Massachusetts. There are other forms of construction that are far less expensive when it comes to providing affordable homes.