We have two announcements to make.
1. We bought a ‘traditional’ house.
2. We still live in our tiny house.
This may come as a surprise to some and perhaps even disappointing to others so we have taken a few months to slowly write the following blog post with intentions of providing acute insight into our thought process and address this exciting milestone from two different perspectives. The first half of this post will recount the roller coaster process of buying our first home for our friends and family while the second half will aim to provide an intimate understanding into this decision and address many questions you may have from a tiny house perspective.
Samantha and I had been passively browsing Zillow for over six months because we were entertaining the idea of purchasing a home in the coming years and had little intent on bidding at the peak of a feverish market. But when a little craftsman style home in our target neighborhood at a price well inside our budget came across our radar on a Friday afternoon we reached out to friends at INVEST IN YAKIMA and set up an appointment to check it out the next morning. It was the first house we had ever looked at with a realtor, and (spoiler alert) is now the only one.
As first time home buyers, self-proclaimed ‘we-can-fix-anything d.i.y.’ers’ and admittedly gut-instinct-emotional-decision-makers we were way out of our element. I mean, we had slowly BUILT OUR FIRST HOUSE FROM SCRATCH over 14 months for a mere thirty thousand dollars yet here we were entertaining the idea of acquiring a house worth many times more in a tiny fraction of the time.
We never planned on buying a house right away but thought we needed to ‘start the process’ in order to become familiar with the routine so that we would be ready if we ever did find something; which seemed like a very bleak proposition considering our fruitless browsing efforts in which we nit-picked every little element of each house that came across our computer screen.
A lot of things changed when we first visited that little house for the first time and our future there played out in my mind as we moved through the spaces. It was tucked away on a quiet and quaint dead end lane. The front porch and entry configuration bore a striking resemblance to a house we lived in and loved on the East Coast. The open-concept and modest sized living room, dining room and kitchen provided more than enough space without feeling overwhelming to a small family that has spent the last few years in 204 sf.
A functioning fire place flanked by shelved and windowed inglenooks added charm to the living room and the dining room hosted a beautiful bay window that stopped us in our tracks. The ‘sill’ was comprised of built in lower cabinets long enough for two people to lay down and nap on or enjoy the private view out into the backyard and beautiful little courtyard area that hosts two mature trees tucked between the house and tastefully integrated carport.
Old Oak hardwood floors in the well traveled living and dining space transition to beautiful wide grain red fir in the downstairs bedroom and stairway room where treads and handrail wind their way up to a large, open second floor master suite lifted above the surrounding single story homes nearby and into the branches and leaves of the surrounding trees.
Throughout the house nearly all of the windows have ‘private orientation’ and do not have a neighbors window looking into them, which is a rare occurrence in a tight-nit neighborhood as this and leads to a really enjoyable interior experience. Instead, the windows along the main floor living spaces look onto the other half of the wide lot and into the adorable courtyard and backyard.
An addition off the back of the house offered the perfect space for a home office, studio and creative space complete with a 100 square foot ‘closet’ that would make a perfect gear room. This creative space opens up onto the back deck and private backyard, complete with a peculiar structure in the South-East corner that we quickly dubbed the ‘hobbit hole.’
It has a sort of mysterious quirkiness to it, like something you’d find at a prohibition era moonshine operation in the backwoods of North Carolina.
It’s shape defies logic and it’s materials are salvaged. Old full-round tree trunks make up it’s post and beam structure and weathered orchard props infill four of it’s six sides, complete with a few reclaimed wood mullioned windows. The area around it is over grown with a variety of flora and above it young Red Alder and Aspen trees reach skyward producing a little micro forest surrounding the structure. It is here, ducking branches and crunching leaves many seasons old that you briefly leave behind the tightly gridded neighborhood of sub 1/4 acre lots and enter an alternate realm.
It was important for us to have an environment like this for Aubrin to crawl and climb and bury things and get dirty and let her imagination run wild until the dinner bell rings and she comes running inside. Ok, we won’t actually have a dinner bell; but you can start to see how my mind works. A small moment quickly expands into full on projected experience.
That was it. We were hooked. This house had character and charm in all the right areas and needed work done in the places we wanted to do work to make a house our own.
There were moments and spaces and potential that I connected with on an immediate and indescribable level and in the span of twenty minutes I had already played out years worth of memorable scenarios as our family grew up in those spaces. Cold winter nights with the fire going, Aubrin and Tobey napping on the bay window, homework and messy science projects in the creative space, entertaining guests, long bathtub soaks, backyard parties, helping Aubrin get on top of the hobbit hole roof, playing hid and seek, family dinners (at an actual table! #tinyhousecompromise), the smell of thanksgiving dinner permeating from the kitchen, walking to friends houses, the famed Barge-Chestnut Trick-or-treating… the list of projected memories went on and on, and we hadn’t even finished our tour yet.
