...or why I'm cynical about housing

CATEGORIES: article, housing, thoughts
KEYWORDS: crisis, housing ladder, first time buyers

Getting onto the property ladder has never been more difficult, and “affordable housing” is not what you'd expect... Can Tiny Houses help first-time buyers?

Before we begin...

Throughout this article, I will explore both the positive and the negative aspects of tiny houses. I hope it would be obvious that tiny houses are not a solve-all solution, and they certainly won't suit everyone. However, I feel they're a huge step in the right direction, and should not be ignored by councils and government legislation. I will of course also be talking about the housing crisis, and doing my best to explain my point of view using statistics as fairly as I can. That said, this article was delayed by almost a year; it's hard for me to write about the housing crisis without it sounding like someone who is pissed off (as...well, I am to be honest!). So try and cut me a little slack, if you can!

No time? Here are some facts:

First-time buyers

○ First-time buyers will struggle to even put down a deposit; according to Halifax, the average deposit in 2018 was £32,841; 15% of the average property price*
○ The average age of a first-time buyer is now 31 (or 33 in London)*
○ The least expensive average deposit in 2018 was £13,224 (15%) in Pendle, the North West*
○ The average property price for a first home has increased by 39% in 10 years*
○ The average deposit in 2011 was £20,622; more than half the average annual household income (£35,634)**


Tiny Houses

○ Even a four bed tiny house can be built for £30,000*
○ Tiny house communities have sprung up, especially in America, that exist solely for homeless people (Scotland has also introduced similar pop-up communities)
○ You probably won't need a mortgage to buy a tiny house, and they also tend to be extremely energy efficient
○ Tiny houses are typically classified as being under 400 sq ft (37.1 sq m)
○ Tiny houses are not just popular with young adults; middle-aged, retired, and even some children as young as 13 have been building them!
○ Tiny houses aren't built just for monetary reasons; it's called a "movement" because people often look at it as a lifestyle change, as well as having a desire to focus on sustainable living


More = Happier?

○ Over the years, house sizes have increased; even in the UK. However, even after people move to a bigger house, it often takes only 2 years for them to feel like they don't have enough space*
○ The limit of happiness appears to be reached once a person has 4 rooms*
○ Whilst people compete (often unknowingly) to have the biggest house, debt mounts up, longer hours have to be worked, and the toll on the environment worsens irreversibly*
○ A bigger house often creates a void which is then filled by buying more stuff. If you've ever had an extension, or even just cleared part of a room out; you'll know that it is never long before stuff accumulates again!


Barriers To Tiny Houses

○ Local authorities have no clue how to deal with tiny houses; simply dumping them in the mobile home category (or if static at home, under permitted development rights)
○ Stringent planning laws practically forbid them in most places; here in The New Forest, the only places are on sites prone to coastal erosion!
○ Whatever the case, unless your tiny house is on the plot of an existing house, you will always need planning permission to live in it full-time
○ Tiny Houses are not suitable for everyone; particularly those with medium-large families, those who feel claustrophobic, and those who are not able-bodied
○ It also takes a huge lifestyle change to live in a tiny house; as there is simply not the space for anything but the most important possessions


Living in a national park

Both fortunately and unfortunately, I live in a National Park; fortunate because it’s a lovely place to live, with a real community spirit, and unique and beautiful scenery and buildings right on your doorstep. Unfortunate because that automatically brings with it rising prices and red tape aplenty; which is often exacerbated by wealthier people (be that local, or those from afar) snapping up houses as second homes or holiday lets. (Alright, so yes, I got burnt in such a situation before; remember the Old Chapel I narrowly lost out on converting to a community hub? Well, that's now a holiday let bringing in up to £650/week off-peak, to £1100/week during peak season...) Anyway... moving on...

Stance on planning laws

This is a tricky one; as whilst I do feel there is too much red tape (for example, planning rules such as barriers to self-build, and numerous policies preventing tiny houses from being a viable option), I do believe planning laws are incredibly important. Not just in terms of maintaining a sustainable approach and a beautiful environment, but also in terms of preventing unscrupulous landlords and developers taking advantage of poorer people, the environment, and locals. As far as I can see, a lot of legislation actually does well to protect communities; especially those in National Parks which are particularly vulnerable to changes to their way of life, their historic buildings, and the wonderful natural environment.

