Nestled among the tens of thousands of new construction homes built across Arizona over the last couple of years, you’ll find a smattering of tiny houses that defy convention.
These aren’t traditional four-bedroom ranches or sprawling pueblos with a glimmering swimming pool in the backyard. They are small, they are inexpensive, and they are niche. Interest in these tiny homes has created an equally tiny industry for the handful of builders who are constructing the units, which can serve as backyard in-law suites or standalone housing.
“I would say maybe 70 percent of our clients are using these as additions and guest houses,” said Zander Diamont, co-owner of Scottsdale-based Minimal Living Concepts. “We are looking to begin developing these units as homes and developments. We get calls on almost a weekly basis from people saying, ‘Hey, do you have these for sale?”
What is a tiny home in Arizona?
In Maricopa County, a tiny house must be at least 200 square feet but no more than 400 square feet (the latest U.S. Census put the average size of a Phoenix home at 2,500 square feet). However, if the tiny home is licensed as a travel vehicle, the state treats it differently.
Permanently rooted tiny homes in Arizona must meet the same building code demands as a traditional home. But there are several differences in the code that are size specific.
- The ceiling in the habitable space and hallways needs to be at least six feet, eight inches (bathrooms and kitchens can be six feet, four inches)
- There must be a roof access window or skylight, which can double as an emergency escape.
- They require less insulation than a regular home.
- The houses range in price depending on location and features but generally hover near the $50,000 mark.
‘There’s a really big opportunity here’
Two of Minimal Living Concepts’ models, Live and Dwell, contain 522 and 1,044 square feet of livable space, respectively. In its 18 months as a business, the founders say they have seen an uptick in interest as buyers look for more options in a booming market.
Diamont is from Los Angeles, and his business partner Jared Amzallag is from Phoenix. Diamont has a real estate background, and Amzallag was transitioning into the industry. They met in L.A. but moved to Phoenix when the pandemic began. They had hoped to start working on developments in L.A. but decided to take their ambition to Phoenix.
“We found a project to build 15 townhouses that was going to break ground in about five months,” Diamont said. “But that was a rezoning project [that took a long time]. During that span, we started Minimal Living Concepts, and we initially had very small aspirations. It was kind of a side hustle. We were going to build backyard offices for people during COVID.
“Suddenly, we got more and more calls from people wanting large products, different products, different applicability. We went from something we thought was going to be one or two or a few units per month to five to 10 per month. And that was with very little advertising. We started thinking to ourselves, ‘You know, there’s a really big opportunity here.’ It could very much lend into future developments where we could actually use these units to build affordable, smaller entry-level housing.
“I would say maybe 70 per cent of our clients are using these as additions and guest houses. The other 30 per cent are using these units as standalone homes. We are looking to begin developing these units as homes and developments [in the next few months]. We get calls on almost a weekly basis from people saying, ‘Hey, do you have one of these for sale?’ There’s considerable demand for that specific product type.”
‘There was a line of people wrapped around the place’
Mary Beth and Mike Partanna founded Phoenix-based Uncharted Tiny Homes in 2016 to improve on the tiny home options they saw available.
“Mike was a contractor for 12 years,” Mary Beth said. “He was remodeling homes, fixing other contractors’ mistakes. One night, we saw a documentary on tiny home living. It wasn’t quite a thing yet. And he said, ‘You know, I think I can do this better. Let me try it.’ He built it all himself. We debuted it at a Phoenix Home and Garden Show, and there was a line of people wrapped around the place to see the tiny home.
That’s when we kind of figured that Phoenix had a market for tiny homes. We did some research on different builders and found that there really wasn’t anyone here. We kind of brought it to the Phoenix area, and the rest is history. I was born and raised here — it’s the only place I’ve ever lived. It had no choice but to do it in Phoenix.”
