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Big ideas, small houses

Small houses

These four small houses were delivered to their site near State Street in Boise on June 19. Owner Dana Zuckerman said the three one-bedroom houses will be priced in the mid-$140,000s, and the two-bedroom will be priced in the high $160,000s. Photo by Eric Allen.

Dana Zuckerman has done a lot of explaining since she decided to put four very small houses on one third-acre lot in the far reaches of Boise’s North End.

The houses, three with one bedroom and one with two bedrooms, measure between 580 and 696 square feet, not including the large front porch. They’re built on traditional poured concrete foundations and have all the amenities of larger homes, such as full sewer connections and full-size appliances.

Zuckerman fields a lot of questions about the size of the homes. When asked why she’s not building one big house there, she talks about a national trend toward simplifying life and avoiding the obligations that come with a large home.

“People want to live simply,” she said. “Young people don’t want to work all the time to pay their mortgage, and older people don’t want to maintain a large house, heating and cooling it. I really think that is the direction we’re going.”

Dana Zuckerman

Dana Zuckerman

For Zuckerman’s part, the project is an attempt to reverse a problem she’s been noticing for years: the lack of housing available for people who fall at the lower end of the income scale. The median annual household income in the Treasure Valley is around $50,000. She describes the homes as workforce housing.

“There is constantly a discussion about the missing middle,” said Zuckerman, who is on the board of the Capital City Development Corp. and has worked in urban planning. “Where is the average person making $30,000 to $40,000 going to live? Because now you have to move half an hour outside Boise to buy a house.”

Zuckerman’s houses were made at the modular home company United Family Homes in Caldwell and were placed on their foundations in Boise on June 19 with a 200-ton crane. When they’re ready for occupancy, the one-bedroom homes will cost in the mid $140,000s and the two-bedroom will be in the high $160,000s.

Everyone in the modular business these days takes pains to distinguish their dwellings from the trailer homes that proliferated in the 1960’s and 70’s, and United Family Homes is no different. Salesman Brent Stewart emphasized that the stick-built structures are identical to other wooden homes once they’re placed on site.

“They’re built to exactly the same code,” he said, adding that the homes are often purchased for use as vacation cabins or in-law dwellings. “It is considered a stick-built home as far as financing and everything.”

Alicia Ralston

Alicia Ralston

Although they haven’t advertised the homes, Zuckerman and her real estate agent, Alicia Ralston, have heard from a lot of curious would-be homeowners, many of them young professionals or retirees.

Ralston said she’s also taken calls from local investors who want to use the homes as vacation rentals. She and Zuckerman are steering clear of that route.

“Dana’s goal is to sell these four homes to the ‘school teacher, retiree, and/or young professional,'” Ralston said in an email.

While the home are small, they are far from tiny. Zuckerman considered building tiny homes – which can be as small as 200 to 300 feet – but decided that using the modular structures made more financial sense. The homes have full-size refrigerators, ranges and washer and dryers. They will have separate fenced yards with enough room for a few raised garden beds, and will have parking spots, not garages.

She’s not yet sure she’s going to make money on the project, but she has received so many inquiries about the homes that she and Ralston are already looking for another site to place more.

“I’ll learn from this what people want; maybe I can go smaller next time,” Zuckerman said. “I’d love to try 300-square-foot houses to see if there is a market for that.”

About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.

One comment

  1. Kudos to Dana. This is a fantastic idea. I’m squarely middle class and live in 1,700 square feet, yet constantly tell my wife I want to downsize.