Shift to urban living kindles interest in leading the tiny life

Living small is getting bigger.
As urban living surges in popularity, the more probable it is that modern life will be lived in 1,000 square feet or less.
While suburban sprawl placed a premium on wide-open spaces, living in tighter quarters is nothing new for urbanites around the globe. In New York City, for instance, the average apartment is 750 square feet according to In Great Britain, residents enjoy a lofty average of 800 square feet compared to Hong Kong where people squeeze everyday life into 400 square feet or less according to
Then there's the extreme: the tiny house—a movement that challenges people to live simpler, debt-free lives in custom-built homes that are 250 square feet or smaller. 
"When you live in a tiny house, you have bare living expenses," says Ryan Mitchell, managing editor of, who lives in 150-square foot home and claims living expenses of $450 a month. "And while I won't be taking lavish vacations or eating in fancy restaurants, I do have food to eat, a car to drive and a roof over my head—which gave me the chance to leave my 9 to 5 cubicle job and start my entrepreneurial ventures."
Neither a major world city nor host of a tiny house community, Greater Lansing does boast a wealth of older, newer and in-the-works options for urban or simplified living. From homes to apartments, many of those dwellings are the perfect size for those thinking small.
Home sweet home
Although conventional home buying wisdom sometimes advises that bigger is better, the Lansing area is historically replete with smaller homes, with smaller yards, 30 to 50 homes a block.
Built anywhere between 1920 and 1980s, homes under 1,000 square feet line the streets of neighborhoods north, south, east and west. One realtor reported close to 300 smaller homes available for sale in the early fall.
"In the past 12 months, we sold 452 homes under 1,000 square feet," says
Brian Huggler, associate broker for Coldwell Banker Hubbell Briarwood. "Right now, we have close to 50 pending sales on those in our inventory."
Home cost, Huggler says, averages about $80,000, with extremes ranging from about $13,000 to about $130,000. Typical home features include one to two bedrooms, a living room and kitchen. Add to that basement storage and a small yard and you have the basics of home-style, urban living.
"There's a return to people wanting to live close to downtown," says Huggler. "People say they love to being able to walk places. To not have to drive."
Smaller homes, Huggler adds, are cheaper to heat, cheaper to cool, and easier to maintain, helping to simplify life and expenses.
Betsy DeRose affirms those facts.
About two years ago, the Lansing native            bought her first house in Lansing's East Side.
"My mom and I loved going to open houses," says DeRose. "We just decided when we saw this one that it was time to invest in Lansing."
DeRose's dream home is a 1920s bungalow with 980 square feet. It's not too much of a house to take care of, not too much yard to mow, and not too much sidewalk or driveway to shovel or scrape when the weather gets rough.
"The only problem I had first off was trying to buy a full-sized couch," she says. "It wouldn't go through the front door, so I downgraded."
DeRose says she decided to "go small" from a bigger apartment so she could rid her life of unnecessary stuff. A smaller living space, she says, helped her to realize she didn't need all the gadgets and furniture and accessories to lead a full life. She laid in a few furnishings that served multi-purposes (like ottomans that provided storage inside), hung baskets in strategic areas, and went vertical with shelves. She avoided busy patterns and went with lighter shades and color schemes.
"I've found that most people who live in bigger spaces see now that this really is enough—even when I had a roommate," says DeRose, who remarks that she now shares her space with a 40-pound dog. "The biggest thing is to live simply because you don't have space for all that stuff you think you need."
Small is hot
Although smaller urban homes can translate into smaller mortgages, some people prefer the leasing life. And many of today's developers understand the need to offer smaller, efficient, amenity-rich spaces for the new wave of urbanites.
Pat Gillespie, president of the Gillespie Group, is among the regional developers creating a multitude of mixed-used developments, many of which rise from infill spaces in the city's core. Another includes Harry Hepler, president of H Inc., who plans to build 200 modular apartments ranging from 500 to 600 square feet each on the city's northside.
"We've paid attention to what's going on across the country," says Gillespie of his latest multi-colored, multi-faceted developments. "We're seeing a surge of people who want to live urban and are renting units not so much for space, but because they want to be in a particular location and experience the surrounding community."
Midtown—Gillespie's recent work on the edges of Lansing and East Lansing—features 66 apartments averaging 590 to 810 square feet. Those units, he says, were the smallest he's ever built. And true to his research, they rented fast.
"The smaller ones went the quickest," says Tara Smith, Gillespie Group regional manager. "This is the first development we've gone small, and we'll be going smaller as projects go on."
By the end of 2014, the Gillespie Group will offer about 146 smaller units within the Midtown and Marketplace developments. Blueprints for The Outfield—Gillespie's upcoming apartment development atop the outer edge of Cooley Law School Stadium—will feature 84 units that are 600 square feet or less.
"Our target market is looking for that small footprint, that energy-efficient, no yard place," says Gillespie. "You can life there and not have to worry about maintaining a house. It's drawing people back to the urban core."
Gillespie says the strong activity he's seeing in the efficiency apartment market has piqued his interest in the tiny house movement. He says he foresees a lot of his renters wanting to eventually have a home to quickly let out the dog, or where they can have a small yard to putter. Although not technically on the drawing board, Gillespie says possibilities loom for bringing the area's first tiny house community to Lansing, where small, custom-built homes share common outdoor areas, storage space and a sense of neighborhood.
While he doesn't own a tiny home, David Deprez values the simpler, free-spirited life he achieves a few times a year by living small. Just recently, he says, he and his partner purchased a 1969 Airstream Globetrotter that they situate near Lake Michigan for relaxing vacations.
"It's amazing what you can pack into 18 feet," says Deprez, an interior designer at Lansing's Pleats Design. "We reconfigured to have a sectional sofa in the front so we can cozy up and watch TV."

Ann Kammerer is the development news editor for Capital Gains. 

Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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