I want to address a criticism of tiny houses particularly, but also owner-built structures generally.
This is a criticism that’s been wielded by, well, me for one, but mainly people who think building your own tiny house and calling it green or eco-friendly is a hypocritical piece of cow pie. If you do something like construct a small house and sing its praises, you essentially spit in the face of everyone who is mortgaged up to their kidneys in something that is definitely not a small house. These people get frustrated with that, and this criticism is born from that frustration, but also a bit of common sense. They’ve just forgotten who the real enemy is.
It goes something like this: why build a brand new house, however small, when there are plenty of foreclosed-upon, or otherwise suitable structures scattered across the country, that could be fixed up and lived in with a similar amount of effort and/or money? Aren’t you just being greedy, and wasting resources building a new thing when there are already lots of lovely used things waiting to be given some love? We’ll overlook the fact that remodeling takes resources.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Mesa County Public Trustee. Here’s a list of houses being offered by public auction in a Colorado county. It’s pretty standard for an area with not all that many people. Over on the right-hand side is the money, where the action is. You’ll see a total due, which is how much the mortgage was for. The next column is how much money the owner (“Beneficiary” in this document) is trying to extract from the people who live in the house (“Grantor”). The Lender Bid column is where the public auction starts for that particular property. If you don’t bid at least one dollar over that amount, you don’t get to bid. Now, there are deals to be had here, but the auction room will be filled with builders and flippers who know their way around real estate, and who all have a bigger pile of money to bid with than you. There is always the chance that they will not bid on a place you want, however.
You cannot tour these properties before buying them, so you don’t know if grandma passed and the house went to the bank, or if Cletus blew up the bathroom making meth, went to jail, and now there’s no more drug money trickling into the coffers at Chase. It’s a gamble, and while you can certainly drive by and prowl to get an idea, it’s not like you can run an inspector through the thing. All of a sudden your 70k fixer has a 20k foundation issue and roots in the sewer lines.
These auction prices are already grossly out of proportion to the value of the place, because they were, at one time, subject to the same market forces that push home prices into the mesosphere today. The bank got what they could for the place from someone willing to pay it, and they now will try to get what they can from you, the prospective auction-goer. (I was going to type that the bank “fucked” the previous buyer, and that now they wanted to “fuck” you, but I really don’t want to give fucking a bad name. And really, how big can a bank penis be? Not to mention that some of the blame lies with realtors and real estate companies.) Real estate values are seldom based on reality in the US, and more based on what people can get away with.
I also understand that buying a house at auction isn’t the only option. You can also choose to buy a home where real estate is either at or below its typical market value. Another way to state that is “shopping in a town where most people don’t want to live”. Depending on why people aren’t wanting to live there, this is a semi-viable option. Crappy schools? Not a problem if I don’t have kids. Filthy, deserted, and dangerous industrial wasteland? Harder to get away from. You’re still subject to the whims of real estate people.
This is why you build your own bank-damned house: to live in a place you like, and get away from needing a loan of any sort from anybody. That cute bungalow with good bones on a manageable plot of land? The one with the foreclosure sign? It’s not going to be cheap. Not even close to affordable if it’s anywhere people tend to like living. Because greed. I’m just going to go ahead and recklessly declare that nothing good has ever come from a mortgage. Until the day you make the final payment, it’s the bank and not you that owns your house. You are not a home owner as long as you owe somebody money for it. If I buy a trailer, put a small house on it, and figure out where to park and live in it, I can be asked to leave the property, but not the house. That place is mine.
This of course has ramifications from property tax collection, to land ownership, zoning codes, and the like, but those are all different issues. Other essays, maybe. For the folks who sneer at tiny homes and small, mobile living solutions to the mortgage problem, this has been a response.