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  • Tiny homes offer budgeting benefits. But there can be a big downside.

    Tiny homes offer budgeting benefits. But there can be a big downside.

    by:
    Laurie Campbell

    Are you thinking small these days about housing? Lots of others in Canada are. Increasingly, people are buying up tiny homes offering floor space about equivalent to what you might find in a typical one-car garage. Micro condos they’re called, offering big budgeting and saving benefits in the trend toward pint-size living. Is this a good thing? Well, let’s discuss the matter.

     
    Pint-size living is fairly new to Canada but it’s been going on for a long time in other parts of the world. For instance, for years we’ve seen reports about Tokyo’s tiny dwelling spaces. Some of the city’s high-tech hotels immediately come to mind. You know, the one’s with floor upon floor of stacked, cocoon-like compartments just big enough for one person to crawl into for a night’s sleep. The units are actually characterized as “suites.”
     

    Given the vastness of our land, is saving space an issue here in relation to pint-size living? Or is something else at work?

     
    Given Japan’s population in relation to the country’s landmass, emphasis on the economical use of space makes a lot of sense. Canada is another story. We have a people-per-square-kilometre ratio of three to Japan’s 337. Geographically we’re 26 times bigger than the Pacific island nation (come to think of it, I once saw a map of Canada superimposed over all of Europe and a significant portion of Russia). Given the vastness of our land, is saving space an issue here in relation to pint-size living? Or is something else at work?
     
    The answer is (you guessed it) something else is at work; namely, the marketplace. Thanks to years of low borrowing rates and cavalier attitudes towards money, we have been on a wild spending spree amply illustrated by the fervent consumption of residential real estate. Now matters are getting out of hand, with housing prices hurtling towards heights average income earners have no hope of reaching. Observing this, the marketplace is generating lower cost housing alternatives.
     

    Savings against average condo costs can be big, ranging up to – and sometimes beyond – 40 per cent.

     
    Consider that the average price of a detached home in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has surged past $1 million. How many of us in this country can manage a mortgage of more than a million dollars, even if we’re middle-class strong and budget creation experts? Meanwhile, the average price of a condo in the GTA has passed $420,000. In Vancouver the situation is worse. Single-family detached homes there now average about $1.4 million, with condos averaging about $520,000.
     
    It’s no wonder a recent Angus Reid poll showed that 45 per cent of GTA residents 18 to 34 are “seriously” thinking about leaving town for good thanks to high housing prices. For those who seriously want to stay, pint-size living in micro condos presents an opportunity. Savings against average condo costs can be big, ranging up to – and sometimes beyond – 40 per cent.
     

    On the negative side, the properties are tiny, which means serious issues relating to comfort can come into play.   

     
    Understand that positives and negatives surround pint-size living. On the positive side, average income earners now have more economical ways to acquire urban properties in good locations. Also, as micro condo owners like to repeat in mantra fashion, however small the properties may be, they are after all investments providing a measure of security.
     
    On the negative side, the properties are tiny, which means serious issues relating to comfort and peace of mind can come into play in spaces that can be adequate for one person, cramped for two, and nightmarish for three. Just try to imagine a couple with a baby living together 24-7 in a space of maybe 220 square feet.
     
    My advice to would-be micro condo owners is this: carefully weigh what you save and where you live against how you live. Chances are you’ll breathe more freely in the end. 

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