If you are looking to live in a tiny home in Southwest Florida, it may take some searching.
Hopes for a tiny house community to be developed in Cape Coral were shot down after a City Council meeting last Monday.
The meeting discussed plans for a proposed “micro-cottage development,” which would be the first of its kind for Southwest Florida.
Earlier this year, Cape planners agreed tiny homes may be a good addition to the real estate inventory and seemed to be on board with the idea of creating a pocket neighborhood just for the trendy tinies.
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However, several people in the community spoke against the idea, leading the Council to take no action and remove the item from the Land Development Code that Council is expected to vote on in February.
“The majority of the Council did not support the proposal,” said Maureen Buice, public information specialist for the city of Cape Coral. “Residents who opposed the idea did not want to live near these developments. They also were concerned about how the developments could affect their property values.”
The micro-cottages would be 600-1,000 square feet, and they would have to be built in developments of 3 acres or larger, with four to 12 homes clustered. Currently, the minimum sized home allowed in Cape Coral is 1,100 square feet.
Despite the opposition, Justin Murphy, a Cape Coral resident and tiny house advocate, is not giving up on creating a community for trendy small homes.
“It’s honestly kind of offensive to people that want to live tiny because the vast majority of them are hard-working people just like you or me,” he said. “I think in general there’s still a negative connotation towards tiny homes…because “tiny homes” are built on trailers, people immediately think “trailer park” which then makes them think about Suncoast in North Fort Myers.”
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Murphy and his wife, Nikki, own a start-up company called Grassroots Tiny Homes and have been actively working to make his dream of a tiny home community come to reality since May 2017.
“As of now I’m planning on organizing a pro-tiny home movement, getting as many people as I can to send in emails to the City council and actually show up to the next meeting,” he said. “My goal is to show that people from all different demographics would go tiny if they could.”
And for those who oppose the idea of tiny home communities coming to Southwest Florida, Murphy said all he is asking is for empathy.
“Have empathy for the guy who just got his bachelor’s degree with $50,000 student debt and is a bartender. Have empathy for the single mom or dad who couldn’t make it to the Council meeting to speak positively about tiny homes because they had to rush to daycare after work. Have empathy for the retired couple that wants to downsize and have less maintenance but aren’t ready to move into a nursing home and still want their independence,” he said.
Where can I build a tiny home?
Although the micro-cottage development idea has been put on the back burner in Cape Coral, those looking to build a tiny home still have options, but they are few.
“There’s almost no options,” said Murphy. “Technically anywhere in unincorporated Lee County you could build any house as long as it meets the Florida building code, which could be as low as 225 square feet, give or take.”
In Cape Coral the minimum size requirement for a home is 1,100 square feet while in Collier and Hendry counties the minimum size is 600 square feet. Glades County doesn’t have a minimum size requirement.
Mike Bosi, planning director of Collier County, said he hasn’t seen much of a desire for tiny homes in the area but agreed it could be a good idea to help the affordable housing issue that counties in Southwest Florida are facing.
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The biggest fear of those in opposition is that smaller housing types would lower their property values.
But Bosi doesn’t see that as an issue, pointing to gated communities with high property values that don’t seem to be influenced by higher density projects, such as mobile home parks, that are right across the street or next door.
That’s why Murphy and other tiny home advocates are keeping their fingers crossed for pocket neighborhoods of tiny homes to be approved in the future.
Interested in buying a tiny home?
As of right now, there are not many tiny homes available for purchase in Southwest Florida unless you want to move into a mobile park and live in a tiny house on wheels, dubbed a THOW.
But some people, like Terry Lee Records and her husband Jason Nordhougen, got lucky and found a 650-square-foot home in North Fort Myers that they are fixing up.
“We found this little crappy house in North Fort Myers on the river and it was only $65,000 and…nothing worked in it, so we bought it and we started rehabbing it and it’s kind of charming,” said Records, a real estate broker who leads a Facebook group in Southwest Florida of more than 450 tiny house enthusiasts.
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Records and her husband gave up living in their 1,500-square-foot home and decided to go tiny five years ago.
“It’s about making choices of a simpler life,” she said.
Cape Coral contracting company, Caribbean Homes of America LLC, is also getting into the business of tiny homes.
The company’s website shows an option for a two-bedroom, one-bathroom home with 786 square feet of living space.
However, the option for the micro-cottage hasn’t been very popular for buyers.
“We really aren’t doing them anymore, just not a lot of homebuyers want them,” said Christian Haag, a sales agent that markets and sells homes for Caribbean. “Our payments on our smaller regular sized homes, like 1,300 square feet and up are still super affordable, so families are picking those instead.”
Is it cheaper to go tiny?
Tiny homes may be small, but the price tag can be bigger than one would think.
“Our target price range that we’d like to be at is around $75,000 to $150,000,” said Murphy.
Because of fixed costs being the same whether you build tiny or big, tiny houses cost less overall but cost more per square foot.
“Land cost is land cost, a toilet is a toilet, a fridge is a fridge, impact fees are impact fees, none of those prices change,” he said. “A typical builder wants to build a bigger and bigger house because it costs them less and less per square foot. Because we can’t do that, we need to hit volume and do bulk purchases to negotiate the lowest prices on our materials.”
Murphy hopes to be the developer that can make a tiny house community possible in Cape Coral to help give people the opportunity to reach home ownership.
“You can maybe buy a crappy condo for that much but not many people, especially young people, would want to do that,” he said.
According to data from Forbes, the average cost to build a tiny home yourself is $23,000 while the typical American home is 2,500 square feet, with an average listing price around $300,000.
Why go tiny?
If you’re wondering why someone would give up living in their big and comfortable home, Records is hosting an event in January to answer all your tiny house questions.
“I can clean my tiny house in half an hour,” she said. “You don’t have as much stuff to maintain and it’s cheaper.”
Records said some negatives of going tiny are financing and city and county codes and not much room for storage.
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But what does one do when family comes to town?
“You just have to think outside the box a little bit,” she said. “You just make other arrangements and rent another space when your family comes to town.”
Not sure if tiny is for you?
If you are still unsure whether you want to downsize and live the minimalist lifestyle, you can try out a tiny home through some local Airbnb hosts.
Lynsie Mackey has made a hobby out of flipping tiny homes and rents them out through Airbnb.
“People are very curious and want to check out what it’s like staying in a tiny house,” Mackey said. “It’s an easy way to sample what minimalist living would look and feel like.”
Mackey has two renovated tiny houses available for rent at the Fort Myers Beach RV Resort, both on wheels.
Although Mackey doesn’t live in a tiny home herself, after staying in one in Portland she fell in love and decided she wanted to flip tiny homes and turn them into vacation rentals.
“We loved how it felt like a blanket fort for adults…very small, cozy, but it was also encouragement to get out and explore,” she said.