You’ve probably seen the videos where you’re walked through a picture-perfect tiny home on an idyllic section. 

The incredibly clever storage! Off the grid wonders! People who can live with three shirts and a pair of pants! 

When it works, it really works

But sometimes getting it to work can mean jumping through all sorts of hoops – building rules that vary from council to council, resource consents, rules on off-grid living, financing, finding a section to live on.

And worse: hoping the cash you’ve forked out in advance doesn’t disappear with your builder. 

Lydia and her husband Anton have been living in a tiny house near Wellington measuring just seven metres by 2.5 metres. It’s three metres high, so that allows for two lofts. 

The move helped them get out of an expensive flatting situation, but soon they’ll be moving again, as they’re in the process of buying a (regular-sized) townhouse. 

Lydia tells The Detail how the couple got their tiny house built during Covid lockdowns, including the impossibility of getting a mortgage, and how they adjusted to a new way of living.

“You do have to change your lifestyle a bit living on solar power,” she admits. 

Sharla May also lives in a tiny house, but her own disasters in tiny living led her to start a group to help others navigate their way through. 

“I was stuck in that rent trap, like a lot of people are, and wanted to do a tiny house, but didn’t know how I’d be able to do it because I couldn’t use KiwiSaver to put towards it,” she says. 

Her entry was the opposite way around to Lydia – she first bought a home in Whanganui, did it up, and sold it to get her finance for the tiny house.

May is the organiser of the New Zealand Tiny Homes Expo and runs two tiny homes websites: Tiny House Hub and Landshare. Her first expo in 2017 only attracted 70 people – but by 2022, this surged to over 10,000 interested punters.

She talks about the uninsured disaster that prompted her to get involved in helping with advice. 

“A lot of people have a lot of different reasons [to move into a tiny house], but a big majority are doing it because they’re wanting to release equity in a house,” she says. 

From the data she’s collected from her website, the biggest demographic expressing interest is those aged over 45 – they make up 67 percent of the tiny house market. Just over 70 percent are women – many of them near retirement and worried all their money is tied up in a big family home.

If you think the interest would have come from young people trying to get a foot on the property ladder, massive cost increases – including for building materials and freight – have largely put a stopper on that. It’s no longer a budget option. 

“The cost has ballooned a lot with inflation and things, but it’s also hard for them to get financing,” she says. 

Gill Higgins investigated NZ Modular Homes for TVNZ’s Fair Go in May 2023. Photo: TVNZ

Another issue is many tiny house building companies have fallen over

Gill Higgins is a reporter for TVNZ’s Fair Go and did an investigation into a dodgy tiny homes company earlier this year.

“This is an industry that unfortunately has leant itself to things going wrong,” she says. 

A boom in the tiny house sector has meant a lot of people coming on board were looking for a way to make a quick buck.

“We started to notice that a lot of these companies were set up by people that weren’t honouring contracts with customers.”

Listen to the full podcast for Gill’s advice on scouting for a builder and avoiding the pitfalls.

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Tom Kitchin is the co-host of The Detail podcast

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