Giant Leaps

Giant Leaps

I mentioned in my last post that I put an offer in on a piece of land. Yes – it was the land that I’d mentioned previously. (If you missed it, read about it here.) I have good news to share and bad news to share.

The good news is that the sellers accepted my offer!

The bad news is that the sellers accepted my offer…

So I now have the very interesting task of tearing down the structure that is on the property. I wanted to share a few pictures before I begin the process. I will try and get to the property soon to take some more pictures since I don’t have any of the view, which is the best part.

WARNING: They are not pretty!

I also went to the bank to set up my loan and payments, and since I’m documenting my process I will share with you the strange way I’ve had to go about my financing.

First I got a personal loan to pay my builder, Tiny House Squared, and pay for some immediate upgrades to the property. I paid my builder a down payment, plus paid for the order of building materials. (He chose the materials but we worked collaboratively on the layout of windows, the door, walls, etc.) In lieu of a traditional personal loan, I went the route of refinancing my car. This made it a secured auto loan, which gave me a much lower interest rate. I highly recommend it if this is an option for you.

I knew if I bought this property that I would need to pay for some things immediately, like fixing the driveway and renting a dumpster to haul away the trash. (I also need to hire a company to haul away a car that is on the property, but I have to get a abandonment title first since I don’t know who owned it.) Additionally I’ll need to buy some tools I don’t currently have, like a reciprocating saw. I don’t think I’ll need the entire amount of the loan I took out, but I figured it was better to be safe than sorry in this situation.

My next step was to find a bank that would lend on a piece of land. The trouble I ran into was twofold. First, most banks will not give you a mortgage for less than $50,000; the risk-reward is just not in their favor on these loans, I’m told. Second, few banks will give a land loan, which is what I need. The suggestion I ran into again and again was to take out an additional personal loan. With a 4-5% difference between a personal loan and a land loan, I continued to pursue the latter. I was finally referred to a small bank about an hour away from where I live for my land loan. To save yourself a lot of time and a migraine or two, I suggest starting with smaller banks and credit unions if you need this type of loan.

Now that the loan is in process, I have to focus on tedious tasks, such as getting the aforementioned abandonment title and calling electricians to get a quote on temporary electric service. I am also getting a quote from a demolition company just to see if it would be worth my money for someone else to tear the modular home down. I’m currently doubling my income with my second job, so I think about one month of my second income is my cut-off amount for the demolition. I’ve also left messages for the Fire Marshall to see if the volunteer fire department would come and do a controlled burn. That would be ideal!

Either way, once the structure is down I will need to get someone to take the I-beams that the house is resting on. They are very long and obviously heavy, but I have a few options.

The most exciting part so far is that my trailer is finished and my build has begun! Here are some pictures of that as well!

Thank you for continuing to follow my journey! More exciting updates to come!

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“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

I have this quote by William Shakespeare tattooed on the inside of my upper left arm. Call me a dreamer, call me edgy, call me a true English major. Call me what you want. But this quote rings true.

It’s not up to us to look up at the stars and hope, pray, or dream something into reality. You can hope, pray, or dream of course; but you cannot expect anything to come to fruition unless you work at it. My Tiny House dream has taken a lot of work and the work is about to quintuple.

I paid the rest of my money toward my flatbed trailer today.

I finalized my floorplan and am placing my order for the materials my builder needs today.

I made an offer on a piece of land today.

Things are moving right along. No day but today!

“You Need A Bigger Dream!”

“You Need A Bigger Dream!”

In my ever-fruitful search for more and more (and more) Tiny House information I came across a few posts this weekend that mentioned Steve Harvey. I know him as the host of Family Feud and for his recently botched gig as Miss Universe host but not much more. So hearing him associated with the Tiny House movement came as a surprise to me. Here is the TV show segment where he seems to address Tiny House dreamers directly:

 

Steve Harvey starts by saying that the average American home measures about 2600 square feet. This seems a bit high to me, but let’s see some comparisons.