My vision

I don't have any qualifications in architecture, planning, or construction; but, I do love to design tiny houses and small-scale redevelopments of old buildings into actually affordable homes. When working with existing structures, I'm very keen to retain the original fabric, history, features, and architectural style of the original. A good example is my "Old Forge" conversion, where the original furnace and chimney was kept, and metalwork was used throughout the design as a nod to the forge's former use. On a very personal level, I hope to renovate such a property, or otherwise build my own tiny house. In an ideal world I'd be using materials from local family-run suppliers wherever practical, and be able to build this somewhere with a fantastic view; preferably a sea view and a tiny bit of land big enough to put down some solar panels and a few raised herb beds. That's the ultimate dream, but in reality I think we can all see how unlikely that is!

Either way, I feel a tiny house on a trailer would be a relatively feasible route to take; especially considering it would be possible to move it if/when I need to. Something I'm hoping will happen in the next decade is that people in the UK (And more importantly, politicians and local authorities) open up to the idea of tiny houses as a genuine and practical solution to housing. I'm also hoping that any stigmas will be quashed; particularly that people who live in tiny houses must be "hippies"! I think that is perhaps a high hope, but the more accepting of tiny houses and the minimalist lifestyle people are, the more chance that councils will see tiny houses as the high quality buildings they are. Not every mobile home is made the same; tiny houses use similar construction methods to "proper" houses, unlike a lot of traditional mobile and park homes which are usually done "on the cheap", and use very thin lightweight materials. Tiny homes are just that; the same as a normal home, but more compact! The challenge that I imagine politicians face, is balancing free will of those wishing to self-build, with protecting against those who are looking to take advantage of those with low income; and on top of that assuring that these tiny houses are safe, unobtrusive, and not built on a whim.


  • ✔ Lots of natural light
  • ✔ Siting the building(s) to make best use of the sun
  • ✔ Reduce wasted space
  • ✔ Focus on space-saving furniture
  • ✔ Pare back to the essentials first
  • ✔ Open-plan and multi-use spaces are ideal
  • ✔ Predominantly white walls and ceiling, with pops of colour elsewhere
  • ✔ Make use of the outdoor space
  • ✔ Frame and maximise the view(s)
  • ✔ Where possible, follow core design strategies as set out by the local authority
  • ✔ Designs should be sensitive to their surroundings, and imitate local architecture

  • ✘ Avoid wasteful use of materials (particularly those that do not have a use past aesthetics)
  • ✘ Avoid windows that would overlook neighbouring properties unnecessarily

Norwegian boathouse design - Plenty of natural light
My designs always feature plenty of natural light; something I find imperative in order to produce a healthy living and working environment. Where practical, I also like to include large openings, but care must be taken not to cause light pollution; so screening, shutters, or an overhang may be needed in some circumstances.


Available New Forest properties to buy (as of 1st June, 2019)*

Bar shows their minimum price. Hover/tap to show their maximum price. Note: Your screen width equates to £300k.

£10k-60k - Beach Hut

£16k-20k - Unconverted (single) Garage

£25k-40k - 1 Bed (part rent, part buy**)

£40k-60k - 1 Bed Chalet

£60k-100k - 1 Bed Studio***

£60k-145k - 1 Bed Flat/Apartment

£75k-200k - Park Home (Mobile home)

£80k-??? - Land with outline planning permission

£140k+ - 1 Bed Masionette****

£145k-295k - 1 Bed Property

Now let's compare that with the cost of building your own tiny house:

£10k - £60k - Tiny House

Remember: the bars show the two extremes in prices. For reference, the average tiny house build is about £20k; same as the upper figure for buying an unconverted single car garage.
Unfortunately, things are obviously not as clear-cut as just being able to build your own tiny house, I'll get onto that a bit later!

