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Tiny House Living: Renting Land Versus Owning Land

Guest Post by Debra Jordan of How to Live in 320 Square Feet

This is when to buck conventional wisdom.  There are a lot of great books on being mortgage free.  “Buy the best land possible with the least amount of money” is some advice often given.  If you search the phrase “When NOT to buy land” or something similar, your effort would result fruitless.  So I am writing the first article on the web EVER about when NOT to buy land. *disclaimer….I often exaggerate.

When we decided to get our tiny house, the first questions asked was “Where ya gonna put it”?”.  Good question.  I thought I wanted land.  My own land.  You are supposed to own land.  So off we went to look.  Here I what I found:

In our area, where I WANT TO LIVE, land is going for $15,000 to $30,000 an acre!  Thank you Wal-Mart.  20 years ago my parents bought land for $500 an acre, 10 acres total.  That land just sold for $15,000 an acre.

Our county requires a minimum of three acres per house if you want to build in the country.

Debras Tiny House Video Tour and Buying vs Renting Land

To build in the country, often there is no access to water, and you must dig a well.  My parents water well cost them $10,000.  Here is a good article I read on calculating the cost of  digging a water well:  Digging a Well, What You Need To Know

Sometimes the land does not perk.  If you are fortunate, and it does, you have to put in the septic tank.  This will cost between $3,000 to $7,000.

So here is the breakdown:

  • $40,000 minimum for land
  • $4,500 for septic tank
  • $6,500 for water
  • Electric hookup, this will vary depending on how far in you want your house.  Up to $75.00 linear foot.
  • Property taxes.  We paid $960 a year three years ago on a 2,000 square foot home.
  • Factor into all this our ages.  My husband is 60, I am 45.  I do not need land, I need savings.  My son needs savings for his education.

These obstacles are not insurmountable, it is just that I do not want to exert that much effort when my real goal is to TRAVEL!

Now, this is what it ‘costs’ us to rent:

  • $125.00 a month.  In the summer we rent for free, since the land we rent has a good garden plot, we are able to grow our own vegetables, saving at least that amount per month.  So, in reality, we only pay about $80.00 per month, (possibly less) for space to park our home.
  • The next reason we do not own land is freedom.  For this reason alone many people rent.  You can pick up and go, not have to deal with selling your land.  If I leave after three years (which I may.  My ageing mother-in-law may need help, we have freedom to go), I only have ‘invested’ $3,000.  If I sell my house and land (supposing I purchased), I will likely have to pay that much in closing costs and fees.
  • Property taxes – $0.00 Just because that is the way it is.  The savings on property tax alone would pay a significant part of our rent.
  • Low overhead for our business.  I split the rent between our business and our personal expenses.   How many business rent a space for $40.00 a month?

So, this is where I live:

To learn more about Debra visit her website where she shows you how to live in 320 square feet or less.

You can also see photos of her 320 square foot tiny house at Tiny House Living where she submitted her tiny house pictures.

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Alex

Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 21 comments… add one }
  • EmmaJ April 19, 2012, 1:18 pm

    So, where did she find this plot of land to rent?

  • Debra Jordan April 19, 2012, 2:47 pm

    It is in an old mobile home park. Interestingly, because of WalMart and the vendors in the area, it became unfashionable to live in a trailer park 🙂 One must have a McMansion in this area….so many parks in our area are becoming unoccupied. This park could have up to 12 homes, we have 4. I have been here almost three years, and there are no new neighbors, we are the newbies. It is also situated outside of city limits, so it is a relative secret.

  • Rebecca April 19, 2012, 8:54 pm

    While I agree that owning land is not the best idea for someone who wants to travel and have a significant amount of freedom of movement, your figures are significantly exaggerated for most people who want to buy land.

    First, anyone who wants to buy land and put a tiny house on it is going to move somewhere where land is cheaper and does not have such restrictions.

    Secondly, composting toilets can legally take the place of a septic system in all 50 states.

    Third, $10,000 is very pricey for a well, and a cistern and rooftop catchment will easily take the place of one in most climates.

    Finally, if you think you’re getting out of paying property taxes, you’re kidding yourself. You are paying your landlord’s property taxes. He or she is not in the business of losing money. Those taxes are just very low because of the fact that you live in a trailer park.

    • Debra April 19, 2012, 10:38 pm

      Hi Rebecca,

      Yes, it depends on where you want to live. I want to stay close to my family, and this is the reality for our area. I built a house here four years ago, and these are the prices I paid, no exaggeration! As the article is titled, this is why I rent :0 Kudos to those who can purchase land – in the areas where they want to live.

      • Debra April 20, 2012, 12:14 am

        As for the composting toilet, yes, it works well, but to hook up to the utilities (water and electric, again, in MY area) we had to have everything inspected and done according to the rules and regulations of the municipality where we live. A composting toilet might be ‘legal’ in the state where I live, but the electric and water companies would not allow me to use it AND hook up to the grid. Trust me, I checked. I could even dig my own well, but the electric company would not pass the inspection that would allow me to live in my dwelling. It would be so cool to have solar panels and be totally free……

        Now, for property taxes, I pay a flat rate of $125.00 a month. Yes, I live in a trailer park.