  • The house I grew up in with my parents and brother was just shy of 1400 square feet. In that house we had 3 bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms, a dining room we rarely used, and a full basement.
  • My old boyfriend’s parents’ house is 2200 square feet. They have a master bedroom suite plus 3 other bedrooms and 2 more bathrooms, a huge family room in addition to a formal living room, a dining room they used twice a year, and a basement.

Now let’s start to address some of these rooms. I am one person. I rarely have large groups of people over. I’ve only ever used a basement for storage and I haven’t had a garage since I moved out of my parents’ house. How many bedrooms do I actually need? How many bathrooms? Do I need a dining room? Can’t I dine anywhere? What if I want to eat my knock-off Frosted Flakes in bed? Who’s going to stop me? And what precisely is the function of a “formal” living room? Why does it have to be so formal; who is coming over?

Verdict: I definitely do not need 2600 square feet. Nor, in my opinion, is 2600 square feet the average.

Steve Harvey goes on to ask his audience, “Who in here is going to work every day to buy a damn Tiny House?” This is met with audible groans, which I hope were prompted by his team of cameramen and not 100% real. I think I’ve made it perfectly clear that the point of this journey for me is not to work every day to buy a Tiny House. I would like to work less and for a shorter amount of time because of my decision to buy and build a Tiny House. People are retiring later each year. People are living house-poor. People are refinancing their mortgages to afford extravagant vacations with their families.

Verdict: I don’t want to be those people.

Here are my favorite quotes from the clip:

  • “Who puts a Tiny House on their vision board? You need to get a bigger damn dream is what you need to do!”
  • “This is for people who’ve given up… this is for people who ain’t got no dreams.”
  • “[If] you want to live in a Tiny House it’s because you done gave up. You’re stupid.”

I’d like to address these in detail but I don’t have that kind of time. I’ll give you my highlights.

I understand your profession is “comedian” but poor grammar is no laughing matter. Telling me I “ain’t got no dreams” is a double negative; this means that what you are actually saying is that “I have dreams”. Joke’s on you, Steve. Also, calling someone stupid after saying “you done gave up” and “ain’t got no dreams” is well-played, sir. You are clearly the smarter human being in this argument.

Who makes vision boards anymore? Are we in the 4th grade? Don’t you have Pinterest Mr. Harvey? And why can’t my Tiny House go on my imaginary vision board anyway? Stay in your 2600 square foot house and look at your own vision board, nosy. As the charming J.K. Rowling once put it:

I don’t think I’m stupid. I have a near-genius IQ, in fact. I have the ability to make rational decisions and I have put a lot of thought and effort into this process. I didn’t “done give up”. In fact, my Tiny House dream is giving me hope. I worked almost 77 hours this past week between my two jobs. My feet are calloused, my knees hurt, and I have shin splints. And I can rest at night knowing my bills will be paid. But do I want to do this forever? Would you? I doubt anyone can answer that with an honest “yes”.

What keeps me going through seemingly endless shifts of chili nachos and over-cooked cheeseburgers is the dream of my Tiny House. Any time something catastrophic happens during a shift (see: every single night), I’ve told my managers to simply say “Tiny House” to me and I calm down. My Tiny dream puts it all in perspective; these 16-hour work days will eventually end, and sooner rather than later.

I’ve never heard an older relative say, “I wish I’d spent more on my house, done less with my family and friends, and stayed home all the time.” What I do hear is more often along the lines of, “I wish I’d traveled more,” “I wish I’d spent more time with my loved ones, ” or “I wish I didn’t wait until now to enjoy my life.” As humans we seem to be programmed to forget the things that hurt us and focus more energy remembering the good times. Do you still vividly remember the pain from your first breakup? Or do you remember the butterflies from your first date? Do you remember the first time you really got sick? Or do you remember the love and get-well wishes from your friends? It’s been almost 15 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Americans vowed to never forget. And yet here we are, throwing verbal daggers at one another and following Donald Trump’s lead to oust all Muslims and non-citizens from the country. Remembering something for one day each year isn’t paying homage; it’s lip service.