“It’s been pretty steady since we started,” Mary Beth said. “We started with just a couple of clients, and then it grew over the years. I think everything that’s been going on with COVID and the housing market has heightened our sales a bit. Tiny homes appeal to everyone. It’s not just the minimalist nomads. We’ve done everything from mother-in-law suites to RV-style tiny homes that people take across the country with them. So, that has definitely helped our sales quite a bit.”
Minimal Living Concepts has also noticed an increasing demand for tiny homes in Phoenix.
“There was built-in demand,” Diamont said. “There were people who couldn’t find or didn’t have avenues to do it. There’s just such a huge percentage of the population here that doesn’t even know that we’re an option yet. So, we’ve kind of doubled our advertising. Everybody is kind of pulling back right now because of what’s going on economically, but we’re actually kind of taking the opposite approach and we’re going to continue to do so for the company.”
‘You don’t have to be minimalistic nomads to enjoy living in a tiny home’
People may picture an archetypical buyer for a tiny home as a hippie-type setting up a minimalist refuge in the desert. Still, the builders said all kinds of buyers show up looking for ways to minimize their lives and stretch their savings.
“I think the biggest misconception is about minimalism,” Mary Beth said. “Tiny homes appeal to anyone. You don’t have to be minimalistic nomads to enjoy living in a tiny house. They’re really beautiful spaces. We try to keep them open and make the rooms feel as big as possible.
“We’ve built quite a few for families. We actually designed and built one for a family in Williams, Arizona, and they have three kids. We designed one of our models, called The Manor for them, and they’re up there living their lives, doing the tiny home thing. These are for families, too. It’s surprising, but people do it all the time.”
Tiny homes as a family option
From grandmas to kids returning after college, tiny homes serve a purpose for many household members.
“Multigenerational housing has been super surprising to us, and it’s not something we anticipated at all,” Diamont said. “But, it also kind of plays into the whole COVID [issue]. Maybe you’re a homeowner, and grandma is getting older. She might be expecting to move into a retirement community. That’s a very expensive process, and you don’t get anything back for doing it. With a lot of our clients what happens is grandma maybe has a nest egg saved up or just, you know, the homeowner does. [The families say], ‘Hey, we’re gonna go build this Live unit for grandma. And once grandma is done with this unit, we’re gonna have a ton of added value that’s really basically a gift from her. And now we’re going to use this as a guest house.’
“Or maybe Timmy is moving back from college, trying to save money. He and the family want to be near each other, but the parents don’t really want him in the house. This creates an option for people to stay close, but not too close.”
Customizations can come into play when you’re building for multiple people to live in one tiny space. Much like large production builders, they must become masters of creativity and problem-solving.
“We really strive to keep the feeling of a more residential home with bigger spaces,” Mary Beth said. “We don’t really do hallways, so you really optimize the space. For example, The Manor [for the family with three children] is 11 feet wide. You definitely need permits to tow that from location to location. That model, in particular, has one very large loft, basically spanning the whole home.
“With the kids, they each needed their own space. Mike said, ‘Hey, why don’t we take half of the loft and make bunk rooms for each child, so they each have their own little space to sleep. Then the rest of the loft is their playroom. Meanwhile, the kitchen, living room and then the parents’ room are all downstairs. We were sectioning out different spaces of the house, per family member. It’s really how we appeal to the families.”
Tiny homes and accessibility
For senior buyers and homeowners with disabilities, customizations can make the home compatible with the American Disabilities Act (ADA).
“We noticed that with our lofted designs, we were kind of leaving out a whole clientele,” Mary Beth said. “It was elderly people or people with disabilities, where they can’t climb stairs or crouch in a loft. Mike designed The Flat, which works for anyone, but it really is tailored toward the elderly.
“The clientele has one bedroom downstairs and is basically like a little apartment. It’s just a tiny house that someone can put in their backyard and still be close to their family member. We really tailor it to the client and what their specific needs are. We are even able to build a tiny home that’s completely ADA accessible.”
Minimal Living Concepts constructs its homes onsite, making ADA-accessible customizations a breeze.
