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THE X FACTOR: Living large in a 200-square-foot house

Can you imagine living in a 120 square foot home? Well believe it or not, many of today’s homebuyers are doing just that; and choosing the tiny house lifestyle. What is this lifestyle? According to the blog, “The Tiny Life,” the tiny house lifestyle has become a “social movement” of people “choosing to downsize the space they live in, simplify, and live with less.” How much less, you may ask?

Realtor.com reports that the average size new home is about 2,600 square feet, and the “homes between 1,000 and 2,000 square feet get the most views [on their site]… about 50 percent more than 2,000- to 3,000-square-foot homes.”And in contrast, the standard size of a tiny house ranges from 100 to 400 square feet, and may be put on wheels, or set on a foundation.”

Still not convinced this is the lifestyle for you? Well consider some of these interesting statistics as reported by TinySociety.com: “89 percent of tiny house owners have less credit card debtthan the average American; 55 percent of tiny house owners have more savings in the bank than the average homeowner; [and] 68 percent of tiny house owners don’t have any mortgage!”

Now intrigued, I wanted to talk to Zaneta Smith, a millennial homebuyer and founder of Kolorsociety, about why she decided to purchase a tiny house as a first-time homebuyer, and how its impacted her lifestyle.

SQ: What made you choose to purchase a tiny house?

ZS: I chose to live in a tiny house because I wanted more economic freedom. I wanted the opportunity to be able to put more of my money to community projects and to traveling. And it was way too expensive to live in L.A. or to buy in L.A.

I did have a housing counselor, and enough down payment to where I was looking to buy. But because rents are so [high] and housing is so expensive, my housing counselor said it would take a long time [for me] to buy by myself.

SQ: Did your housing counselor recommend the tiny house option to you?

ZS: She did not. That was something I researched on my own.

SQ: Did you know of anybody who had lived in a tiny house prior to you moving into one?

ZS: I had met Dominique Moody who has a tiny house in the L.A. area. Hers is also her artwork. And she had parked her house in Leimert Park one time in 2015. And this was when I was researching it. So I had researched it about four years before I actually bought it.

And so in 2015, Dominique Moody had parked hers as an exhibit in Leimert Park; and I got to meet and talk with her, and sit there for hours. But before that, I was just a part of a lot of Facebook groups for people who are living in tiny houses or interested in tiny houses.

SQ: So what have been some of the pros and cons of living in a tiny house? What do you like and don’t like about the lifestyle?

ZS: One of the problems is that it has decreased my disposable income significantly. [However,] it has made me [become] a minimalist; which I really didn’t think about that part of it. I just thought, “Okay I need a base in L.A. so I can travel more. I just need somewhere to keep my stuff.” I didn’t realize how much stuff I could live without. So that’s been a pro.

I don’t shop as much. I don’t really have a lot of clutter. I got rid of a lot of clothes. So getting dressed in the morning is a lot faster than before. If I go out to a gala or a party and I have a gift bag, I don’t necessarily need the stuff that’s in the gift bag anymore, so I don’t keep it.

If I don’t have a place for it in my house then I don’t need to keep it. So it’s really shifted my perspective on just how much physical things that I need. Whereas before, [I would say,] “I need this, I need that.” Or you see an empty space in your house, or an empty drawer and you want to fill it. I don’t have really any empty space in my house. So that’s a pro.

I would say a con is the fact that it’s illegal in L.A. City. So I can’t really live in the neighborhood where I want to live. I do a lot of community work in South L.A., but because of the laws I can’t live in South L.A. legally. So that’s really been a disadvantage because I now park my house at a mobile home community near West Covina; and it’s just out of the way from literally everything that I do.

And so now I have to be a commuter, when I’ve never commuted [more than] 13 miles from where I live. It’s also

made me put my money in communities where I don’t necessarily want to put my money, and shop in [other] neighborhoods; when I’d prefer to shop in the neighborhoods that I frequent.

SQ: So do you find the tiny house lifestyle being a viable option for first time home buyers?

ZS: Absolutely. One, I can afford it. My house was sold on a website called TinyHouseListings.com. And my house was selling for $26,000. So I was able to purchase mine for cash, and that made it a viable option for me because I don’t have a mortgage. All I do is pay for the rent for where it now sits.

And when I have to fix things, it doesn’t cost as much as a regular house would.

SQ: What are their resale values? What is your plan when you decide to buy a house or move back to L.A.?

I’m not sure what my plans are really. After I pay my student loans off, it’s kind of deciding what I want to do then. I don’t know that I want to buy a regular house for me to live in. Maybe I’ll buy a rental property, a duplex and rent it out. I don’t necessarily know if I want to buy a place to live in.

So I’m not sure about their resale value. I know that there are companies that create tiny houses where you can sell your house to them. If you want a bigger house, or a different townhouse, you can do trade-ins. And I can list it for sale on TinyHouseListings.com, too.

I’ve upgraded my house a bit; so I’ve added a closet, and I’m currently adding new tile in my bathroom. So the resale value will definitely increase when I do decide to sell it. But I’m not sure the resale value. I don’t know what that market is like in “Tiny House Land.”

SQ: Describe your tiny home.

ZS: My house is 200 square feet. It’s just one big room. I have two lofts. I have one king size loft, and one twin size loft. It has a small kitchenette. It has a bathroom and shower area. I built a closet in it. The stairs go to the biggest loft. And that’s pretty much it.

SQ: It’s just enough for you.

ZS: [Chuckles] It is just enough for me.

I would say another con may be, since I do work from home sometimes, [is that] it would be really nice to have a separate room where I can just work, or leave my work, or have a guest.

But when I bought my house, I didn’t work from home. I had a completely different job, and I went into a job every day; I went to do my community project, and then I went home. Whereas now I have a lot more freedom [since] I’m more of a freelance consultant, and so I work from home a lot. So [working] is different being in a small space.

SQ: Any last thoughts on the tiny house lifestyle?

ZS: Yeah, I would say it’s really a perspective shift from how we are socialized to things. I think people are socialized that they need a big house, that they need a white picket fence, a backyard, a front yard.

And what people don’t sometimes analyze is if they really want those things. They want those things because the “American Dream” says we’re supposed to have it. But is that what you really want? And so for me, it’s really changed my perspective, and really allowed me to invest in things that I really want.

So I’ve traveled more internationally since I’ve had my house. I was able to start my business because I now have disposable income. And so I would say for people to really just think about their perspective towards [the tiny house lifestyle].

Starlett Quarles is a Gen X Advocate, public speaker and host of the internet TV Talk Show, “The Dialogue with Starlett Quarles.” For more, please visit www.TheDialogueLA.com.