Front photo: Sean Fennessy
Where will you live in retirement?
What type of home do you want  in retirement?  
Some people prefer staying where they are, others downsize and some people upsize. However, have you heard about Small Homes?
One person who knows a lot about this area is Sally Wills. She is the director of Small Change Design & Construction Pty Ltd and has been involved in the building industry for the last 30 years.  Sally is a registered domestic builder and a qualified building designer.
The company motto is:  ‘Think Big. Live Small’.
We asked Sally about Small Homes.
What is a ‘small home’?
No one has settled on a definition yet and it does depend on how many occupants will live in the space but given the average build is approx 233sqm (25 squares for Victorians)  – anything under 100m2 (11 squares) is ‘small’. Very small is 45- 80sqm (5—9 squares) and Tiny is less than 45 sqm.
There are also tiny homes on wheels (THOW’s) which are usually no more than about 25sqm. These are essentially heavy caravans and are not considered a ‘dwelling’ as far as the Building Code of Australia is concerned. They are also completely unregulated (other than requiring a registered trailer) so consumers should be wary about engaging a tiny house builder to construct a THOW as they will not be afforded the same protections as a consumer who has engaged a registered builder to build a small home on land.  
What is the attraction of a small home?
There are many attractions to a small home – more affordable to purchase or build, requiring less land. Cheaper and faster to heat and cool.  Less on-going maintenance. Less clutter, less housework. More sustainable for the planet (less resources to build initially and less on-going operational energy). More time to do things other than housework/maintenance. More money to do things other than pay for a big house. Allows more density in existing suburbs which means less travel and better use of existing infrastructure. A mental freedom when what you have is enough for your needs.
Photo: Sean Fennessy
Who buys small homes?
Young people looking for their first home. Older people looking to downsize. All manner of people in between who can see the benefits of living smaller.
Do people have trouble adjusting, (if they are downsizing)?
I believe that some people find downsizing into an apartment quite difficult – loss of privacy and loss of garden are main issues there. Downsizing into a small house though is generally a positive experience if the culling of possessions has taken place before the move and if the small house has plenty of storage. 
Is there a choice of building materials for small homes?
Of course! Small houses can be built in a wide variety of materials like larger houses. 
Have you found that retirees are generally happier in a smaller home?
I’ve built for several retirees (older women living on their own) and they are very happy in their small homes and tend to spend more time out and about socialising then they did when living in a larger home. I think they find the ease with which they can deal with house work in a small home very liberating.  
Are there any areas of Australia that are more enthusiastic about smaller homes?
Major capital cities where the downsizing trend (usually apartments) is well underway. Its catching on in some regional areas too. Affordability is a big, if not the biggest driver.  
Are lenders (eg banks) happy to provide finance for a small home?
I believe they are. It used to be that one bedroom was a problem but that’s not an issue anymore. Having said that, tiny houses on wheels are not supported by lending institutions willing to offer mortgages on this type of home.  
Photo: Sean Fennessy
Do Councils have special planning rules for small homes?
There are many areas in Australia now where secondary dwellings are allowed. This potentially offers existing home owners the opportunity to downsize into their own backyard allowing them to stay in their community and rent the family home out to supplement retirement income. Planning rules vary between States and Victoria is still not on board with secondary dwellings but that looks like it will change early next year. The advantage of secondary dwellings will be a low impact increase in density in middle well service suburbs and an increase in dwelling diversity that responds to our changing demographics – smaller and single person households. 
How many on a block?  (what size block)
This will vary but secondary dwellings will usually be approximately 50-60m2 and will need approximately 120-150 sqm of land, 
In remote areas could you go ‘off the grid’ with a small home (water tanks, solar panels etc).
Yes, absolutely. Even in not-so-remote areas! Just one issue with small and very small homes – they don’t have much ‘ roof realestate’ so solar panels may also need to be on a frame on the grounds as well as the roof.  Good thing about a small house though,is you won’t need a big system. 
What is the average price of a small home?
Land prices for a small house can vary substantially across the country. To build a small house will cost between $150k – $300k depending on site conditions and services.’
How much cheaper is the cost of living in a small home?
That’s a bit difficult to day as small homes vary between each other in energy efficiency (which is very dependant on materials, insulation and orientation) but generally you can expect utilities to be half to one quarter of a standard family home. 
Photo: Sean Fennessy
Are small homes acceptable to developers of new estates?
More and more new estate developers are embracing small homes and the small lots needed for smaller homes. These still tend to be 300m2 lots and the houses are 2-3 bedroom/2 bath.  Having said that small and very small homes of the one bed 60m2 variety are much more acceptable in more inner urban areas. 
What are some tips in deciding where to live in retirement? And having a smaller home? 
  • Orientation is very important – a light, bright small home will feel much larger and glazing facing the right way will make a small house super cheap to heat and cool.
  • Carefully consider traffic paths through your small home. Avoid having to move diagonally through a space to get out or through to another space – it makes it difficult to furnish and feels awkward.
  • Think about lofty ceilings – it can make a very small space feel very large. 
  • Plan for lots of storage. Small spaces work much better if there is a place for everything.
  • If possible reduce fussy details – panel doors, detailed architraves, skirtings and decorative cornices look great in large homes but simple, clean lines work best in a small home. 
  • A small home is a brilliant opportunity for luxury – you can lash out and get that expensive tile or door handles because you only need 2m2 and there are only 2 doors in your small home! 
ill Weeks is the author of 21 Ways To Retire and co-author of Where To
Retire In Australia and Retire Bizzi. Information Provider For Great Retirement Lifestyles.
She is a regular contributor to radio

For further information about Small Homes, visit

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