“We’ve done that for multiple clients where we made the bathroom wider [to make it ADA accessible],” Diamont said. It’s one of the benefits of building on site. It’s no problem for me to switch up a floor plan and make a unit bigger, stretch it out, move it around because I’m not it’s not changing how my warehouse operates. It’s just changing lines on a page.”
Tiny home challenges
One of the best questions people have about tiny homes is about zoning – what’s permitted and what isn’t.
“Occasionally there are some issues,” Mary Beth said. “But those are the people who expect to buy a lot in the greater Phoenix area and have the tiny home be the only thing on that parcel of land, because there are zoning restrictions. Another question we get pretty often is, ‘Can you take them off the trailer and attach them to the ground?’ Which physically, yes, we do design our trailers in order to have that happen. However, zoning just won’t [allow that]. It’s not conducive to zoning in Phoenix, as far as room sizes, lofts and everything like that.”
While Minimal Living Concepts homes aren’t subject to the tiny home regulations set by Arizona law due to their size, they also have to consider zoning.
“Sometimes, a backyard is just too small,” Diamont said. “But we do have the benefit of having really large lots here in Arizona. It’s one of the reasons why this works so well. Often, we can fit our unit in as an accessory dwelling.”
Still a new concept
While the tiny homes are gaining in popularity, they are still a novelty in many parts of North America. In Toronto – Canada’s largest city and the fourth-largest in North America – the so-called garden suites are only just being introduced as infill options. Toronto homeowners will now be able to build garden suites on their property after an appeal of the bylaw was dismissed by the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) this month.
“This is good news and it will help get some more housing built. Garden suites are often a way to create homes for family members – parents, grandparents or adult children – or can be used as rental housing units,” Mayor John Tory said in a press release.
“The Garden Suites regulations approved earlier this year represent a ‘Made In Toronto’ solution with sensible regulations to protect neighbours, trees/greenspace and gentle density. Allowing garden suites across Toronto is a key step forward in expanding housing choice within the City’s neighbourhoods and creating a more inclusive and resilient city for current and future residents,” he added.
As Toronto is facing high demand for a variety of housing types across the affordability spectrum, garden suites are regarded as “one solution to increase housing choice and access for current and future Toronto residents,” according to the City.
Construction permits for garden suites can now be given out. If a proposed garden unit meets height and setback criteria in addition to applicable bylaw standards, only a building permit application is required. In the case where a garden suite proposal doesn’t meet zoning bylaw requirements, applicants can seek a minor variance application at the Committee of Adjustment, the city stated in its press release.
“Garden suites and other initiatives to expand housing options in low-rise neighbourhoods are key to creating a diverse mix of housing choice that is affordable and accommodates people at all stages of life, household size and income level,” said chair of the planning and housing committee, Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão. “The garden suites initiative will create gentle density increases where residents have access to parks, schools and main street businesses and restaurants.”
The ability to do more with less
After living the corporate life in north Scottsdale for several years, Justin and Rachel Beers knew that they wanted more out of life — both for themselves and their three young sons. They were tired of city living, and the frustrations of being apart so much, due to work and education obligations that saw them running their children to a school 45 minutes away. The wanted to create a tiny home business. They also wanted to take the plunge of tiny living for themselves.
“It really intrigued us as a way to get rid of the big mortgage payments,” said Justin Beers.”To leave the corporate job, become less dependent on a on a salary, and get to a lifestyle that we we all wanted. We wanted to spend time with each other and watch our kids grow up. When you have children, you blink and before you know it, they’re five years old. We knew that that time is fleeting and important. And we wanted to take steps to to make that lifestyle possible.”
The Beers became tiny home owners in 2019 and opened the Hummingbird Tiny Home Inn that same year. The Inn is located about 35 minutes away from Flagstaff, and offers visitors three different luxury models to rent. The family eased into tiny home living by purchasing an Airstream to live in during 2017. While the changes were immense, the Beers have no regrets about taking the plunge.
