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(TNS)—When Tom Alsani heard about plans for a tiny-home community in St. Petersburg, Fla., he got so excited he immediately wanted to know more.

“Right now I have a house with three bedrooms, but the kids are gone and I’m trying to downsize,” says Alsani, a quality-control inspector for furniture companies. “To me, a tiny house is very, very attractive. It’s a state of mind; it’s not about how big you have it but the level of contentment and happiness.”

Few housing options have captured the public imagination like tiny houses, seen as an affordable and, yes, adorable antidote to the excesses of modern life. Their appeal is wide—to empty nesters like Alsani, soon to be retired and living on Social Security, to millennials, too burdened with student loan debt to buy a normal-size house, and to vagabonds at heart who like the idea of packing up and hitting the road at a moment’s notice.

But for all the enthusiasm, the tiny house movement isn’t moving very fast. Financing, zoning laws and entrenched attitudes have conspired to limit tiny houses to a tiny percentage of the nation’s housing stock.

“With tiny homes, because it has a new name and is not called an RV or a mobile home, people don’t know how to treat it,” says Preston Melson, a partner in a St. Petersburg company that makes tiny houses.

Today, though, “tiny house” typically means a dwelling of 400 square feet or less on wheels. While the mobility is attractive, it has impeded the widespread acceptance of tiny homes.

Legally, wheeled houses are considered recreational vehicles and are generally restricted to RV parks by county and municipal zoning laws. Many so-called “tiny homers” don’t want to live in RV parks, however, because they cater primarily to vacationers, not permanent residents.

Owners who don’t plan to move their tiny homes can build them as permanent structures on vacant land where zoning permits; thus, the challenge of tiny houses “is where to put them,” Melson says. “That’s the No. 1 enemy.”

Paying for tiny houses is getting easier. Since 2013, SunTrust’s LightStream division has offered tiny-home loans—actually, personal, non-secured loans of up to $100,000—for as long as seven years. Interest rates range from 4.04 percent to 11.04 percent, depending on the borrower’s credit history. (The minimum score is 660, and the applicant must have some assets like a 401(k) or stock.)

Though it has fewer borrowers than for car and home improvement loans, the market for tiny-home loans “punches above its weight,” says Julie Olian, LightStream’s vice president of Public Relations. “Our portfolio has grown as the market has increased. It’s a great way to get a first home and it’s one that’s flexible in terms of where it is [located].”

©2018 Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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