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Can Tiny Homes Save the World?

Offsite Insights offsite construction interview series
A transcript of the Offsite Insights interview with Nick Mosley, CEO of California Tiny House Inc.

Watch the interview here.

Tom Hardiman 

Hello, and welcome to Offsite Insights. I'm your host, Tom Hardiman, Executive Director of the Modular Building Institute. And I'm joined today by Mr. Nick Mosley, CEO of California Tiny House Inc. Nick, how you doing today?

Nick Mosely 

I'm doing great, Tom, how are you?

Tom Hardiman 

I'm doing fantastic. Like you said, I'm living the dream.

Nick Mosely 

Yeah, another day in paradise.

Tom Hardiman 

Absolutely. Hey, why don't we start off today, with you just giving us a little bit of background about who you are and what your company does there? And we'll go from there.

Nick Mosely 

Cool. Yeah. So my name is Nick Mosley. I'm the owner of California Tiny House. I also in another tiny house company called Tiny House Inc. I'm the Executive Director for the Tiny House Education. It's a 501(c)3. I'm the Vice President of the American Tiny House Association or APA. And then I'm a board member for the Tiny Home Industry Association, which is also called THIA. So pretty much involved in just about everything, tiny houses, I eat, sleep and dream it so.

Tom Hardiman 

So if we want to learn about tiny houses, you're the guy.

Nick Mosely 

Yeah, you found the right guy, for sure.

Tom Hardiman 

Excellent. Well, well, let's just kind of jump in right there. What exactly is a tiny--and we've all seen the TV shows--but what exactly is a tiny house?

Nick Mosely 

Yeah, that's a great question. So typically, when somebody says the word "tiny house", they're describing just what they see on TV. You know, a, I guess, sub-400 square foot structure that resembles a traditional home on wheels. Now, does that mean every tiny house has to fall into that category? Not necessarily. I mean, you can have a tiny home on a foundation, of course. But typically speaking, when someone mentions the word tiny home, they're talking about something that's easily transportable. It could be, you know, an RV classification, it could be a HUD classification, or it can be a, I guess, a modular classification. But it all resembles, you know, a traditional house. And typically tiny houses also have kind of that, you know, unique design elements to them for space saving. And that's what really built this industry up.

Tom Hardiman 

Excellent. Excellent. So who's buying tiny houses today? Is a younger, more mobile crowd? Or is it older people wanting to downsize significantly?

Nick Mosely 

Yeah, yeah, that's a good question, too. So well, this is what I see. You know, I can't speak for every single builder in the country. But typically what happens with our clients, we have a ton of units that we do for retirees that, you know, they're selling their big houses, they want to be closer to their grandkids. So they're putting on, you know, son- or daughter-in-law's property, or somewhere near them to live. We also do a ton of them for younger millennial couples that are, you know, priced out of the market when it comes to buying a traditional home. But buying a tiny home gives them at least that stepping stone into homeownership.

We also do a ton of vacation rentals, government projects for homeless veterans, kids aging out of foster care. The best part about a tiny home is how versatile they are. They can be used in 101 different applications. I mean, even like college student housing, for example, we did a project like that last year. Workforce housing, we just did one of those this year. You know, there's so there's so versatile, and because they're so easily moved, they can be used on a temporary basis. Whereas most traditional, you know, stick-built homes. You don't see those things driving down the highway very often.

Tom Hardiman 

Right. Yeah. You mentioned affordability. That's probably a big driver. You're in California. And you...

Nick Mosely 

Oh, yeah. That's, that's a big issue.

Tom Hardiman 

It's a big issue everywhere.

Nick Mosely 

It is. And, you know, in the area that I that I've manufacturing, it's not overly expensive. I mean, it probably is compared to other parts of the country. But as California is concerned, it's fairly moderate, you know, but as you know, the bay area here, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Oakland, I mean, a starter home there is, you know, 750,000 to a million. So, there's a lot of it's really difficult to find housing.

Plus, we're losing so many houses from wildfires, just like Florida is and New Orleans from hurricanes. That's another great use for tiny homes is they can be built quickly and they can be used as you know, structures to combat you know, environmental disasters.

