4 Things to Know Before Buying A Tiny House in Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles real estate agents share their advice for potential tiny house dwellers.

U.S. News & World Report

4 Things to Know Before Buying A Tiny House in Los Angeles, California

Homes in the largest suburbs in United States, "The Valley." San Fernando Valley, part of the city/county of Los Angeles, California.(Getty Images)

Due to the skyrocketing costs of real estate in Los Angeles and the growing trend towards living a minimalistic lifestyle, more people are considering alternatives to the traditional residential living spaces like single-family homes, condos and apartments. One of those options is a tiny house.

And what exactly is a tiny house? It’s a compact version of a house, really. Tiny homes are often built to fit on trailers for transportation or even on-the-road living, but many tiny homeowners choose to set down roots on a piece of land in their neighborhood and treat their small unit as a traditional house. While some buyers decide to build their own from existing floor plans, others choose ready-made options that vary based on sizing and layout designs.

The structures, which can be built as small as 70 square feet all the way up to a few hundred square feet, are a great way to downsize, and they offer a unique solution to the affordable housing conundrum in which the sprawling metro area finds itself. But these homes also create a few problems of their own. Keller Williams Realty agent Richard Schulman warns, “The idea of buying land and magically dropping a house on it is not a money-saver.”

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

But for many potential “tiny homers,” the financial benefit of a tiny home investment is not its sole intention, anyway. Instead, these buyers want to dismantle the super-sized American lifestyle of expanding square footage which can be unfriendly to urban living in Los Angeles, and also on its way out in the growing city.

Curious to know if the "tiny house" lifestyle is a good fit for you? To help answer that question we've gathered advice from some of Los Angeles’ top real estate agents. Here are some tips those agents want buyers to know before joining the tiny house movement.

Know your building codes. Potential landowners should first call the city to see if their desired lot is connected to city utility lines and is zoned for building before taking any further steps. If it is, tiny home owners can skip filing for some of the building permits that would be required to build a regular house.

But one major hurdle remains: a foundation. Even structures like a shed or a garage require foundations, thanks to the bevy of seismic activity we’re used to in Southern California; ergo, so does your tiny house.

Once you match up the code requirements to your piece of property and your potential dwelling, take a moment to consider the pros and cons of buying a plot of land for your tiny home. “In an area like ours, with lots of eyeballs on the market, no one misses an opportunity to buy some land,” says Schulman. In other words, if there’s no house on it yet, there is probably a reason for that.

Price your foundation first. Tracy Do, a real estate agent with Compass Realty, has sold several small, fixed properties on the east side of Los Angeles that could qualify as small (if not tiny). These structures started out as shotgun shacks put up by railroad workers of the 1910s and 1920s, but she hasn’t seen this latest iteration of the “tiny house” concept come to fruition yet. “We’ve certainly had clients come to us with that concept, but no one has executed it.”

A possible problem, Do mentions, is the hilly neighborhoods. “Once you get to a hillside, you’ve got to put the house on a flat foundation. And it can cost anywhere from $250,000 to $300,000 to lay the base of the foundation.”

This, in addition to the cost of the land, can turn a tiny homer’s dream of a $35,000 house into a nearly half-million dollar investment.

Find a flat lot. To minimize your foundation cost, finding a flat piece of land is crucial. While central Los Angeles has a lot of flat places, they can be almost as expensive as buying a regular-size home itself, so buyers should prepare to make an extensive search to find the perfect flat property.

Further outside of the city, in northern areas such as Chatsworth and Sherman Oaks and southern areas such as Compton, Paramount and Downey there are some flat pieces of land available, often coming in under $100,000, according to listings on Zillow.

Embrace mobility. Many tiny house owners choose to keep their home on wheels, which could also be a more permanent solution. As long as homes are built and certified by Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), they are allowed in the same backyards and RV parks as standard RVs and mobile homes.

There are very few regulations that have been created for tiny home ownership thus far, and they are subject to change as the movement gains momentum and popularity. Keeping your home on wheels for now may mean avoiding a costly investment in a foundation or property before rules are ironed out.

Potential tiny home owners should call ahead to RV parks and find out their rules and space rental rates. In the Los Angeles area, Oxnard’s Evergreen RV Park, as well as several Inland Empire parks, welcome tiny home dwellers. For those who do become tiny home owners, the Tiny House Community has resources and provides options on locating a place to park your home.

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