9. Tiny homes, sheds, and campers, oh my!

A tiny house possibility with lots of windows
Lovely TH park model in Spokane. Too many windows for high winds and summer hailstorms?

I was in the Spokane area recently. Beautiful surrounding wilderness areas. The city’s got character too. This was part family visit, part fact-finding mission to check out jobs, business opportunities, housing, property. I specifically wanted to look at tiny homes, and secondarily, campers.

Before I left home for my travels, I had a couple of calls with Tumbleweed Houses. When founder Jay Shafer owned the company, I attended some weekend DIY design workshops, hoping to learn enough to get started building my own. Shafer was inspirational, a true pioneer in the movement, if not the pioneer, and he’s brilliant. The company’s more commercial now, and feels less personal, less driven by design genius and mindfulness, but still seems committed to furthering social good. They sell plans as well as houses, and periodically have some pretty great sales prices.

Well, life happened, and I also despaired when I realized I didn’t have even basic tools expertise (let alone any hands-on power tool knowledge), nor any foreseeable help from family and friends. I back-burnered my dream. Ten-plus years later, as I clearly see the need for major home repairs here or a new residence, my goal is to resume the quest. Tumbleweed does offer financing – a big plus, and a necessity for me – and their prices are reasonable-ish, especially when they run sales. They offer a nice assortment of models. The ones I can afford are the right size, but don’t quite have the “wow” factor for me. Almost, though. Definitely almost. I like the rustic, simple look of a few of them very much. Others are more interesting, but bigger and less affordable. The jury’s still out.

Driving around Spokane, quite by accident I found Park Model Homes. A national company, they have a great selection of affordable, beautiful models tailored by region, e.g. for northern winter climates. Their homes are more upscale-looking, which has a certain appeal, but rustic is more my style.  If I want to buy a TH for delivery to Montana (vs. the Spokane area), my house would come from their Nebraska location. They also offer financing, with banking relationships in Spokane, although I haven’t gone too far down that road yet. At my request, they emailed me a price sheet, and I was informally given a verbal ballpark quote of $60K, including house, taxes, delivery, and hookups. The homes are on trailers, to meet RV zoning requirements. I’m still researching the company itself – the website is dated and a little hard to figure out their true ownership or distributed business model – but I liked what I saw on the lot. They appear to have a network of companies that either operate as Park Model Homes, or do business with them. On my end, I’d need to have a level packed gravel parking space installed. Do-able.

It seems a little weird that there are no standout choices for these tiny homes in Billings or really anywhere in Montana, but I’m still looking. There are a couple of companies I want to check out. And there are numerous seasonal popup lots in Billings and outlying areas displaying sheds, shells really, that look like TH’s or garages or feed barns. These are quite affordable and well-constructed by local Amish builders. Delivery is cheap or free. The landscape is increasingly dotted with these in small communities and along state highways. I’m considering buying one for a shed, but I can’t imagine doing the interior work to transform a shed into a home.

Another option is having a TH built. There’s a contractor in town who is interested, but I think I need to go the financing route; paying cash outright isn’t an option. Elizabeth Smart’s book, Under 55 and Faking Normal: Your Guide to a Better Life, has a dedicated section with good information about TH’s and financing. In fact, this book re-started my pursuit of owning a TH. I reviewed it here, on Marc Miller’s Career Pivot website (my favorite online community!). Smart’s book is exhaustively researched, with some real gems for any seniors questioning how they will survive and thrive in an economy that doesn’t know (or care about?) what to do with us!

I’ve also tentatively explored acquiring a vintage or new/retro camper trailer. There were some great options in Spokane, which, like Billings but more so, seems to be an RV sales lot hub. More on this in another post.

And finally, I’d love to work for a TH company or housing non-profit, because I believe TH’s can go a long way toward solving the affordable housing crisis for seniors and many others. If you’re making a living in the gig economy, as opposed to running a business or holding down a 9-to-5, TH’s solve the issue of getting, and paying on, a big mortgage. An Auxiliary Dwelling Unit (ADU) in a homeowner’s backyard is a perfect situation for an extended family member or a college student, or can be a win-win for a property owner and tenant with a work exchange deal. Or for digital nomads, RV-licensed TH’s are on wheels and travel with you, wherever you desire to go next. They are also one answer to providing dignity and shelter off the street for our marginalized homeless populations. The municipalities and NIMBY communities that are so adamantly opposed to TH’s are missing the boat. Lack of affordable housing, and homelessness are problems that impact all of us. We hide our heads in the sand to our own detriment.

My tiny house concerns and questions for further research
1. The PMH models I like have many different-size windows, letting in lots of beautiful light. We have hailstorms and high winds. Will the windows all break? Can they be easily replaced, or should I stay away from those models and opt for one with fewer, standard size windows?

2. About those winds… Will the TH on its trailer bed tip over? How to prevent that?

3. I’d like a wood stove. Can I have one installed by the TH company?

4. I’d like solar. What’s involved? Cost? Can it be installed before delivery?

5. Can I finance based on my work as a 1099-contractor, supplemented by Social Security and a tiny retirement pension? Or do I need to find a full-time job to show income?

6. If I want to move my TH to the Spokane area someday, where are they allowed, zoning-wise? Vacant lots in the area are pricey and limited, due to rapid in-migration from Southern California, et al., and heavy encroachments on remaining wilderness by developers.

7. Are there any TH companies with a social conscience who are hiring an administrative assistant, copy writer, or digital content marketer?

All for now. To be continued…


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