Tom Hardiman 

That's an excellent point. I wasn't going to go there. But you know, there's so many natural disasters floods and fires in particular that, you know, our government response from FEMA always seems to be shipping manufactured housing to help with the crisis and there are so many other viable solutions...

Nick Mosely 

Yeah, manufactured housing if they're lucky. Most of them are those those typical FEMA trailer, I guess you could call them like a park model RV. Right. And, you know, I mean, look at any, any disaster zone that happens, those things are, you know, frankly, they're falling apart, they've been reused so many times that it might not be a bad idea for them to do a little bit of an upgrade.

Tom Hardiman 

Well, I don't want to talk about price too much. I don't want to, you know, give away all your secrets. But you know, the number we saw, was that FEMA spends about $150,000 for 18 months of shelter for a victim. And I'm guessing you could get a couple tiny homes for that, couldn't you?

Nick Mosely 

Oh, easy. Okay. Okay. I mean, it depends on the unit. You know, I mean, there's like myself, we build really large, large, tiny houses. I know, it sounds funny. But the we maximize everything. And then you know, we also have smaller units that we do for people that just don't have a lot of space in their backyard, they want a simple guest house or their college student needs a house. Same thing with workforce housing, you know, a lot of farmer and ag(ricultural) business owners here in California, buy them for their seasonal, seasonal labor, you know, they don't necessarily want 20 houses on their farm all the time. They can bring them in temporarily, and then rent them out to other people throughout the year.

Tom Hardiman 

That's a great idea. And you mentioned the vacation rentals, you know, so you know, I got I got a piece of property I want to drop a few tiny homes on is as simple as that call, Nick. And he'll hook you up.

Nick Mosely 

Yeah, I mean, for the most part, yeah. In certain areas, they may not allow, or they may have to rezone the property. But yeah, I mean, it can be just that easy.

Tom Hardiman 

Okay, well, you mentioned rezoning, what are some of the challenges your industry is facing?

Nick Mosely 

Well, that's kind of been going in phases. With any, any industry that's in its infancy, there's always going to be struggles. You know, we had financing issues, you know, for the last 5-10 years. Placement issues. A lot of these things, though, a lot of the major problems, I think, are kind of starting to be fixed. You know, we've written a ton of legislation this year, last year, in the year prior to allow tiny houses to be legal in more locations. Of course, like I said, you can always build them under the HUD or manufactured and/or modular code, and then they're a lot easier to place. But, you know, ANSI units under the anti RV code, they be real a real challenge, you start getting more than three on a property, and the state of California anyways, recognizes that as an RV park, so zoning has to be kind of changed for that.

Tom Hardiman 

Okay, so definitely depends on the state and local requirements.

Nick Mosely 

Exactly. And so we're, that's one of the things that THIA does best.

We are, you know, hammering into all these local municipalities. And at the state level, to get legislation written, explaining what tiny homes are, you know, even though some of them are built under the HUD code, some of them are built under the ANSI RV code. Does that mean that they are a traditional travel trailer? Of course not. You know, does that mean they're built like every other manufactured home? Of course not. One of the things about tiny homes is that they're built, like I said, more like a traditional home, using higher quality materials. And that's where this kind of niche market started.

Tom Hardiman 

You know, that the need for education for code officials, for policymakers, really, across all things offsite is massive. We found that out firsthand. You mentioned Tiny Home Industry Association. That's kind of where we first connected. You were involved in the ICC/MBI standards working group to develop to new offsite. Yeah, so that's kind of where we first crossed paths. And yeah, realize we've got a lot in common here.

Nick Mosely 

The offsite/modular committee was a great experience for me to kind of get my feet into developing standards, helping figure out the language and, and that's translated, you know, over to THIA now, the tiny home industry association. Because I been through it, you know, for a couple years. I could help them kind of work their way through on Hey, this is what municipalities want to see when we're approaching them to write some type of legislation. This is what they don't want to see. And it made it it made it a lot easier, I think on everyone. So, and then because of that it stemmed to where I started a builder committee to kind of keep all the builders on the same page for you know, quality assurance for building practices, and "hey, if you're approaching your local municipality, this is what I would, you know, steer towards", and it's worked really well.

