Sometimes, the need for more space is just a need for ... more space.
"So many people are working from home," says Gayle Zalduondo, principal of the Miami-based Cabin Fever, which sells prefab cabins. "Rather than going offsite, they're adding a cabin. People need more space, but they're not comfortable upsizing to a larger house, especially in this economy."
Some of her customers want a guest house, while others are artists, musicians and independent service providers -- from freelance graphic designers to massage therapists.
Unlike the fully outfitted miniature homes being used for rental properties and mother-in-law quarters, small backyard cabins without kitchens and bathrooms do not require permits in many states.
"We have a model you can build in a weekend," says Zalduondo. "It comes flat-packed. It's tight and weather-proofed and you don't even need to pour a full slab. You can just prepare a lightweight foundation and put the cabin on top of it."
Seattle resident Isaac Vicknair pioneered a new kind of off-the-grid, backyard living in his quest for affordable housing. He builds simple 8-by-8-foot sheds in exchange for free rent in them for three to six months after completion.
"It's a great deal for everyone," says Vicknair. "They cost me about $800 in materials and then I save around $5,000 in rent while I live there. All the homeowner has to pay for is the electricity I use, which is almost nothing."
Vicknair picks a neighborhood he wants to live in and posts flyers advertising his trade proposal. He says he generally receives calls from three or four interested parties, and takes the project that seems most appealing.
The cabins are built without plumbing or electricity, so Vicknair runs an extension cord from the house and makes do with a space heater, electric skillet, small fridge and a couple of lamps. He bought a portable marine toilet that he sets up behind the cabin, and he showers at friends' houses or the gym.
"The only downside is it's really hard to get a date to come back to a miniature house in a backyard," says Vicknair. "But I don't think I'm ever going to pay rent again."
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