It's not about the house.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Think Small

There’s a thing in today’s New York Times – the Escapes section, which can be about anything from a spa around the corner to a four-star hotel in Macchu Picchu – about very, very small houses. Shacks, really. None bigger than 450 square feet, made in a factory and delivered to you whole, for plopping down on land you already own that just doesn’t have a roof yet.

Sounds like a good deal at first. You couldn’t raise a family there, but if it’s just you – or you and someone – and you didn’t need much, you could pay cash for one of these wee things (one of the companies that makes them actually calls itself weeHouse) and live as comfortably as you ever did in that studio apartment you used to pay $1000 for. (I know some of you maybe never lived in a studio apartment, and if you did maybe you didn’t pay $1000, but still, you see what I’m saying.)

Except here’s the thing: The headline touts them as alternatives to a McMansion – sorry, to another McMansion. Apparently you’re not supposed to put this on your half-acre in an affordable suburb; you’re supposed to put it on your 160 acres outside of Aspen, or your 1200 on the edge of wine country, that you bought to get away from the hustle and bustle of the 6500 square foot bungalow you had built in New Rochelle. So you don’t, you know, put any more of a “footprint” on the land than you already have with your Hummer and your private jet.

But still, maybe it trickles down. Maybe they create them for the well-to-do and the rest of us get the runoff.

Actually, maybe even that’s not entirely fair. Another company created theirs for hurricane survivors. They call it the “Katrina Cottage” which, though perhaps not the most sensitive appellation ever, still gets points for nobility of vision.

So how much do these wee things cost? Well, the weeHouses start at $65,000 and go all the way up to $140,000 – “depending on the region and the number of modules,” whatever the hell that means – which does not include “site preparation and utilities hookup.” And that’s a bargain. Other brands don’t even include delivery.

Katrinas, for example, start at $27,000 and don’t include construction. Most of us don’t have to worry about them because they’re only available in Katrina-affected states. (Soon you’ll be able to buy one from any Lowe’s – and I’m sure, if my experience with Blowe’s is any indication, they’ll set you up just right.) But by the time those poor folks are done paying for construction and foundation and heating and everything else, it’s got to come to twice that, and if you’re spending $60K to put a 308 square-foot thing on land you already own, it seems to me that in rural Mississippi you could probably get some bigger existing thing for very little more.

But okay, you own the land in Mississippi and you don’t want to sell it. You really just need a roof over your head until you can rebuild the house you used to have. What are your options?

The cheapest listing in the Times is “$8500 for a 10-foot-square cabana [that’s 100 square feet, for those of you unwilling to do the math] without options [whatever those may be]. Installation, foundation and delivery not included.” There’s a photograph of the cabana. It looks like a barnboard port-a-potty with sliding doors. Except apparently you’d have to buy a port-a-potty, too, because even if you sprung for the foundation and utilities, where would you put a toilet in 100 square feet of living space?

I think I’m admitting now that these things aren’t for the rest of us. And I think what they’re trying to say is, your grandfather’s fishing cabin wasn’t good enough. If you’re lucky enough to have a second space to call your second home, you need to spend assloads of cash to get something less cozy but a little more designed… and for all that extra money you still get to do your business in the woods.

Talk about footprints. Try explaining that to the big old bear that comes a-knockin’ on your ten-square-foot port-a-potty.

At least until you get around to building that McMansion.

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