Notes about this data:

Data sourced: from
* Data includes: The New Forest +10 mile radius (which includes major urban centres such as Southampton, and also part of the Isle of Wight). The housing stock significantly reduced from 1839 available properties down to 178 without the extra 10 miles!
** Part-rent, part-buy: Typically between 1/5 and 1/2 of the house is payed upfront, with the rest paid via a monthly rent
*** Studio: is defined as a predominantly open-plan apartment
**** Maisonette: is defined as a self-contained 2 storey apartment with its own access/staircase, but is still part of a larger building

The above-inflation rise of house prices

A semi-detached 3 bed* property in The New Forest

House price in 1986:

House price adjusted for inflation in 2019:

Actual (approx) house price in 2019:
*Note that obviously home improvements have taken place since 1986, including an extra bedroom (which typically adds 10% to the value); so I've taken the lowest 2019 estimate and then deducted 10% (which happens to be the cost of the house in 1986!). All things considered, the gap between the price adjusted for inflation, and the actual price is pretty telling!


Wait, what about affordable housing?

What is the definition of affordable development?

The official definition of affordable housing is actually pretty vague (Go figure!). " must be provided at a level at which the mortgage payments on the property should be more than would be paid in rent on council housing, but below market levels".

Needless to say, I find the term "affordable housing" almost offensive. Whilst I appreciate the effort by governments to push the affordable housing agenda, I don't appreciate the way they measure affordability, because it doesn't come from those who earn the least; it comes as a generalised figure based on...what, exactly? Market forces?

Outside of government, others have tried to come up with a better definition of affordability; one example saying that affordable housing should cost no more than 35% of your household income after tax and benefits. That's certainly better, but still not ideal for those on a very low income, or those with kids. Then there's regional differences in wages and house prices to account for... even the most affordable place to buy a house in 2015 was four times the average salary!

And herein lies the problem with the definition: Every house is affordable... to someone

Types of affordable housing

Affordable housing comes in three types:

    1) Social rented - provided by registered providers or local authorities - usually 55% of private rents
    2) Affordable rented - houses purposely rented up to 80% of the local market rent
    3) Intermediate housing - can include shared equity products, shared-ownership schemes, or discounted sale (things like part-rent, part-buy)

Note: Affordable housing is not the same as low cost market housing. Affordable housing remains affordable for as long as possible, whilst low cost housing is purely aimed at first-time buyers, and does not remain affordable in the longer term.

Where's affordable housing built?

Affordable housing is required, where practical, to be present in every new development. Usually between 25% to 50% of the total number of new houses in said development. There are also what is known as "exception sites"; small sites where, ordinarily, the land is of too low value/would otherwise result in a policy objection if standard housing was built. These are instead reserved for 100% affordable housing. As such, it HAS to have arisen from a clearly identified need from the local community, which cannot be met any other way. Future occupancy will also be prioritised for people with a local connection (can include working in that area). Any schemes must reflect local character, and be of appropriate scale and design.

Affordable housing in The New Forest

  • ○ No affordable dwellings were completed in 2010
  • ○ Aim to have 50% of affordable housing in defined villages, with the rest in rural exception sites
  • ○ Whilst the national requirement is for developments of 3 houses or more to have affordable housing, in the New Forest, every development should have at least one affordable house
  • ○ To avoid development from urbanising the national park, The New Forest NPA (National Park Authority) aims to concentrate any development in the "defined villages" of Sway, Brockenhurst, Lyndhurst or Ashurst.

"Fun" Fact!

In 2004, then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced plans to build houses for £60k. Whilst 8 out of the promised 10 developments were built, the houses sold for an average of £231k in one development; almost 4x the target price promised!



Too many interactions

Simply put; I really dislike the idea of renting... I know, I know, deal with it; almost no-one buys a house without having rented for years beforehand (unless you're a millionaire, I suppose!). I say this because I genuinely hate any sort of arrangement where you have little control over things, and you have to tie up money with people you don't know; let's face it, there's absolutely no guarantee that the lease will be renewed when it expires at the end of the contract. Even with laws in place, there are many unscrupulous landlords/ladys out there, who are more interested in making money than helping. Oh, and need something fixed? You'll have to go through the landlord/lady first, or more likely, a third (or is that fourth?) party; the rental agent. In other words, everything takes A LOT of to-ing and fro-ing back and forth before anything gets done! Which leads me onto the next thing...

The art of compromise

Renting is also mostly compromise; and when it comes down to it, having to pay a not-inconsiderable sum to be able to then live somewhere at the whims and mercy of the landlord/lady... I don't know, the mere prospect absolutely terrifies me. Want to put up a shelf? You'll have to ask very nicely! Want to knock down a wall? HA! Good one... this isn't your own place! In fact, want to do anything, even minor DIY, you'll likely be jumping through a lot of hoops!