Tom Hardiman 

Well, I would not want to be on a stand. You're driving committee for a living. It was it was about two years. We did knock out two standards, ICC/MBI 1200 and 1205. So, if you're out there, those standards are completed, they're in the ICC bookstore, you can pick those up. What we're trying to do now is get more jurisdictions to, to adopt and reference those standards so that we've got some uniformity across the country, which, you know, wouldn't that be nice?

Nick Mosely 

And you know, it'll happen. It's, as as you go, I see like, kind of just that wave effect, where once one person adopts it, then another one that another one, and that's how it's been for us doing tiny house legislation as well is, you know, once we got to city like LA, Oakland was fairly simple. San Diego was fairly simple. You know, once we got places in Colorado and Florida, the other ones kind of started to fall like dominoes.

Tom Hardiman 

Yeah, that builds a little momentum...

Nick Mosely 

1200, 1205...They'll pick up some steam here, I think.

Tom Hardiman 

We're getting there. We're getting there. Yeah. So you know, Nick, if anyone's watching, they say, "Man, that guy kind of looks familiar." Might they have seen you on one of these tiny home shows on one of these channels?

Nick Mosely 

Yeah, so not, not for a while now. But when they first started, I did almost every, you know, show on HGTV that was offered at the time. It wasn't...it's not my thing. Let's put it that way. I much prefer, you know, owning and operating the business and managing things day to day versus being on television. But it was a fun experience anyways.

Tom Hardiman 

I'm sure. Well, that's a whole good stuff, Nick, the industry that the offsite industry as a whole has a lot of challenges ahead of us. Tiny homes are certainly a big part of that is going to play a big role in housing and affordability. So we're so glad you joined us here today. Any parting comments before we say goodbye?

Nick Mosely 

Yeah, you know, tiny homes, just like anything there, they stemmed out of a need. There's a need for affordable housing in the country. And that's where the roots of tiny homes really started. From there, it's sprouted and, you know, kind of exploded over the last 10 years. But that's the base, you know, and are all tiny houses affordable? I mean, that's gonna be you know, you're gonna have to just find what "affordable" means. But it's usually based on the region, they're quite a bit more affordable to do than any other type of traditional housing. And not not always, but that's, that's kind of where everything stemmed.

And then from there, we've sprouted out to, you know, a lot of different a lot of different niches within, you know, our little industry. And it's, it is still very new. I mean, it's 10-12 years old, tops, it's the newest form of housing that that I know of anyways, so it'll keep growing. And it's, I've noticed, at least in the future, and what I kind of predict is going to happen is, it's just going to get ever closer to modular. In fact, a lot of myself and a lot of other builders are starting to do both simultaneously within our warehouses.

You know, a lot of modular guys that I've met, are building commercial, or they're building traditional residential, whereas tiny homes fit perfectly in like an accessory dwelling unit, or a guest house or a pool house or even on a, you know, vacation rental stuff on properties. They work very, very well.

Tom Hardiman 

Yeah, we're seeing that, in fact, you know, I'm over here in Virginia, our state industrialized building program now includes tiny homes within its definition. So I think you're right, it's more and more states are going to recognize they need and all of the above approach to address you know, yeah, all of it.

Nick Mosely 

They're not solving everyone, you know, every need that's out there, but they do fill a void that we've had for a long time. I'm proud to be a member of THIA and a part of this industry as a whole and one of the, you know, original builders in the country. It's, it's cool. It's cool to see how far everything has come in the last 10 years.

Tom Hardiman 

Oh, yeah. Oh, absolutely. Well, a lot of buzz out there about tiny homes. But I'm glad you took a few minutes today to kind of help set the record straight and provide a great source of information about the industry. Nick Mosley, CEO of California Tiny House, Inc.

Tom Hardiman 

Nick, thank you for joining us today. And thanks, Tom. Can everyone loose and thank you for watching this episode of offsite insights and stay tuned for the next episode.

Nick Mosely 

Thanks. Yeah, thanks.