My vow to myself is not to waste these years. Eventually my youth will fade, my knees will give out, and my drive will wane. I would rather spend my 30s traveling the world, eating dinners with family, and drinking good beer with friends. I can’t do this if I buy a 2600 square foot house. I wouldn’t even have time to clean a 2600 square foot house.

Verdict: I don’t expect Steve Harvey to understand the soul behind this movement. I don’t expect him to know my soul. So keep looking at your own vision board, Mr. Harvey. Mine is off-limits.

Happy Birthday J.J.

Happy Birthday J.J.

Today is my little brother’s 28th birthday. This is immensely difficult for me to believe as I’m still pretty sure all of the friends he grew up with are still 19. (They’re not supposed to grow up! I’m still 21! Right? RIGHT?!!) His birthday today brings up memories of birthdays and holidays past, of cheery and unhappy memories. Now, as a busy adult with busy-adult problems, sometimes it’s nice to reminisce on days gone by. The memories that have been haunting me lately go all the way back to when I was little, when I would play with my brother and his friends from morning until well after dusk every day each summer. I grew up on a street populated mostly by little boys, so we would play little-boy games: football, kickball, street hockey, run-down, and “hock-ball”. (We invented this game when we inevitably broke our hockey sticks from hitting each other too hard. We’d use them as bats to hit the semi-deflated kickball with. I plead the fifth on how many windows were broken playing this particular game.) I enjoyed these games immensely and I still love sports, but when I got to choose the game it was always one of make-believe.

I loved pretending to be the Pink Power Ranger, fighting again Zordon and Rita’s monstrous villains. When I didn’t feel like getting bruises playing hockey, I loved pretending to be a reporter; I’d cover the boys’ games as if they were in the pros. On the rare occasions I did play with girls my age, I loved making up storylines for Barbie and Skipper. But my biggest dream and dearest wish was to have a treehouse or a fort of some kind. I wanted a place to call my own, somewhere to escape to.

One of my friends, also named Rachel, had a small backyard with a retaining wall about 4′ high. We’d climb up that wall and from there we could hang out on her parents’ garage roof, play in the woods behind it, and pretend to be anything we wanted. We formed a club that consisted mostly of just me and her, and we would haze anyone who came near us. (I remember ambushing my brother with full jugs of baby powder for invading our club once. Mom was not pleased.) Another friend, Jessica, moved an hour away when we were about 10. She had horses and dogs and a pond and a bit of freedom. We spent one summer building a fort out of fallen trees; it was my paradise.

When people ask why I want to build a Tiny House, it’s hard for me to explain the myriad of things that led to this decision. It’s easy to rattle off numbers to impress upon people the economic value of a Tiny House. It’s easier still to simply say, “Because I can’t afford anything else” and leave it at that. What’s more difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t want a Tiny House is the warm-and-fuzzy feeling I get when I imagine it.

A part of me longs for the simplicity of childhood, of having a place to call my own that isn’t overwhelming to take care of. Having a smaller space means less time spent working, less time spent cleaning, and less time spent dreading both of these tasks. Having a smaller space means more room for creativity, more time for walks in the woods, and more space for daydreams.

My Tiny House on wheels is many things to me. In fact, it is many of the things you think of when you think of a traditional house. It is a place for sleeping. It is a place for bathing. It is a place to put my stuff. It is a place for eating (even if I’m just eating Taco Bell). But it’s also many other things to me. It is a home to take with me when I want to go somewhere new. It is a place for dreaming. It is a loft for painting. It is comfy couch for movies. It is my cats after a long day, snuggling up on that comfy couch. It is financial freedom. It is retiring early.

And yet, there are things my Tiny House is not. It is not built to fit more than 2-3 people long-term. It is not built for 20-person parties held indoors. It is not buy-whatever-you-want-at-the-mall-and-store-it-forever-in-a-closet-never-to-be-seen-again. It is not working 70 hours per week. It is not wearing out my knees waitressing. And it is not for everyone. I accept that.