A one bed... here?!

Good luck finding any suitable one bed flats for rent here that aren't above fish and chip shops in a busy town centre. God, this makes me sound like a posh country insert swear word of choice. But the truth is that I'm too used to the relative peace of the countryside, I don't think I could get used to town living at all. One bed flats just aren't a thing here, for obvious reasons.

Does renting really help you?

Not as far as I can see! You're basically either paying someone elses mortgage, or you're giving someone else a bonus income every month. I've always been perplexed by people saying renting allows you a way onto the housing ladder. How does it? The only way I can possibly see this being the case is with council houses where you are given the "right to buy" the property at a discount after a certain number of years. Simply put, if you're renting, you're not investing money. Full stop.


OK, so it's not all bad. Renting could be a good option if you need your own space, but you're unsure of where you will end up in the next few years. If you don't intend on staying in one place, then you'll have freedom to move a bit easier. It may actually allow you to live in an area that you wouldn't afford to buy a house in. A bit of a depressing thought when you really think about it!

Cheaper than buying

Of course, renting is cheaper than buying a property. It might even allow you to have just enough money left-over to put into savings or invest in other opportunities. And look on the bright side; at least you don't have a colossal mortgage to worry about paying off!

Oh, and you also only need contents insurance; any maintenance work is the problem of the landlord/lady!



  • ✔ No (or at worst, a much smaller) mortgage (that's a huge bonus)
  • ✔ Less chance of acquiring debt
  • ✔ Less rooms to heat (lower energy bills)
  • ✔ Which means you can spend more on yourself!


  • ✔ Fewer money worries
  • ✔ Less time spent cleaning your house!
  • ✔ Fewer social pressures
  • ✔ Tiny houses can be relatively easy to relocate; especially if they are built on trailers
  • ✔ A simpler life (you begin to appreciate the simple things in life)


  • ✔ You can learn a huge range of new and important practical skills
  • ✔ Starting from scratch means you can design everything as you want it
  • ✔ You can customise anything and everything with your own personal style
  • ✔ Everything becomes more managable
  • ✔ You teach yourself restraint and learn what's actually important in life


  • ✔ Less energy usage (as there is less to heat/power!)
  • ✔ Less incentive to be an impulsive consumer (there isn't the room!)
  • ✔ Less waste of materials and space (quite often furniture will be multi-purpose)
  • ✔ With only a small plot of land, you could potentially live off the land almost exclusively


In the US, a country where the average house size is double that of the UK, it's perhaps surprising to hear that this is where the tiny house movement has really taken off. But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense; as the houses get bigger year-on-year, people begin to realise that they're just part of an endless loop of buying bigger houses and "having" to fill it with more stuff. The tiny house movement is perhaps not only a solution to this, but a way of going against the grain (in this case, the "American Dream").

What's interesting is that it's not unheard of for tiny homes to be a way of generating income; some have been used as holiday lets through places like Airbnb. Some owners only live in their tiny houses part time (i.e. they have a main house that they live in, and a tiny house for vacations), whereas others have built a 2nd or even 3rd tiny house on their plot which they then let out. It's a really good way of bringing in an income; not least because I would imagine it wouldn't take too many years to pay off the cost of the tiny house(s) this way! Personally, I'd rather live in a tiny house full-time than rent it out whilst living in a "normal" house; but horses for courses and all that. That said, there have been a few stories of people renting a tiny house for a week for a holiday thinking it would be "cute" or a good escape; and they then realise that actually there is something liberating. That's not to say it will affect everyone the same way, but it is interesting how paring down to the bear essentials makes you suddenly very self-aware, as well as helping to refocus your priorities!



  • ✘ Buying a plot of land can be expensive
  • ✘ Small plots of land are pretty rare
  • ✘ Some locations, like National Parks, will be less tolerant of any form of mobile home
  • ✘ Some people have had to get around the system by buying a 'normal' house, then renting it out whilst they use the land around it to park their tiny house


  • ✘ The main problem - tiny houses typically are not an investment, unlike a normal house/flat
  • ✘ As tiny houses don't make a good collateral for banks, getting a loan will be very difficult, should you need to
  • ✘ It may prove difficult to sell a tiny house should you wish to in the future
  • ✘ As there is less storage, you usually have to buy things in smaller quantities (thus no bulk savings)


  • ✘ Living in a tiny house means a complete change in your lifestyle
  • ✘ There's less room for everything; from storage, to living space
  • ✘ It's very hard to host any form of entertainment/social events
  • ✘ You have to be incredibly well organised (Well, I actually see this as a plus!)