We stepped into the back yard and said that we wanted to make an offer for asking price or higher and our realtor began the process of putting it in motion. The house had been viewed by three interested parties the night before (with-in hours of it going on the market) and would be seen six more times after us on Saturday.
It was a surreal 24 hours. Akin to finding out you are about to have a baby and didn’t even know you were pregnant. We went from lazily thumbing through listings with no real immediate intentions (let alone luck of seeing anything that even remotely ‘spoke to us’) to throwing a legally binding bid at a property we didn’t know existed 36 hours before.
…and then it all came crashing down.
Another party had offered asking price and the sellers were moving quickly to accept it, uncontested. I couldn’t understand why a house with so much interest, in a market saturated with eager buyers was going to the first offer without accepting any others. With our permission our realtor scrambled to delay, notifying the selling agent that she had a verbal offer from us for ten thousand dollars over asking and that she was drafting up the formal paperwork as she spoke. It was too late, the sellers agreed to the first offer and signed on the line.
I was crushed. Confused. Angry. Sad. I had played out my families future in that house.
Clearly it is not advisable to get attached to a house so strongly and so quickly when going through the process of of buying but sometimes you can’t control those feelings. In my mind there was no other house out there for us. THIS was it, by dumb luck we had found it on our first try. It piqued our interest, was in our price range, checked our boxes and had that ‘extra something’ that just spoke to us.
In an attempt to understand how this happened we learned that the seller had purchased the house in 2012 via bidding war and didn’t want the next buyer to ‘go through such a stressful experience’. A really kind sentiment on their part that offered no consolation to us as we fought threw the disappointment and tossed in a Hail Mary back-up offer which once signed locked us into ‘second place’, should the first party back out.
A couple really tough days passed in which I would go back and look at the listing of the house only to become more upset and close it. I was trying to think negatively about a house that I had fallen in love with in an unsuccessful attempt to convince myself it wasn’t perfect.
My heart would skip a beat every time I got a text or phone call as I played out the very unlikely scenario in which our realtor calls to inform us that the original buyer had backed out and that the house is ours; and then three days later that exact unlikely scenario unfolded.
‘No f#(k!#g way, are you kidding me?’ I said in a type of demeanor that warned Sarah (our realtor) that this would not be a well received joke. I could tell that she was smiling enough for the both of us as she explained that the first buyer walked and the house was ours if we were still interested. I was going to need a little more time to cope with this roller coaster. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing but the excitement was tempered by the long list of logistics being described over the phone; Loan finalization, locking into an interest rate, home owners insurance, inspections, request for repairs and/or reduction in purchase price, final walk-through, closing paperwork, ect…all with strict time sensitive deadlines. To make it even more interesting we were 72 hours away from flying to Palm Springs, California for a five day trip to Joshua Tree National park.
A vacation that looked like it would be tainted by bad news was turning into a victory lap and we scrambled to get a majority of the tasks done before stepping on an airplane, including an official inspection fourteen hours before departure.
Once in California our days were spent taking in the dr. suessian landscape and our nights were spent utilizing the airBNB wifi, communicating with our realtor, loan officer, insurance company, utility companies, etc…
We landed back in WA State and scribbled our signatures on what felt like hundreds of pages of documents and walked out with new sense of pride, set of keys and project to occupy the foreseeable future.
I know it’s probably hard to understand how a person can become so attached to a home. I know this because I didn’t foresee and don’t understand it either. To us we are investing in an experience, not simply purchasing an asset. This home needs us and we couldn’t be more happy to give it the love it deserves and become the next stewards of this little piece of history
Preliminary research shows that the home is 105 years old, making it the oldest house on the block in an area that used to be fruit orchards. It’s fair to assume that this home was the plots original farm house, and the dead end lane it sits on was once it’s personal driveway before the plot was subdivided and other homes built.
It is built out of a very unique interlocking ‘T’ clay block creating thick walls of thermal mass which perform very well throughout our long hot summers despite not being insulated. The second story and car port are tasteful additions about 30 years old and has a sub 1000 sf foot print with a lot of outdoor living opportunities we plan to capitalize on. renovating this home will be a substantial undertaking in the coming 6-12 months and we are thankful to have the unique opportunity to continue living comfortably in our tiny house as long as we need while working on the new (old) house.
We have not been shy about the fact that our tiny house is NOT INTENDED AS A FOREVER HOME (pertaining to full time living). It was assumed that it would be utilized for a particular stage of our lives and it really has been the most amazing stage thus far.
We can assure you this post and the life decision it discusses will not contain a bunch of reasons that tiny house living isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, because it is. It is the best decision we have made to date.
There are however, a few things that separate us a bit from the prototypical tiny house dweller and you’ll learn that this milestone speaks to what home means to us while furthering some goals that the tiny house initiated.
1. We have a child.
Yes, there is a growing number of families making the jump to tiny house living (and they/we tend to get a good chunk of the attention from journalist looking for unique or shocking stories) but the number still remains a small fraction of the tiny house movement primarily comprised of one and two person occupancy.