But it is for me. And quite frankly, I don’t care if you accept that.

Happy birthday little brother. Thanks for the memories and the reminder; life is short – live it to the fullest. “She designed a life she loved” never seemed more applicable.

Finding My (Never)Land

Finding My (Never)Land

Before I begin I’d like to thank EVERYONE who has reached out to me via Facebook, on my blog, and by phone since my interview aired on WTAE Pittsburgh. Your support and questions are amazing! Having a community like this helps me to move forward even when things seem most impossible.

One of the most difficult tasks we face as Tiny Housers is finding a place to land (literally). Anyone who has tried to find a legal resting place for their Tiny Home knows this to be true. As I mentioned in my interview, each borough in my area has different rules about housing. These rules dictate everything from whether mobile homes are allowed, minimum dwelling square footage, and even how far back on the lot a house must be. It is an arduous task trying to navigate each borough’s individual website, making call after call to find little to no answers.

It is also another set of questions entirely to determine what kind of land you want… Do you want an acre? More? Less? Where will you put a lawn mower? Do you want a lot of trees or something that’s more bare? Do you want a completely flat plot or something high up on a hill? Do you need to be close to highways? Which highways? What’s traffic like on your morning commute? Do you need to be close to a laundromat? Grocery store? Taco Bell? What utilities are already on the land? Where are they? Will you have to pay to put in a well? A septic tank? Gas lines? Where will the electric meter go? Is there access to public sewer? Do you prefer to buy land with an existing house so you can live in it while you build your Tiny House? Do you prefer to buy land with nothing on it so you can map out your own destiny?

Are you exhausted? I am.

My answers will vary from everyone else’s, but for me there are a few things that matter. I need to be within a 30-minute drive from work. I know myself – I am always late – and can’t go any farther out than that. For this reason, proximity to a highway or direct route is imperative. I don’t need to be close to a laundromat or grocery store necessarily; I plan to install a combination washer/dryer in my THOW and I work near several grocery stores. I do prefer to be near a Taco Bell. (Again: your priorities are not my priorities.) I am flexible on the size plot I want, though I’d like to keep it under 2 acres. I will get a shed for outdoor equipment like a lawn mower as well as my camping equipment.

For cost reasons I also prefer to find a piece of land with utilities already on it. This has proven to be onerous. Most vacant plots of land have access to utilities at the street, but I don’t want to be right on the curb. I’d prefer to be back quite a bit. This means that if I buy land like this I will have to pay thousands of dollars to give myself access to water, sewer, gas, and electricity. This goes up even more if I have to dig a well or put in a septic system. (Sound fun to you? Me too.)

With costs racking up in my head, I decided to change my approach and look for land with a mobile or modular home already on it. This would hopefully give me the land I desired without having to pay to install all of the utilities. Once I started finding plots that fit my specifications, I started researching the boroughs online to see if they had square footage or mobile home ordinances. From there, I called the real estate contacts to see if I could view the properties.

I began this researching this new process a couple of weeks ago and so far I’ve found one property that really fits my bill. It is a modular home on a third of an acre and the utilities are available. It has a gravel driveway that will need some TLC, but at least it exists. It has an existing shed in salvageable condition and the property backs onto 100 acres of forest. It is at the top of a hill overlooking the valley; I can see the Ohio River and a forest sprawling out in front of me. I can only imagine how beautiful it will be in the spring and fall. The modular home isn’t on a foundation; instead it sits on cinder blocks. This will make it easier to demolish.

And demolish it I must, for it is in absolutely horrendous condition. There are holes in every single wall. Every piece of wire and every electrical outlet has been torn out. The roof has been leaking for years. The carpets are trashed. Some cat- or raccoon-sized animal has made the bathroom its bathroom. Windows are broken. Cabinets have been ripped out. Trash is everywhere.

