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Liza Gabriel loves her tiny home.
“I never envisioned myself a tiny-home owner,” the Vernon resident said. “What I really wanted was a cottage. But when I started looking, it was so financially unattainable. Instead of giving up on my dream, I had to think outside of the box.”
Gabriel is one of many British Columbians looking at alternatives to the traditional housing market. She bought the Magnolia model from Vernon-based Summit Tiny Homes and customized the house-on-wheels, which is 30-feet long and can sleep up to nine people.
Summit’s Oliver Stankiewicz and Cera Bollo have been building tiny homes for five years.
“We saw a lot of our friends struggling to get into something of their own,” Stankiewicz, who is now 32, said. “They were tired of dishing out money to rentals. And, in the Okanagan, rentals are getting harder and harder to come by. A shift in the real estate market drove the prices astronomically, making it difficult for people to get into the market. As well, we’re a tourist economy. There’s a pretty big demand for an alternative housing option.”
On paper, there is little difference between an RV and a tiny home. Both are insured and certified as RVs, and both are transportable.
“But the components and finishes and fixtures in a tiny home are going to feel a lot more like a home,” Stankiewicz said. “The design is catered more towards a home aesthetic. Storage needs are going to be different than for an RV.” A tiny house might have closets, full-size beds, and “that open, airy feel so you don’t feel like you’re enclosed in a tight space.”
Today, Summit caters to a wider range of buyers than Stankiewicz and Bollo expected at the outset.
“There are a lot in that age category, but also people later on in life who have decided to make a change and simplify their lifestyle, or who have lost a family member and are looking to regroup and establish something of their own,” Stankiewicz said.
Corry-Ann Neilands, a sales consultant with Vancouver-based Mint Tiny Homes, says that the majority of their buyers are single women.
“The younger buyers are looking to own their own home,” she said. “Our older clients are looking to downsize and simplify their lives.”
Some buyers are looking for a secondary property. But Jessica Whelan, director at Rewild Homes in Cobble Hill on Vancouver Island, says that most of their clients are “looking for their next house, whether it’s someone who’s a little bit older and looking to age in place or younger people who are not really wanting to get into the real estate market but want their own place.”
She has seen a change in what people are looking for. “When we first started, it was all about the tiny, tiny houses. Now, the question we most often get is, ‘What is the largest tiny home you make?’”
Advantages of tiny homes include transportability, lower overhead, and less space to clean. It’s also a flexible investment, says Whelan. “People are able to resell later on, they can have their kids live in it for a while, it can be extra space for the teens. It gives you a lot of options, even if you’re not sure what your long-term plans are.”
As for where a buyer can park their investment, “That’s the million-dollar question. I get asked that probably one hundred times a week. There are a couple of quiet tiny house communities starting up on the Island. By-laws make it prohibitive in most places since they are still viewed as a trailer. It’s not the issue of where you can park it but how long you can legally live in it within different jurisdictions. Most buyers either have land, or they have friends or family who do.”
Gabriel was fortunate; she found a patch of land for sale in an RV resort in the Shuswap, two minutes from the lake. On weekends she makes the one-and-a-half-hour drive with her two daughters, who are nine and 11.
“I feel like I accomplished what I set out to do. I really just wanted to be able to enjoy where we live and their childhood in an area that has lots of lakes and trails. Childhood is so floating, and I only get them half the time. So this was important for us. Our weekends away are so much fun. We do all the things that we’re too busy to do in town. When we get out there, it’s just bikes and lying on the deck looking at the stars and swimming in the lake. It’s idyllic.”
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