2. We know where we want to live.
We have never had any intention on being ‘nomadic.’ We love this area and have since the day we moved to the Yakima Valley five years ago. We have found an incredible community of people here that seems to grow by the week and if there is one thing that makes any particular place more special than another, it is the people. When the wanderlust wears off it will be the community that keeps you in love with a place.
This is to say that we did not build our tiny house in order to travel with it. We prefer to satisfy our yearning to wander in a more traditional manner, in a smaller, more gas efficient and agile vehicle with a tent in the trunk. And living in the geographic center of the PNW has made adventuring easier than ever on a frequent basis.
3. We are not trying to ‘escape the grind.’
Samantha and I have worked at our respective companies for the entirety of our existence on the West Coast (5 years) and we love what we do. Building the tiny house was not a way to abandon our current employment situation rather it was a way to put ourselves in a circumstance that better allowed us to massage the way we worked for these companies. For Samantha this meant and opportunity to take extended unpaid maternity leave and now working less hours, four days a week. For myself this meant reducing the number of hours I work and evolving into a work-from-home father that could take care of Aubrin when Samantha was at the clinic. Despite working less than we ever have we’ve been saving money more rapidly than ever before thanks to the dramatically reduced cost of living as a result of our tiny house. To put it bluntly, the milestone announced in this blog post would not be possible without the tiny house.
4. Our tiny house was never an investment in which we hope to turn a profit by selling the physical house. It too was an investment in an experience and a d.i.y. response to our current situation as a way to achieve our future goals. We were sick of renting, weren’t able to save money, felt like we were drowning in six figure student loan debt, and wanted to start a family without the subconscious nagging that we would need the five day 9-5 grind to keep our heads above the financial water line.
And while the tiny house has been an incredibly smart financial decision, it has enabled us to live that life we dreamed of, one in which we work less, travel more and spend more time as a family unit collecting experiences and making memories, and THAT is what it was always about.
These facts put us in a position to act on a future plan much sooner than expected and have it ready when we feel the time is right to make the transition. In the mean time we have a new labor of love to slowly work on while enjoying life in the tiny house.
There are also very real benefits to this decision that further our current goals, as the tiny house did. The house is seven blocks from where Samantha works and a short bike ride to my office further minimizing our commute time when we do work. The walkable and bike-able neighborhood has attracted many of our friends to live in, furthering the sense of community we feel here as they to begin have children and raise the next generation along side us, in the neighborhood and nearby mountains.
Building a tiny house for eighteen months and living in it for almost three years (and counting) has provided invaluable lessons, knowledge and new found perspective, all of which stay with us as we continue on through life. In the last three years in 204 sf we have put in the work to get our finances in order and massage our live-work-adventure balance to a perfect ratio so that when this transition does occur it happens seamlessly, without changing the way we live our lives so that we can continue to focus on what is important to us.
So what is to come of the Tiny House?
We are still living full time in it and will be until we finish the substantial amount of work we have planned for the new house.
We never intend to sell SHED so when we do move on our goal is to allow others to experience SHED as a way to continue to inspire and help those on the fence decide whether tiny living is for them. I foresee this playing out in a sort of airBNB scenario which in turn would also provide a bit of ‘passive’ income (tiny house bonus #721). Anyone out there ever want to stay in our tiny house!?
For now it is nice to keep living our lives in it as we always have while slowly working on the other house. I can’t imagine trying to live amidst the debris and chaos of a house remodel and we feel fortunate not to be pressured into such a situation. we wont be posting a lot about the 105 year old house renovation but we do plan for the next blog post to catch everyone up on the work we have been doing. After all, we wouldn’t have the skills or confidence necessary for this project if we hadn’t built our own tiny house first! I’ll drop a teaser photo below to reveal just how extensive of a project it is becoming….
If you evaluate a things ‘worth’ purely in terms of financial numbers, consider this:
We built our tiny house on weekends paycheck to paycheck so we owned it outright the day we moved in. Over the next 32 months that we lived in it the amount of money we saved from our reduced cost of living surpassed the total amount we spent on our home meaning it literally paid for itself. Should we be able to make $850.00 per month renting out our tiny house on a platform like airBNB in the future it would cover our mortgage payment and literally be paying for our new house as well.
And that doesn’t consider the valuable education during the build and perspective while living in it plus our ability to refinance six figure student loans to an aggressive five (now three) year payback plan and ability to put a large down payment on a house while still maintaining the all important financial safety net.
Own your house out-right. Have it pay for itself. Have it pay for your future goals. Tiny house opponent or not, that’s just good ‘business’ sense. #tinyhouselifehack
Maybe paradoxically we hope this story of ‘moving-on’ helps promote our claim that building and living in a tiny house really was one of the best decisions we have ever made and has allowed us to be a step ahead of our future rather than two steps behind. Life’s a lot more fun when you’re not playing catch-up!
[ Join the ongoing conversation over on OUR INSTAGRAM! ]