Could shrinking your space be the answer to the housing affordability crisis?
Live your best life
At 27, Hamilton environmental engineer Matthew Lillis is mortgage-free in a home he built himself and is able to live the life he wants.
For him, that means heading off on adventures. First up, walking the Te Araroa Trail from the top of the South Island to the bottom. He’s done it by rethinking how much space he needs to live in, choosing to build his own tiny house, which he finished in January 2019.
Lillis says he’s always enjoyed tramping and living in a tent, so when he discovered the tiny-house movement, a lightbulb went off.
“I’m really at my happiest when I’m living in a tent and tramping in the South Island, so I realised I didn’t need very much space at all. It made a lot of sense to me to have a mortgage-free house that doesn’t tie me to a particular piece of land, or if my life circumstances change, I can use it to build a bigger house”.
Less work and more adventures
“Not having a mortgage and being trapped for the rest of my life means I can work less so I can go off and have adventures like going off tramping and doing volunteering,” he says.
His house, which took him just over a year to complete without any building experience, cost him about $62,000 to complete, which he was able to pay with cash leaving him debt-free at the end of the process.
“It’s very liberating to be able to work less and travel. You can have some of the trappings of having your own home and own space without being tied to a traditional mortgage and 40-hour working week.”
Are tiny houses the solution?
Lillis is one of many Kiwis looking at tiny houses to solve issues facing people trying to get onto the property ladder: soaring prices and a lack of supply.
New Zealand YouTube creator Bryce Langston has been operating his channel, Living Big in a Tiny House for five years. He creates videos where he meets people living in tiny houses and small spaces as well as working on his own tiny-house projects.
Langston says, for some, tiny houses can be the answer to the challenges facing younger generations.
“They call us Generation Rent – people my age and younger have resigned themselves that they’re never going to own a home. The tiny-house movement resonates with many people because it’s enough. It’s small, it’s simple and your most basic needs are met. Everything after that is surplus.”
Is this the start of trailer parks?
Langston says numbers of Kiwis in tiny houses are unknown as they still exist within a legal grey area.
“One of the sticking points is you look at a traditional tiny house on wheels and people say ‘what’s the difference between a tiny house and a caravan?’ Councils are worried if they legalise caravan living we’ll create trailer parks.”
He disagrees with this concern.
“I think tiny-house living is different in every way shape and form. It happens to be on wheels, but the similarities stop there. You usually see a greater quality in the build because people are able to afford to spend more on better materials, and the creativity you see built into tiny houses is extraordinary. People are building for themselves as opposed to the mainstream housing market where property developers are building cheap for profit.”
Lillis says his tiny house looks “better than he could have imagined”, and he’s looking forward to living life on a small scale.
“I’d like to get some land for my tiny house at some point but one of the great things is not having to right now. I have the flexibility to go where life takes me.”
From alternative to mainstream
As more people look for alternatives to the housing crisis, he thinks tiny houses will become more mainstream.
“In New Zealand, people on good incomes are struggling to buy a house, so this isn’t a fringe movement. It’s a viable alternative and it’s maybe the only alternative for people who would have been doing quite well. This has made it more mainstream and more socially acceptable.”
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