But it may very well be perfect. I can reuse the wood from the deck. I can reuse some of the wood siding to cover my THOW or re-cover the shed. Though the shed is filled with trash, it will be a sufficient home for my outdoor storage once clean. I may even be able to save some of the kitchen cabinets. I met both of the neighbors and they seem thrilled that someone may want to tear the property down and start new. They are fine with my building a Tiny House on Wheels and putting it there. Best of all, the borough allows houses of any size and mobile homes.

Did I mention it’s 5 minutes from Taco Bell?

I haven’t bought it yet – there are still a few things to check on. But this Tiny Dreamer may have found her (Never)Land!

Financing My (Tiny) Dream

Financing My (Tiny) Dream

In my last post I talked a little bit about my personal budget. Since then I’ve been trying to figure out where I’m going to get the money for each step of this process. I have had to figure out:

  • The Trailer – How will I pay for the physical trailer that the Tiny House shell will be built on?
  • The Shell – Banks do not lend money for Tiny Houses, especially in the form of a traditional mortgage.
  • The Interior Build – This will all be done as I can afford it, but how long will it take to save the money to pay for everything I need/want?
  • The Land – Since my parents are not on board, where will I put my Tiny House? Once I find the land, how will I pay for it?

I’m going to try and address these one by one, with some extra emphasis on land since that’s what I’ve been focused on the last few days.

The Trailer

I decided to take a fairly unique approach to financing my trailer. Rather than lump this in with a personal loan, I qualified for a new credit card with 0% interest for 12 months. Since I am working two jobs right now (and I intend to continue working both jobs until I’m done financing my build), I feel I can pay this off well before the 12-month timeframe. I will put the entire trailer cost on one credit card.

The Shell

I will have to get a personal loan for the financing of my shell build. I had been planning to save all the money for this before beginning this process, but fate stepped in and I was able to get a great deal with my builder if we started sooner. While the loan will cost me some interest, I intend to get a secured loan by putting my car title up for collateral. This will give me a lower interest rate and save me money. In addition, the money I save by not paying rent for an extra 12-18 months while saving will actually be far less than the money I spend in interest.

The Interior Build

I’m not at this stage yet, but my plan will be to recycle, reuse, and refurbish as much as possible. For example, one piece of land I’m looking at has a modular home on it that is in rough condition. However, I would be able to save some kitchen cabinets, wood siding, decking, cinder blocks, etc. Reusing these materials would save me a lot in the long run. I also plan to use craigslist and local auctions to find interesting pieces, which will be cheaper than I can buy them at the big box stores. I will use the cash I make from my waitressing job to pay for things I find online, at auctions, or at flea markets. I am particularly excited about reusing items that might otherwise be tossed or used for kindling; this is part of the whole Tiny House movement for me. Waste not, want not!

Which brings us to…

The Land

Also known as: the bane of my existence over the last couple of weeks. I am struggling to find what will be the best fit for me. For example…

Should I buy a fresh piece of land with nothing on it? I would be free to put the utilities and my Tiny House anywhere I want on the property. I can look at the blank canvas of grass and mud and figure out what kind of neighbor I want to be, what direction my Tiny House should face, and how many cherry trees to plant. I’d only be hindered by my imagination (and, of course, my property lines).

Should I buy land with a modular or trailer home already on it? This would save me the hassle and expense of putting in new utilities. I don’t know exactly how much it would cost to dig out sewage from the street to my Tiny House, but I can tell you I don’t want to spend it! Having a modular or trailer home already on the property, especially one I could harvest materials from (then subsequently destroy), makes sense because I’d save on all those expenses. It’s also likely that there would already be a clear, level space for my Tiny House to rest, and maybe even a driveway.

Should I buy land with a larger house on it, rent it out, and put my Tiny House somewhere else on the property? This option is a stretch for me, but it does exist. This would make financial sense because I’d then have an income property, but it could also help me navigate the shark-filled waters that are “zoning issues”. As I’ve mentioned, each borough typically has their own zoning laws that govern home size, land use, and mobile homes. One piece of land I’ve fallen in love with does not allow mobile homes or any home under 700 square feet. But I could get around this if there was a house on the property already and I would just be “storing” my Tiny House there (wink, wink).

