A Housing Compromise?

This is a guest post by Dave, who is also looking to retire no later than 45, but unlike Tim has no kids and doesn’t want any. Dave is from Ontario and is working towards his CGA certification.

I have previously written of my desire to live in a Tiny House, something which my wife was not in favour of at all (I believe she mentioned I could live there by myself, but she had no interest in living in a little wooden box).  In the past little while, we have again discussed alternative living situations that could work when we reach retirement age.  Two living situations that she found suitable were somewhat surprising, since I think size-wise, they are smaller than the Tiny House that was previously kyboshed.

The first option came from reading the blog To Simplify– where the author, Glenn writes as he tours around the US in his camper-van with his cat.  I love this guy’s stories, and became totally enamoured with the van-living lifestyle.  The benefit of living in a van (from what I can see) is the ability to move around, and move someplace warm in the winter.  My wife and I are not terribly attached to snow, and the ability to get away from it is a huge sell.  Additionally, the ability to move around for part of the year is a huge sell – we would be able to have many different views to wake up to, different people to meet, and as an added bonus (for me, not so much my wife) year-round golf to be played.

For the rest of the year, my wife has agreed to (mainly on aesthetics and the “cool” factor) live in what boils down to a Hobbit-Hole (A nice example of this can be found here.  This type of house would be fairly comfortable to live in for 8 or 9 months of the year.  This type of house is cheap to build (depending on the type of house, they can be built between $10 and $25 per square foot). Besides being fairly (or ridiculously) cheap to build – they are low impact environmentally speaking (made mainly of dirt and wood) and easy to repair.  Because of the small size of the house and increasingly better technology, I’m hoping that living off the grid will be easier and cheaper to do by the time I reach retirement age, making location of the land much less of a factor.

I was surprised that my wife has agreed (for now, our projected retirement age is around 14 years away) to these “alternative” types of living, as both are either smaller or the same size as the Tiny House that was previously rejected.  With less space, we’ll have to get rid of most of our stuff (the square footage of the van is smaller than the king-sized bed we sleep in right now) which I am all for.

Cost-wise, I’m not sure how much different owning a touring van and a plot of land somewhere compares to my current situation, but I figure that if I sold my home, land can be had cheap depending on where it is, and a touring van can be found for a very reasonable price (and converted to a cheaper source of fuel if necessary)

What’s your idea of alternative housing?  Would you live in a dirt house, or a van?

11 thoughts on “A Housing Compromise?”

  1. Dave,

    Ironically I have been having the same discussion with my wife, but in a much different context. I just want to move across town to an older house in the more artistic part of town. While my wife doesn’t really care for the idea that much, she does admit she really liked the one house I found where her daycare could operate on an entirely separate floor from our living space. I believe the lesson here for everyone is look for a compromise: you might be surprised on what you get.


  2. I can’t imagine that sort of living arrangements. For me, I prefer a more traditional house with adequate space. In dire situations, of course I would reconsider but for now I’m happy with a reasonably big house for my family as long as I can afford it.

  3. What a timely blog for me. We just got back from Burlington, VT where we are converting a 23′ x 19′ (460 square feet) detached garage space (in the backyard of our daughter’s family house) into a one-bedroom apartment. We just got to see it with the walls framed out (no drywall yet). In anticipation of the winters, we splurged and had radiant floor heating and on-demand hot water facilities put in.

    We were a bit shaky at the prospect – and it will indeed be snug living – but we can see that it will truly work. It will give us a vacation home that is (literally) on the doorstep of our grandkids, within minutes of sailing, hiking and biking paths, and privy to a wonderfully funky town.

    And, coincidentally, we are calling this new adventure-site………… “The Hobbitat”. 🙂

  4. No dirt house or van for me but like Bajko Steve my husband and I are downsizing from a 3600 sq foot house to 700 sq foot townhouse. We spent $50,000 on the house and another $55,000 on remodeling. We estimate we will save about $12,000 yearly in property taxes, utilities and insurance … not to mention the repairs (roof, carpeting, etc) our house was going to need in the near future that we estimated were going to cost around $100,000.

    By the way, the maintenance is done by the co-op we are moving to which is an added benefit. And yes, it seems scary but we are giving it a go.

  5. Mobile home is a nice alternative and 2nd hand ones are at very reasonable price, esp when you have the cash after selling the house.

    And I am happy for you and your wife, Banjo Steve!

  6. Banjo Steve: Radiant Heat would be fairly reasonable on an apartment that size, sounds like my kind of “house”

    kaye: those are some major savings. I live in a townhouse condo and liked the “forced savings” aspect of condo fees, knowing that my roof, windows, doors and foundation (along with general outdoor maintenance) is looked after. I wouldn’t call it money well spent, but it reduces the pool of money I need to keep personally for major home repairs.

  7. We have been on a similar road as you Dave. We bought land in N.S. 4 years ago and will be re-locating in 3 years. This is our semi-retirement plan. We have a good deal of equity in our house and healthy savings. We will be building a strawbale home while living “off the grid”. We figure that after building our home we should still bank about $150G from the sale of our current home. My wife wants to continue to work b/c she loves what she does, myself…I will be happy with a $30G/year job and play lots of golf. We will be 45 yrs old and semi-retired. I love the idea of the Hobbit hole though…gave us something to think about given the strong winds in N.S.

  8. The drawback of the camper van, if it has about as much storage as my little motorhome (which is very little), is that you are really limited on what you can bring with you. It’s a good thing in some ways but a real pain in others.
    Say you have 2 little compartments in it – one for your bbq and 2 outdoor folding chairs – and that’s it – and one for life jackets, a bit of wood, a couple of fishing poles – and that’s it. We didn’t mind doing it for a couple of months this summer, but I wouldn’t want to mess around permanently with having to move bike helmets and all that stuff around inside all the time in order to be able to sit down or pull a bed out.

    Try an experiment where you live in say – 1/2 of your kitchen and everything you use has to fit in there. A couple I used to read online did that before moving into their 24′ View for the winters.

    There’s a neat plan for a berm house on city-data:
    This is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen:
    This would definitely be livable (not in a cold climate obviously):

  9. Steel barn building on slab foundation with radiant floor heat and 6″ insulation. Lots of square footage per dollar, easy to arrange interior walls, low maintenance, engineered building for easy code approval, etc. Just make sure you know how many/big your plumbing facilities should be.

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