Many millennials show an affinity for living close to their place of employment, and recreating, exercising and mingling in the same vicinity. Retirees often desire to rent or buy a pied-a-terre for a fun compliment to their suburban lifestyle. The closer you are to the heart of a city, the more expensive the price tag is to rent or buy into that convenient lifestyle. For the lucky ones, proximity to work might eliminate the need to own and maintain an automobile. But the cost of housing is daunting for everyone. Along with stiff prices, the sizes of residential units have been chopped, and so-called shoebox condos have been hitting the market in major cities around the world.
Cities like Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco offer stylish micro condos. All attempt to include amenities like a common media room, computer room or entertaining space, and an in-house gym. Some even have a shared gourmet kitchen. The downside is it can be difficult to secure a mortgage for this type of housing. Lenders, even B lenders, appear cautious about issuing mortgages for a property of less than 500 or 600 square feet.
Say "mini apartments" and you might first think of New York City. Over the years, plenty of illegal tiny units have been found, and they still exist, as is true in most large cities. A minimum requirement of 400 square feet for new apartments was established in the city in 1987. And though it is hard to conceive of, there is now a demand for even smaller units! One notable building project that received a waiver allowed for Carmel Place, a nine-story building with 55 micro apartments, to be erected in the Kips Bay neighborhood in 2015. The apartments range in size from 260 to 360 square feet. Twenty-two of the units are affordable, and the remainder are rented for around $3,000 a month.
Over the last decade, Seattle has seen an explosion of micro-units, more than any other U.S. city. It is a place vibrant with students and young professionals employed at giants like Amazon, Google and Microsoft. The city bustles with sports, outdoor activities -- in rain or shine -- and a vibrant food scene. Capitol Hill, Magnolia and Ballard are just a few of the long-established neighborhoods peppered with bars, restaurants and craft ice cream shops, donut shops and brew bars. Beginning in 2009, around 2,380 mini apartments were given the green light, and some developed like college dorms with community kitchen and bathroom facilities. There was a huge backlash, with homeowners protesting loudly in objection to the density. More stringent rules have since been enacted. Now, the minimum requirement is 220 square feet with its own kitchen and bathroom.
In all cases, what makes a tiny place workable is vigilant interior design. Each piece in a micro-unit must be the correct size and no larger. It is advisable to invest in dual-purpose furniture pieces, such as a coffee table that articulates into a dining table or a bookcase that can be spun around to reveal a bed. There is no room for clutter, and one must embrace the fact that life in one of these special places is very much like living on a boat. Being conservative with technology helps. Some do without a TV and rely on their laptops, or mount TVs on the wall to conserve precious space. And there is no need for book storage when one reads from an electronic device. Beds with storage drawers underneath and a sofa that converts into a bed are two other options. Precision is required to coax the most out of these mini homes.
Christine Brun's column, "Small Spaces," can be found at creators.com.