I always figured that once I found land, I’d apply for the mortgage and follow the normal procedure. One of the rudest awakenings for me in this process has been that most banks will not lend on a mortgage lower than $50,000. Since I don’t intend to spend nearly that much on a piece of land, I’m forced to figure out another option.

This is where I am today. Looking for another option. Suggestions are welcome!

My First Step – Finances

My First Step – Finances

Good evening!

I thought I should take a step back tonight and start at the beginning of my Tiny House journey. Way back to the very beginning, back before I knew what a Tiny House was and before I had this dream. Yes folks, it’s that time. It’s time to talk about money.

So I’ll admit I used to be bad with my finances. One doctor even tried to diagnose me as bipolar because I spent too much money shopping. (Okay, okay – in my defense I was 19 then and had attended a private Catholic school my entire life. I’d always worn uniforms! At 18 or 19 I finally got into clothes and started buying a lot of them. Sue me.) But it went much farther than clothes. I inevitably had student loans (and no degree to show for it), got into super fun credit card debt, and spent tons of money I didn’t have. I even had a car repossessed. I eventually had to move back home with Mom and Dad for a year to get myself back together.

I moved back out of my parents’ house for the final time about 5-6 years ago. I moved in with my (then) boyfriend into a townhouse we could (sort of) afford and started (what I thought would be) the rest of our lives together. I never thought money would be an issue since we were both equally bad with it.

Wrong. So wrong!

Fast forward 3 years: I’d gone back to school and finally received 2 degrees. I was accomplishing goals, was excited for the future, and my credit had risen about 100 points. He… hadn’t done those things. Suffice it to say things ended.

That was almost 3 years ago now. I was left with a $695 per month rent payment for a 3-bedroom house with 2 cats. My gas bill in the winter months often exceeded $300 per month. I had to find roommates… I had to use [shiver] craigslist. (I actually met someone who has become a very good friend this way, but I had to put up with 3 VERY bad roommates to find her.)

While I was straddled with bills (and more bills, and then some more bills) I had to find ways to cut costs. I want to give anyone who reads this my very own “Idiot’s Guide to Eventually Sorting Out What Money You Sort Of Have”. Catchy, eh? So here are my first nuggets of advice:

  • Cut whatever bills you can in whatever ways you can.
    • I couldn’t cancel my Dish subscription, so I called to haggle. Before I called my bill was around $85/month for TV only. With a few phone calls to customer service and a promise not to break my contract for the final year, I got my bill down to $19.10/month. (I get fewer channels but I kept my DVR!)
    • Another idea is to combine your cell phone bill with friends or family members. This saved me about $30/month.
  • Take advantage of special offers through work or online.
    • I get a 20% discount on my cell phone service through my job, but they don’t tell you that when you hire you. You have to ask. Always ask.
    • I use a website called The Penny Hoarder to find ways to save on groceries, dining out, and even credit cards!
  • Save money on things you already do.
    • Do you clip coupons? Subscribing to the paper is often cheaper than paying $2.00 on Sundays.
    • Do you like to eat out? Search for discounts before you go, then decide where to eat. Base these decisions on financial goals, not your growling tummy.
    • Do you like to go on special dates with that special someone? Check out Groupon or LivingSocial for ideas and cheaper ways to go out.
  • Consider getting a second job. Even if it’s one day a week, maybe that keeps you from spending loads on a Friday night and puts $50 in your pocket.
  • For the love of everything Tiny, keep a budget!!!

I’d like to share with you a sample of my budget sheet. I’ve left in some examples for you to see even though I’ve deleted most of the figures. It only takes around 2 minutes each morning to update my budget sheet and check registers. Please note that you can easily adapt this to Microsoft Excel, but I simply like the tediousness of updating it in Microsoft Word; it reminds me how much I hate spending money!

Using this budget sheet or some modified version has helped me pay off credit card debt, get through Christmas in one piece, and save for my Tiny. Hopefully it may help some of you as well!

Budget Worksheet Template