  • ✘ As tiny homes are so small, any disorgnaisation or clutter magnifies ten-fold in intensity
  • ✘ It also means small problems are likely to affect you in bigger ways
  • ✘ If living with someone else, there is often very little privacy, and little ability to have time by yourself


Where to build?

Perhaps the biggest (and potentially mostly costly) hurdle to overcome with tiny houses is finding the land to site them on. As we've seen, land with development opportunities is expensive; usually greater than the cost of building the tiny house itself! It's also pretty rare, particularly in National Parks like The New Forest.

You may get lucky and be able to buy/rent/or even be gifted a small section of land from a family member or friend, or perhaps by asking around in the area you wish to settle. That still has its own set of problems; particularly on the legal side of it - what's to say you can't get evicted from the land at a moments notice?

Water, power & other services

If you're not planning on going completely off-grid, you're going to have to choose somewhere that has, at the very minimum, an electrical hook-up. Things get even trickier the more tied to the land you wish to get, particularly when you want sewerage and water to be connected permanently. Even if you wish to live mostly off-grid, you should take into account the challenges that this approach to living will also have. Solar panels might be enough for some of your electric needs, but you'll need a lot if you want to power your whole house with it (especially if you're living in an area that doesn't get much sunshine!)

Red tape/planning

Planning laws, particularly in National Parks like The New Forest can be incredibly stringent. I've spent a long time researching this in the New Forest, and sadly local planning strategy documents mostly forbid the construction of any sort of mobile home (which is usually the only route tiny houses get permission); the only exception sites are a few costal regions where cliff erosion makes mobile housing the only real option! As far as I see it, there are two ways to get planning permission for a tiny house here (and neither are quick, nor ideal!):

1) If you're converting an existing building into accomodation, you can actually get away with doing the conversion if no-one discovers it after 5 years (and you can prove that it was finished 5 years ago or more)! Note: If someone lodges a complaint even in the final hour, you will likely be asked to tear it all down! Whilst I can understand why, in principle it seems like it could encourage neighbours embroiled in disputes to wait until the last possible moment to "get their own back"! This bit of legislation obviously only covers buildings that are already in existence; so would be no good if you wanted to build a new structure, as most tiny house builders would.

2) A more moral way is to go through the standard route of putting in a planning application. It may sound obvious, but the more detail and consideration of local policies and design frameworks you can show that your design will adhere to, the better your chance of a successful application. Don't forget that there is a huge pressure on government (both national and local) to meet housing targets; especially for those which are deemed affordable. Sadly, tiny houses are not yet commonplace in the UK, and it feels like local authorities have no idea how to deal with them; so it's not going to be an easy fight! That said, you might be the one to set a good example and pave the way for others. Make the council an offer they can't refuse.


Government policies for first-time buyers

Naturally, the first place you would probably turn to for help in buying your first home is the local authority, and perhaps the government. I hate to say it, but things don't exactly look promising right now in the UK. It's more to do with the lack of useful policies and regulations. A prime example is the "Starter Homes Initiative"; a policy announced well over 4 years ago by the government, promising to build thousands of new homes to be sold with a 20% discount for first time buyers aged between 23-40. Guess how many houses have been built.... yep... none! Supposedly, this time last year the government had spent £250 million acquiring land, but that is yet to materialise into anything resembling housing thus far...

There are however a variety of other schemes (that actually are in use!):
1) Equity Loan: Borrow 20% of purchase price from the govt, with only a 5% deposit and 75% mortgage).
2) ISA: Boosts your savings by 25% when you save up to £200/month = total possible bonus of up to £3k. Wow...
3) Shared Ownership: Buy a share of your home (between 25% - 75% of the home's value), and pay rent on the remaining share.
4) Discounted Sales: Some new council houses/housing association properties are sold at a 25-50% discount. Usual criteria includes being a place where you have a strong local connection.

