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Make room for Tiny Homes

Story by Katie Ryalen

Tiny homeTiny homes are a hot topic right now, with television networks putting out hit reality shows like Tiny House Nation, Tiny House Hunters and Tiny House, Big Living. Financial freedom is a huge draw for aspiring homeowners today, as the availability of affordable housing disappears with skyrocketing prices. Tiny houses seem like a good solution to Durham Region’s increasingly expensive real estate market.

Durham’s real estate industry was abuzz recently. Something happened that no one has seen in recent memory.  A 253-square-foot home came on the market in Oshawa. That’s smaller than some of Toronto’s notorious and blog-worthy tiny homes. This Quebec Street home is a fully detached, permanent structure on its own individual property which, on first glance, looks like an inexplicably posh shed.

“This was not built as a ‘tiny house,’” says the property’s realtor Miranda Fox, of Dan Plowman Team Realty Inc. “It was always just a small house. We’ve got records on this property going back to 1942 when it was being used as a small residence like this. In fact, when my client bought the house, somebody was living in it.”

Ryan Carr of R.W. Carr Investments Co., which has been flipping houses for the past five years in Durham Region and the GTA, purchased the property. He also purchased the adjacent property which had its own detached, two-storey, two-bedroom home, and it appeared as though its neighbouring structure was merely a detached outbuilding on a single piece of property. This, however, was not the case. “It wasn’t like it was a severance,” Miranda says. “On closing, my client was able to put the original lot line back and have two pieces of property. He was really just putting the property back to its original use.” Despite its size, it had seven offers and hundreds of people going through it. “It went viral through our marketing and advertising,” Miranda says. “So, there is definitely demand.”

Tiny homeOf course, the ‘tiny house’ craze that is hitting the cable networks today was not a thing when this house was built. It can only be speculated on why the structure was built so small. In contemporary Oshawa, there are restrictions on building detached structures as residences when they are on a property which already has a main structure. But because they were legally two properties to begin with, this is what allowed Mr. Carr to renovate and sell the wee building separately from its larger neighbour.

Tiny House Oshawa is a citizen group of volunteer members whose mission is to change the impression of City Council toward tiny houses. They also want to have such small structures taken into account when it comes to zoning laws and regulations by decreasing or waiving altogether the development fees. “There are seven of us,” says member Christine Gilmet, “and there are a range of ages. One of us is in university, one in her late thirties and has two teenagers, three are in their 40s and 50s, and two of us are retired.”

Though Christine and her fellow members have had mixed reviews of their efforts, she remains hopeful that Tiny House Oshawa’s mission can make an impact. “Some of the responses I get are that the idea is fantastic,” she says, “and then some say it will never work. But after I’ve explained what it’s all about, they like the idea. In the beginning, a lot of people didn’t even know what a tiny house was. But now they’re mostly encouraging. I’ve even had people tell me that if we get a tiny house village in Durham Region, they’d leave Toronto and comelive here.”

Tiny homes are a growing counter-trend to the all-too-familiar “Bigger is Better” mentality especially here in Durham Region. When mega homes seem to be popping up on every newly-developed street corner, there is a collection of individuals from all walks of life seeking to downsize… drastically.

Their reasons for doing so are as vast as their backgrounds. Some people are drawn to the idea of simple living. Less space means learning to live with less stuff. Less space also means a reduced environmental footprint, not only in terms of the land required for a small house, but also the heat and electricity needed to keep it habitable by modern-day standards. Tiny homes that are mobile mean you can move where your fancy takes you—if the community no longer suits your lifestyle, you can simply find a new one. Senior citizens, even, are taking up residence in tiny homes as they find themselves needing to adapt to their changing mobility but are unwilling to give up their independence altogether.

Some people’s reasons are entirely individual. “One member of my team is in her last year of university,” says Christine Gilmet of Tiny House Oshawa. “Her brother needs attention—not constant, but immediate. She wants to get two houses side-by-side, one for her and one for him, and have a patio in between. That way, whenever he needs her, she can just walk across the patio, but they’re living separate lives.”

Clearly, owning a tiny home is attractive for many reasons, but the most prominent one is the cost. Take the house on Quebec Street as an example. The mortgage payment on it is likely to be less than a monthly rental payment, with the added incentive of equity. Interestingly, Durham Region’s Housing Plan for 2014-2024 calls for new initiatives and ideas in a push to establish more affordable housing.

Tiny houses are one such idea. If they do catch on out here, Bliss Home Innovations in Whitby, which specializes in coach homes and laneway suites (particularly in Toronto where housing costs and available land make home ownership increasingly unattainable for many people), has a few tips for making your tiny home or small space feel like an oasis of comfort.

“Let there be light,” says Bliss Home Innovations owner Donna Price. “A small space really opens up when you can let the light shine through. Choose larger windows, which will let natural light in, along with additional lighting that will not take up prime space.” Make use of mirrors, too. Mirrors add both additional light and also create an impression of space in rooms.

Donna recommends looking for multi-purpose and folding furniture. Furniture which can do double-duty, like beds that convert to seating and side tables that convert to desks, will save space and money. Get creative with storage, like using ottomans with internal storage, wall cavities with built-in storage space, and beds with flip-up storage beneath. She also recommends taking advantage of vertical space by playing around with taller items and affixing shelving and other storage solutions to walls.

Finally, using a neutral colour palette with bold accents for drama and interest will create the illusion of more space. Accessorize your tiny home with a large area rug, throw pillows, blankets, and anything else that adds your personality to your small home. “Remember,” Donna Price says, “always ‘function first’ in small spaces.”

Could you live in a tiny home?

Tiny homeTiny homes cost less to buy, less to maintain, less to fill and less in terms of environmental impact. But they also come with their own challenges which require owners to adapt to a simpler way of life. There are several factors to consider (not all of which necessarily apply to every tiny house) if a tiny house is appealing to you.

Ask yourself:

Could you make do with less than 400 square feet?

Could you live in a house that might have wheels?

Could you get used to a galley kitchen and a sleeping loft?

Could you potentially live co-operatively with several tiny house owners on a single piece of property?

Do you mind if the neighbours worry about your tiny house decreasing their property value?

Are you up for the challenge of “creating space” with special design features?

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