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 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 70’s which was approximately 1600 square feet. Also 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?
Well for me yes. I did a lot of research and as far as I am concerned it is a fancy RV or Mobile Home.
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.
Also, they can be on wheels or a fixed foundation and some other mumbo jumbo….. Its an RV or mobile home as far as I am concerned. 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 are not legal.
If it is on wheels it’s an RV or mobile home and can be used in areas designated for recreational vehicles.
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.
As a single guy, I would consider living in one. Small efficient and lower bills. I really just use my place to crash. Then I ran across an article Tiny House Movement Land in Lawrence MA.
The crux of an 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.
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 dwelling 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 requirement 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 who 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
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 states 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 back yard 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 is storage. Where do you put everything?
Other Resources on Tiny Homes:
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.
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