Have you ever complained about the lack of privacy in your house? These locals certainly have not. Tucked away in a North Charleston trailer park, two peculiar houses sit with one thing in common. They are both tiny. Yes, tiny is the correct term to use. A tiny house is defined as a house that is equal to or smaller than 13.6 feet tall by 8.5 feet wide (the length varies).
According to tiny homeowner Andy Bretz, there are two types of tiny homeowners: “first choice and last resort.” Bretz is a first choice type of homeowner. His house, which has been featured on FYI’s “Tiny House Nation,” is packed full of decorative pieces, books and other entertaining touches. Some might imagine tiny house owners to be minimalists, but that is not the case with Bretz. He takes advantage of every square-inch of his house, which is affectionately named Rover. When you walk in, you will find a dog, a big screen 3D-TV, an oven, guitars, a dishwasher and even a washer and dryer stored in his house. However, he stores everything in a way that keeps the house looking more inviting than messy. He accomplishes this by living the “Tetris Lifestyle,” planning out how everything will fit into his 32-foot long house.
Rover was designed in January 2016 by Bretz and a hired builder. Three months later the house was constructed and ready for move-in. Bretz made the move with Rover to North Charleston from Orlando in June 2016 and has lived there since. He lived in a 2,000 square foot house before making the transition. After purchasing his previous house for $250,000 in 2006, the market plummeted and Bretz started to see his money draining away. Not wanting to throw his money out the window anymore, he decided to give up on the large house lifestyle. “I realized how much of my paycheck was going towards just maintaining. I used to have heating bills that were $500 or $600 per month. That is my total expenses here [in my tiny house].”
That’s right: Bretz only pays around $500 per month to live in his tiny house with a total cost of $75,000. This includes internet, electric, cable, water, trash and insurance. This is a large reason Bretz advocates living in a tiny house, especially for graduating college students. “I see college kids coming out owing $100,000, going out and getting jobs that pay $30,000 and $40,000. They’re never going to be able to save 20 percent to put a down payment on a house that’s a quarter million dollars. We need to think of something better and I think that this is the new starter home.” Saving money on housing has allowed 40 year old Bretz, a financial advisor, to travel the world, attend all the music festivals you can think of and hopefully retire at a healthy age.
Not everything about tiny house living is perfect, though. With no room for a lawnmower, Bretz pays his neighbor to cut his grass for the time being. He must look for odd sizes for different household items. He is learning how to sew in order to make curtains for his windows since stores do not sell the sizes he needs in stores. As far as possessions go, he had to part with art, furniture, an arcade machine and an inversion table to name a few, which he sold at an estate sale for his old home.
Only a few streets down live Brian and Annie McFarland, a middle-aged couple living in another tiny house. The McFarlands fit more into the “last resort” category. They decided to make the move into their 300-square foot tiny house when they realized that they may not be able to retire quite as early as they had hoped. Brian, a Charleston tour guide, is about as minimalist as it gets. Upon walking into their home, the first thing you notice is – nothing. The house is nice and clean, but there isn’t much at all inside except for a picture over the door and a portable A/C unit. There is no television or desktop and hardly any furniture.“We have more room than we know what to do with,” said Brian.
Saving money is a top priority for this couple and their tiny house, named McTiny, is just the beginning. They have an incinerator toilet, which was originally designed for bomber pilots during World War II, and a washer that also functions as a dryer. “It’s almost like we hired ourselves to live in our tiny home, and it’s just a way for us to get ahead of things,” said Brian. Since buying the house in May of this year, the McFarlands have taken the advice of self-help gurus such as Dave Ramsey and Marie Kondo to set them on the track to economic freedom and less possessions. “All the things you have around you should spark joy in your life,” said Annie. For the couple, it is a matter of experiences versus possessions, and experiences win everytime.
The major problem the tiny house community faces is just that – the lack of a community. Tiny homeowners want to live together as a neighborhood, but the codes, safety regulations and legislation of Charleston and many other cities prevent that from happening. This is why all of the tiny houses in Charleston are parked off the peninsula. Tiny homeowners in the Charleston area such as Bretz and the McFarlands are trying to get legislation changed, but changing the codes will take time. They have a Facebook group called “Tiny House Charleston,” where they organize events and stay in contact with each other. The trick to building a community of tiny houses in Charleston is to find legal parking and overcome the “not in my backyard” mentality, where conventional homeowners do not want these unusual structures parked next to their homes. Some people fear losing value on their homes or attracting too much unwanted attention. One compromise tiny house owners hope to make with city legislators is paying property taxes, which they do not pay now. The only property tax they have to pay is for the metal trailers attached to their tiny houses, which cost around $35 to title. They are more than willing to pay property taxes in return for places to park in the city.
Are tiny houses the homes of the future? Are they the affordable housing solution the United States so desperately needs? It may be too early to say, but right now they are helping locals get a hold on their finances and enjoy their lives by focusing more on what is outside of the house rather than on what is inside. These cost-effective houses, if nothing else, require the homeowner to get to know themselves and prioritize what they have in their life.
*This article first appeared in the October 2017 issue of The Yard.