The Big Opportunity for Tiny Houses

By Jane Whitttington on May 26th, 2015 / Comments

In these days of McMansions, conspicuous consumption and rampant overspending, some people are turning to simpler living and considering tiny houses. In fact, take a look around, and you’ll see that tiny houses are coming into their own. Home and Garden Television, the DIY channel, Country Living magazine and other print publications, newspapers and online websites are touting the allure of the tiny house movement.  And now that there is even a Wikipedia entry, it seems the trend is here to stay.

In Michigan, there are only two tiny house entrepreneurs, one in Novi and one in Hudsonville, just south of Grand Rapids. Travis Rabenberg, born and raised in Hudsonville, had been living on a boat in California and using it as home-base while he spent time exploring the world. (He has visited five continents and is planning an adventure in Antarctica to round out his travel portfolio.) His work in sales was satisfying, but he wanted to be his own boss. After living on a boat, he realized that “small” living was not only possible but cost-effective, comfortable and practical.

The home that Rabenberg takes to home shows and uses as an example to show potential buyers is 10 feet x 20 feet; he plans to move into it in November. Unlike the average size of a home built in Kent County in 2014, which is 2,538 square feet, this tiny house is less than 200 square feet. Because of its size, in most places, it doesn’t require a permit as a typical home might. In fact, it is zoned as a shed.

According to Rabenberg, “When I moved back to Michigan after my years in California, I was interested in buying a house, and I found it a difficult and expensive process. I started looking at the statistics relating to home ownership by millennials, people aged 24 to 34. A surprisingly high percentage of them move back into their parents’ home after graduating from college. The average college graduate today is carrying $23,000 of student debt and $10,000 worth of other debts like credit cards, car payments and the like. With this kind of debt, it’s almost impossible to buy a house. I started hearing about so-called ‘tiny houses’, and it caught my attention.”

He continues, “One of my tiny houses can be loaded onto a flatbed truck and delivered, complete with everything except furniture, for about $39,000.”

Rabenberg adds, “Once I started the business, I began getting calls from empty-nesters, a market I hadn’t even thought about. With their retirement savings not on a par with their expectations, this kind of living is a draw for them as well. House payments are ridiculously low, and with all the ‘green’ features of the home, utilities can run as low as $200 a year. And mortgage payments run about $300 a month.”

Customers can also use the tiny house as a vacation home, fishing or hunting cabin, rental property, guest quarters, an artist’s studio or writer’s retreat.  It’s possible to live completely off the grid or connect to existing utilities.

Rabenberg is self-funded, but is receiving a lot of attention from investors throughout the world. In fact, he just returned from Dubai where he met with investors and developers.

Rabenberg reports that developers from Chicago are interested in building a “tiny town” near the campus of Grand Valley State University with the idea of appealing to college students.

The homes are manufactured in North Muskegon where Rabenberg has about 15 employees.





The unit itself is surprisingly spacious, if that word can be used to describe a tiny house. With windows on all sides, natural light is abundant. There is a sleeping loft, accessed by a moveable ladder. It’s also possible to install a Murphy bed. The kitchen has granite countertops, a large sink and a roomy refrigerator. There isn’t a range, but it’s possible to use a microwave, toaster oven and/or hot plate. A walk-in closet provides storage. The bathroom is what Rabenberg called a “wet bathroom.” That is, when the door is closed, the entire room functions as a shower. The toilet is a composting model.

Rabenberg’s innovative ideas have received considerable attention both from the press and the public. In fact, no lesser a figure than Richard Branson, English businessman and investor who founded Virgin Airlines, has asked Rabenberg to be one of 100 entrepreneurs Branson has invited to a conference in July.

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Photos via Mi Tiny home.

About the Author

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Grand Rapids. A Michigan native and Michigan State University grad, she enjoys reading, travel, politics and volunteering.