        I am thinking that if I live in this park for twenty-thirty years, I will probably be kicking myself for not having purchased that land 🙂

    • Claudia April 27, 2012, 9:03 am

      @Rebecca,

      I think it’s great that you live in an area where buying land is such a bargain that paying $125 a month in pad rental fees is considered expensive, but that’s not the case for many of us. Especially for those who prefer to live in, or near, cities, whether for work or family reasons.

      Frankly, I think Debra’s got a very sweet setup. I would love to pay so little for a roof over my head — kudos to you and thank you for sharing your inspiring story, Debra!

  • jim sadler April 28, 2012, 3:45 pm

    Rental can be better than owning. It can certainly cost less. Another advantage is that some people want or need to be hard to be found and rental can aid in that. For instance a woman with a violent, former husband may want to be very hard to locate.
    Also one can rent a work space and simply move the tiny home in and out of the work space so that there is no actual housing expense and hook into the utilities inside the business when not working.If set up correctly there should be no phone bill, electric bill, or any other bill with the business address or your name on it. You will need the help of one trusted person to do this. But as long as your name is not connectible to the business you will not be discovered.

  • Cathy April 28, 2012, 3:49 pm

    I love hearing about creative alternative choices as I try to find a happy, affordable nook to call my home. I want nothing more than to build a cob house and live off the grid, but the cost of land stops me dead in my track. I am thankful for this alternate perspective. This posting has planted some new seeds of thought for me. Thank you for sharing with us Debra! Bravo!

    • Alex May 4, 2012, 1:16 pm

      Hey Cathy glad you got something out of Debra’s post and experiences. Wishing you the best! Alex

  • Teri April 28, 2012, 5:22 pm

    Debra, I really enjoyed your article on rent/buy …..thank you!
    Curious about your little house. It must be on a trailer if you live in a trailer park, yes? But how can you get 320 sq. ft. on a trailer? And it looks like you have a downstairs bedroom? Did you build it with commercial plans or design your own?
    I’m a couple of years away from my own tiny house, so I’m in research-mode. Thanks for your help!
    Teri

    • Alex May 4, 2012, 1:18 pm

      Hey Teri I think it’s because she has two little houses on trailers. Hope that makes sense! 🙂

  • james May 6, 2012, 5:52 am

    Debra, I am researching where to locate a tiny house. Apparently moving one into a mobile park was no problem for you. Is that the case with other mobile home parks too? If so it seems like a viable option. Thanks, James

  • Saifa September 21, 2013, 2:54 pm

    Debra,

    Thanks for your post. Do you know of any trailer parks in northern California at or around that price for rental?

  • Acajudi February 23, 2014, 2:52 pm

    Rents,and utilities are too high, and this is an option. Thank you.

  • Tripp May 8, 2014, 11:19 pm

    Hi there Debra. I don’t suppose you are still checking this or not, but I’d love to talk to you about this. I am trying to explore my options right now and custom building a tiny home seems to be a WONDERFUL options to owning my own place AND saving money while doing it. How did you come about your tiny house? Did you build it and if so, what was the process like? Any and all advise or an openness to chat would be FANTASTIC!

    thanks, look forward to hearing back from you! 😀

  • Dianne June 29, 2014, 6:01 pm

    I’d rather shoot myself than live in a trailer park. Sometimes the little savings aren’t worth it. I’m in Los Angeles, California. I am and can buy land in Canyon Country, just 29 miles outside the city, in a pretty exclusive area for less than 40,000. I travel a ton and will continue to do so. Land zoned for residential use. I’ve also worked hard all my life and have done pretty well for myself. Blaming the laws, city regulations and the cost of land and permits is a cop out. Blame yourself for not doing well enough in your life to acquire the things you want.

  • A July 31, 2014, 8:30 am

    Why blame anybody at all? Why assume that not being able to afford housing costs is the result of not doing well in life? I know many hard-working people who can’t. I myself have a master’s, and I also work a skilled trade, but can’t afford even an apartment in our area. Even with my and my partner’s combined income, we’d still go broke trying to rent or own.

    This movement is a reaction to a changing national and global economy, and so your attempt to come here and shame others for wanting to try a different way makes no sense to me. Just my opinion.

  • Jan March 14, 2015, 7:44 pm

    Mobile home parks in my area charge $750 per month for the space. Count your blessings!

  • gd August 10, 2015, 12:09 pm

    I wish there would be more content on how to find land available for lease. Besides cold calling people in areas where neighbors probably wouldn’t want a tiny home or it would be illegal, do tiny home dwellers have a solution to deal without a well? That would mean you could try the rural areas and contact farmers through the plat books. When we owned a hobby farm, farm land rented out for crops at $50-$300 per acre per season where we lived. (Go to a local USDA office and look up typical rent prices.) Rain barrels and buying water might fill most needs, I imagine, but that would be limited to areas that get enough rain, and then there’s winter..

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