- When I started my tiny-home journey, I never would've believed we could run into such big problems.
- We really should've considered how much time and money we had for the project earlier on.
- The legal aspects of building and owning a tiny home are confusing and difficult to get through.
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I thought a tiny house would mean tiny problems, but it's been so much harder than I thought.
The process of building and owning a tiny house isn't as luxurious and simple as the TV shows and social media depict. I've been working toward this goal since 2017, and I never could've anticipated all the issues we'd run into.
Read on for some of the biggest problems I've faced so far, and what I wish I knew before I started.
Looking back, I definitely didn't have enough time to build a house
When I started, I was working two jobs to fund the project, and I don't really know where I thought time to build an entire house would magically come from.
I had a clear vision, and I was so determined to make my dream come true. But I was a bit naive to think I could do this alone.
Luckily I'd already gotten my now-fiancé on board with the idea, but we were also long-distance. He was in Rhode Island, and I was in Chicago.
We quickly realized that our positive attitudes would only take us so far, so we reached out for help. I asked a family friend who works as a construction lead at a Wisconsin high school for advice, and in lieu of simple tips, building the frame of our house became a class project for a year and a half.
Working with the students, learning about construction, and challenging ourselves to make it work was amazing. We were so lucky to be the first project of that size for the school.
Without the school, I'm not confident our time issues ever would've been solved.
In addition to time, gathering enough money was a constant battle
Needing money upfront for costs isn't easy, especially as young 20-somethings. But there wasn't a loan for us to take out to support this build like there would be if we were building a standard home.
Right from the start, we spent a lot on our trailer, which we had to purchase on a tight budget while still investing in a secure foundation for our home. We considered looking into used trailers, but it can be hard to prove validity for things like permits to drive it across the country.
The cost for a trailer in the size we needed was shockingly expensive, and it was the first thing we bought. Once that was delivered, there was no looking back.
I tried to crunch some numbers based on what I thought the build might cost, but I was already working two jobs and doing everything I could to save.
On tiny-home TV shows, they always throw around numbers like $2,000 or $10,000, but those were humorously low for us.
Lumber alone cost us more than that.
We spent roughly $2,000 on support beams for heavy snow; $6,000 on the siding, trim, soffit, fascia, and roofing; $8,000 on windows, doors, and frames; and roughly $3,000 on plumbing and electrical supplies.
None of that even included land to live on, finishing touches, or furnishing
We, unfortunately, fell into a trend of buying and building, making mistakes, and having to buy more. By the time the frame was done, we were already in a tough position money-wise.
We also knew we wanted to move to California, but bringing the partially finished house with us after the frame was built at the high school came with a few challenges.
Neither of us trusted our driving skills enough to get across the country with the house on a trailer, and we didn't even have a truck to attempt it. We had to hire a driver, which ended up costing about $2,000
We probably should've seriously considered buying a tiny home instead of building one
My advice for anyone considering building a tiny home is to double or triple the budget in their head.
Buying land, finishing touches, and furnishing weren't included in our original budget, and that was a huge mistake.
If you can, buy the land first then build the home.
Since it's pretty impossible to get a loan for this kind of land, even if we'd thought ahead to do this, we probably wouldn't have been able to afford it anyway.
We might not have moved forward with the tiny home had we known all of this off the bat. But by the time we started looking into it, it was too late.
At that price point, buying instead of building probably would've been the safer direction to go in. But we were blinded by our passion for putting our own love into it.
Watching YouTube videos and scrolling through Pinterest doesn't count as building experience
We approached the house with a can-do attitude and nothing but YouTube and Pinterest in our toolkit. Sadly, that didn't take us to the finish line.
We ended up learning and benefiting the most from friends and family members in the trades.
Every piece of wood in the interior of our home was measured, cut, and laid by us. For such a tiny house, that took a huge amount of effort.
In fact, the small size made certain aspects of the build harder because each piece needed to be exact. There's literally no room for error.
I'm not saying building a full-size home is easier, but since the square footage is smaller, any mistakes are more noticeable and can really create a ripple effect.
Sites like Pinterest and YouTube can be very helpful for inspiration, but there will always be someone who did the build better, cheaper, more stylish than you. Endlessly scrolling can take a toll on your mental health when you're in the middle of the project.
Instead, it's important to remember that we all make mistakes.
I still see a slight slant in one of the boards, and it used to drive me nuts. Now, I think it adds character to our home because we put it there.
Buying land is difficult, so we had to scramble to find a place to put our tiny home
Putting your tiny home on a friend or family member's property is one of the easiest ways to avoid buying land, but we didn't have that luxury.
We were on our own, searching for affordable land with the money we had in our pockets.
No banks would loan us money unless we bought several acres or were buying land to build a full-sized home. We didn't have anything to use as a line of credit, and as time went on, we started to panic.
When we were almost done at the school in Wisconsin, we knew we needed to move the house, but we still didn't have anywhere to go.
We shifted our search to look into buying a full-size home with a large yard, which took us in the complete opposite direction of the simple lifestyle we were working toward.
After many failed attempts, we finally found a house in California, used a loan to get it, and started cleaning up the yard for our tiny home.
We weren't immediately accepted into our new community, which made pushing through red tape even harder
When we pulled our tiny home into our new yard, the neighbors started to worry.
People in the town thought we were going to become an Airbnb and disrupt the neighborhood, but we hadn't even finished the interior yet.
While everyone else panicked, we focused on building. With great support from a nearby neighbor, we were able to make our way almost to the end.
Once winter stopped our building efforts, we turned our attention back to the town.
By this point, our neighbors loved the idea, but we needed the lawmakers to get on board because we still weren't allowed to live in our tiny home full-time.
Even after all that work, time, and money, we were still at the liberty of the town we chose.
I had no idea how much paperwork needed to be completed before this journey began
I assumed I'd need to get a few permits, but I never expected they'd cost over $10,000 and an innumerable amount of effort and stress.
When we got to California, we quickly discovered that all of our DIY efforts were going to be a problem. Our municipality wanted everything to be as official as if it were a full-size home, so they didn't trust our build.
We didn't have the funds to hire a contractor for the entire project, which made the permit process insufferable. We tried to show photos, give walk-throughs, and have them speak with our friends in the trades, but nothing satisfied.
I watched so many videos about how easy California is supposed to be for tiny homes, but we needed permits for electric, water, sewer, HOA, town, state, and more.
I felt like I needed a law degree to comprehend and follow all the rules in the permit documents, but I wanted to go by the book. I also wanted to be excited about joining the community with our home.
If we never said anything or told anyone about our house, we might have been OK. But by reaching out to our community and trying to get permits, we stirred the pot and got more attention than we wanted.
All eyes were on us. We couldn't hide our tiny home, we couldn't live in it without permits, and we couldn't even get electricity or water without the town's permission.
The paperwork was stressful and frustrating, and it felt like no one was on our side.
Tiny-home law is so gray, and no one seemed to want to tell us "yes" or "no." We were just endlessly filling out paperwork while they decided our fate.