19 February 2024

The tiny home boom helping make housing more affordable and boost employment opportunities

| Keeli Royle
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Rick Smith director from Havenwood Tiny Homes.

Rick Smith started building tiny homes four years ago, but never expected a boom like this. Photo: Keeli Royle.

An Albion Park Rail building business helping to make housing more affordable is now also boosting employment opportunities for Illawarra tradespeople and apprentices following a boom in the tiny home market.

After more than three decades in the industry working predominately on high rises, Illawarra builder Rick Smith decided to make a change and explore the opportunities that small scale properties could bring to the community.

He and his wife started Havenwood Tiny Homes four years ago and as the cost of living has climbed, small dwellings have become increasingly appealing.

“We originally got into tiny homes four years ago to create affordable housing but we didn’t actually foresee the real-life demand as it is today,” Rick said.

“We built the first one for my daughter and son-in-law and then thought maybe there’s a market for this and then what we’ve realised since then is that it’s just gone through the roof.”

READ ALSO New $5 million affordable housing program set to benefit the Illawarra community for decades

He said at first their main clientele were single parents and people who had experienced marriage breakdowns, but in recent months they had seen a spike in demand from young couples who were putting the homes on their parents’ properties without the need for lengthy processes that are usually associated with building a house.

“The beauty of them is that they’re classed as just a type of caravan and NSW state legislation says you can have two caravans on a rural property and one on a residential lot without a DA,” Rick said.

“Typically with even a granny flat or a modest house, by the time you go through the process, the architects, the engineers, the DA process … and then get a builder to actually build it, probably two years has gone … whereas with our tiny homes from date of order through to fruition is three months.”

The option can also be significantly more cost effective than building a house and although Rick said they were seeing more people wanting to splurge on their tiny house as part of a long-term living choice, there were options for every budget.

“We’ve got one-, two- and three-bedroom homes ranging in price from $79,000 up to the base price of $177,000 … it’s a really simple process and we’re really transparent with our pricing,” Rick said.

“You can actually design your own tiny home to your budget off our website.”

READ ALSO Illawarra rents stabilise in 2023 but affordable housing remains a struggle for many

The concept is now also attracting investors who are making money by renting out tiny homes on their property to holidaymakers.

“A lot of our clients have got land already and then purchasing our tiny homes to use as Airbnbs and some of our clients are actually renting them out for $400-$500 per night and what that means with a minimum two-night stay is there’s a massive return.”

As demand spikes, Rick has been able to employ more people to get the work done.

“At the moment we’re starting a new tiny home every four working days so it’s really starting to pick up,” Rick said.

And by doing so he is able to keep costs down for customers and create invaluable training opportunities and experiences.

“What’s really exciting for me is right now we have five apprentices employed and one school apprentice and we’ve been able to train these guys up because working in these kind of factory environment turns them into skilled tradesmen.

“They’re going from just standing frames out in weather to actually doing the whole spectrum of construction, all the way through to roofing, flashing and what not … they’re coming out very knowledgeable.”

To find out more visit the Havenwood website.

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