There is another option (but don't get too excited!)
5) The Self Build Portal: The right to build - where councils have to give planning permission for plots in order to meet demand from those who have registered an interest in self-building. Let's look at this one in more detail...


The idea is that you register with NaCSBA (National Custom & Self Build Association), who then pass your details to your local authority, who are required to maintain a list of people and groups that are interested in self-building a house. Councils must then ensure they have plots ready to meet this demand, and they have 3 years to do so (from the end of October in the year you signed up). There are 4 main approaches:

1) Council Initiated (for individuals) - Local authority delivers serviced building plots on land it owns (includes access roads and utilities), and then sells those plots to individuals.
2) Working With Others (for individuals) - Local authority works with a third party to deliver serviced building plots, they then sell those plots to individuals.
3) Council Initiated (for groups) - Local authority identifies land and markets it to groups who must then pitch ideas. The council then awards sites to the most robust groups.
4) Working With Others (for groups) - Groups (could be housing associations, private groups or foundations) work with the local authority to find land and provide guidance to ensure viable proposals.

✔ The Positives:

  • ✔ You will be able to buy a small plot of land that already has access, mains water and waste, and other services
  • ✔ If registering as a group, you will have a little bit of say in what gets built around you
  • ✔ Once signed up with NaCSBA, you gain access to information to help you

✘ The Restrictions:

  • ✘ 3 years is a long time to wait before anything is even earmarked
  • ✘ It appears as though you will have little-to-no say on where you will be located
  • ✘ It also seems like these will all be on brownfield sites, so likely to be a lot of overlooking properties
  • ✘ You will have no say (unless you opt for the group options) of what will be built around you
  • ✘ You may have to pay to be on this register, and even if you don't, there seems to be a lot of vagueness and unknowns (no indication is given for even a rough plot price).
  • ✘ All the register does is put your name and preferences onto a list; it doesn't guarantee at all that you will get what you're looking for, nor in the area you would like!
  • ✘ Assuming you get what you want at a price you can afford, you will still be subject to the normal planning process. (So good luck building a tiny house!)
  • ✘ And lifted straight from the New Forest NPA's website: "Given the relative lack of developable land within the nationally protected landscape of the New Forest National Park joining the register does not mean that a plot of land will become available."

Alright, so where does that leave us?

It's a great question, and to be honest I'm damned if I know! The issues faced by those looking to buy or otherwise have a place of their own for the first time are widely known, but perhaps not often shouted about in the media; not enough fuss is being kicked up. Whilst the government has implemented what it presumably felt would alleviate these issues, clearly not enough is being done, as prices continue to rise well above inflation, and the supply of affordable housing stock still doesn't match those in need (and we've already heard how "affordable housing" means "slightly cheaper", not actually affordable housing.)

Amazingly, the number of first-time buyers has increased, but they typically share two or more common elements:
○ They are usually couples
○ They usually get a hefty helping hand from "the bank of mum and dad"
○ They usually have a 35+ year mortgage
○ They won't often be living in the area they'd like to be
○ They use the Help To Buy Scheme and put down a 5-10% deposit; so a 90-95% mortgage!
○ They get an equity loan on a new house after putting down a 5% deposit (actually two loans; 20% loan from government + 75% loan from a bank)

On a very personal level, my dream still remains to design and build my own tiny house. However, the realist in me knows that unless a small plot of land is found hidden away somewhere that isn't too expensive, it's a non-starter. I have been brought up not to go into debt unnecessarily, hence why the thought of getting into a 30-40 year mortgage...well, I can't think of anything more stressful or needless! At least for now, my best bet is to continue as I have for the past 27 years and live with my gracious parents; certainly at least until my financial situation drasticly improves, or some other major positive change happens.

And so, to end, I'd like to ask a simple question:
What is it that makes people accept that huge mortgages as just "part of normal life"?

Huge 40-year mortgage
renting indefinitely
affordable tiny house

I know which one I'd rather take...

"Everyone goes this way, so it must be the right way to go!"

And finally...

I hope you enjoyed reading this article, and I really hope you found it informative. Perhaps it even made you stop and think about some of the issues raised. Either way, I of course welcome any comments or suggestions; simply click the email button or tweet me using the appropriate icons at the bottom of any page and send me a message! Maybe your comment will even get featured!

Thanks for reading,