“Being able to spend time together is the biggest benefit,” said Beers. “It really frees up so much time to spend with each other and do the things we’d love to do. I’d read a few articles about people on their deathbeds, and one of their biggest regrets was spending too much time to work and not enough of their family. Basically after I read that, I thought, ‘Yeah, I don’t I don’t want to be that guy.’ My wife felt the same way. We don’t want to be that person who works so hard, missed our kids growing up and didn’t create the strong bonds that we wanted to with them. There were never any bad surprises. I think I think we’re surprised at how quickly we can adapt our lifestyle to space we were living in, and the ability to do more with less.”
The Beers’ sons, ages 11, 7 and 3, have grown up in their parents’ tiny home environment, and have adapted positively to their lifestyle.
“I think it’s working out really well,” said Beers. “When we designed our house [with Uncharted Tiny Homes] the number one thing we had in mind was space for everyone. We knew that in a tiny space, you can start to feel like like you’re running to each other, or you just get claustrophobic. You’ve got so many people in the same space. So we made sure [our sons] all have their own individual bedrooms. And they all have a little space where they can put their personal items. They have a place they can retreat to, but we wanted to give them land. We have 20 acres up here. So basically, we shrunk our house, but expanded our our land. We basically gave them a 20 acre playground.
“They have three individual bedrooms — they each have a twin bed and a bookcase. On the other side of the catwalk is game room. So they have their video games and their books, and that’s where their clothes are as well. They have their own little playroom with a place where they get to play video games.”
For anyone looking for advice on whether they should consider tiny home living, Beers had this to say:
“Think long term. If you’re a young couple and you’re thinking about having kids in the near future, plan so you’re not having to sell and rebuild [another tiny home] and go through that whole process. Think ahead and plan for life, maybe five years, seven years down the road. That time goes pretty quick. You don’t want to be stuck trying to make changes that can be very costly or time consuming.”
If you want a tour of the Beers’ home, check out this video.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for smaller home options, floorplans.com has many styles for buyers to construct and customize.
Plan no: 126-175
Size: Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, 928 square feet
This compact plan features a fully equipped kitchen with a walk-in pantry and eating bar that comfortably seats up to four.
Plan no: 430-4
Size: Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, 900 square feet
This plan offers a large open living area, a spacious kitchen and two bedrooms with walk-in closets and private baths.
Plan no: 21-108
Size: One bedroom, one bathroom, 600 square feet
This plan comes with an expansive 12-foot by 30-foot attic storage space, and features an eight-foot ceiling in the middle of the room.
Plan no: 57-186
Size: Two bedrooms, one bathroom, 929 square feet
This European-style plan includes a covered porch and space for a garage capable of holding two cars.
Plan no: 932-343
Size: One bedroom, one bathroom, 750 square feet
This modern floor plan comes with plenty of windows and the slanted roof gives the impression of open space.
These new construction houses aren’t as tiny as some may seek, but at under 1,500 square feet they offer an easier entry point for many buyers.
Eastmark by Ashton Woods
Developer: Ashton Woods
Location: 9619 East Solina Avenue, Mesa, AZ
Size: Three to six bedrooms, 1,377 to 3,020 square feet
Price: $515,990 to $779,990
Eastmark is designed as a robust, mixed-use community. It will be a blend of residential housing, education, retail, commerce and recreation.
Estrella Vista by Express Homes
Developer: Express Homes
Location: 4116 South 244th Drive, Buckeye, AZ
Size: Three to four bedrooms, 1,317 to 2,241 square feet
Price: $374,990 to $482,990
Estrella Vista is a single-family home community in Buckeye, AZ. Estrella is made up of 526 lots and contains many amenities, like a basketball court, nature trails and a baseball field.
Sunrise – Canyon Series
Developer: Landsea Homes
Location: 16943 West Cavedale Drive, Surprise, AZ
Size: Four to six bedrooms, 1,448 to 3,018 square feet
Price: $409,990 to over $539,999
Sunrise – Canyon Series is a development located in Surprise, AZ. There are 184 homes in the community and the floor plans include open concept spaces.