The relatively new “tiny house” phenomenon is coming to Harford County.
Developer and builder Craig Falanga is building the first one in the county on Rock Spring Road in Bel Air, just outside the town limits.
“I’m drawn to this tiny house thing, but I can’t put my finger on why,” Falanga, owner of Pinnacle Design Development Inc., said. “And apparently the rest of the county is fascinated as well.”
Since Falanga put up a sign in front of 808A Rock Spring Road three weeks ago, he’s gotten nearly 200 phone calls from interested people.
His first foray into tiny houses is a 560-square-foot home — with a loft — on a 33.3-foot wide lot. It will have a wrap-around porch, a crawl space instead of a basement and will be connected to public water and sewer.
“There’s never been a project like this and I hope it’s going to be a gem,” he said.
It provides an alternative type of housing that didn’t exist in Harford County, he said.
“We are aware it’s a trend,” Cindy Mumby, spokesperson for Harford County government, said. “In general, tiny houses are new to Harford County. So we have single-family homes, townhouses, apartments and this would add to the diversity of the available housing stock in the county.”
Falanga, who lives in Fallston, isn’t sure yet if he’ll sell the house or keep it himself and rent it — it depends on how much it ends up costing him to build it.
The idea began about two years ago when he was watching shows on television about tiny houses. He didn’t watch any other building shows — “I do it all day long” — but he was fascinated with the tiny houses.
“I could never live in one and probably only one of 100,000 people could live in one,” Falanga said.
He builds seven to 10 “regular” houses a year, from 2,500 to 6,000 square feet, he said, and thought he would like to try building a tiny house.
“Inherently, there are a lot of problems doing it. You can’t park a home on a piece of property in someone’s backyard,” Falanga said.
But he thought there could be something to it, and there was little risk involved.
“Why don’t I design a tiny house, the smallest tiny house I can design that a normal person can live in,” he said.
So he turned off the TV shows so he wouldn’t be influenced and began to think about the house he’d like to build. He designed the house himself, then redesigned it three days ago after he saw the exterior walls up.
Pinnacle is a full-service building company, he said. He and his employees do all the work — sprinklers, electrical, concrete — without sub-contactors, which he said allows him to build quality homes “with all the bells and whistles” at a reasonable price.
Falanga also helps his buyers with financing, so when he began this project, he started first with the banks to see if they would finance a tiny house.
Most banks will give loans on such a project, if it’s “common and usual” to the area, which means no more than 20 percent larger or smaller than what’s around, Falanga said.
He had to look around for the smallest house that would be comparable to what he wanted to build. Falanga started in Howard Park in Bel Air, where the houses are small. Because most have been expanded over the years, he had to wait for a house without add-ons, “the original square box,” to sell. Finally, a 719-square-foot house was sold that he could use to determine his tiny house size.
Reducing the 719-square-foot house by 20 percent, to make it “common and usual” according to the bank, would mean the smallest his house could be is 575 square feet.
Falanga had rules for his tiny house.
“First, It had to be the smallest house a normal person, the masses, would live in comfortably,” he said.
It had to have all the amenities of a full-size house and not be cookie-cutter, more like something you would see on Pinterest.
“If you live in 560 square feet, it should be a Porsche,” he said.
He thought about the kitchen and how it only has two base cabinets and where to put the laundry, because “you don’t want to stand in the hallway when you’re doing laundry.”
The house has cathedral ceilings in the front and the rear with a 9-foot loft — with wire railings on either side overlooking the lower rooms — in between accessible by a ladder. It has a full bathroom and a kitchen with full-size appliances and granite countertops, wood floors, “things a normal person needs,” he said.
Falanga said he intends to furnish the first house, for show.
Storage is also important when living in such a small space, Falanga said.
A basement, however, would have to be built according to the International Building Code, which would require access by a staircase.
“In a small house, a staircase takes up too much space,” he said.
Falanga worked with the county government and in the alternative to a basement, created a crawl space under the house. At 6 feet, 8 inches high, it’s the tallest a crawl space can be without being a basement.
In the crawl space, which can never be finished, are the heating and air-conditioning units and “560 square feet to store stuff,” Falanga said. “It’s tall enough to stand in, to walk through.”
It’s accessible through a hydraulically assisted hatch in the floor and steps that go down. Because it’s a crawl space, it doesn’t require outside access, he said.
Falanga didn’t intend to build a tiny house where he did. While getting a permit from the county for a “regular-sized house” on what he thought was a 100-foot wide lot, he and the county discovered that the property wasn’t one parcel, but rather it was four 25-foot wide lots that had been combined.
That went unnoticed until he and the county tried to get an address for the lot. In researching the property, he and the county found that the stretch of property along Rock Spring Road between Vale and James roads was platted for 25-foot lots when it was developed in the late 1920s, Falanga said.
“When you wanted to build, you bought several of them,” he said. “That’s why all the houses are different distances apart from each other on that side of the road.”
The lot he was buying was never built on and when the county zoning code went into effect, they became non-conforming lots, Falanga said, but the building rights couldn’t be taken away from them.
Because 25 feet was too narrow to live comfortably on, he chose to combine the four parcels into three and make them 33 1/3 feet wide — “the perfect site,” he said.
He said he plans to build tiny houses on the other two lots as well.
180 inquiries in three weeks
Financially, the house has been appraised at $229,000. He’s hoping to offer it for $199,000. If the buyer put down 6 percent and closing costs, he or she could have a monthly mortgage payment of less than $1,000.
“Where can you live for $1,000 a month in your own place without being attached to another building?” Falanga asked.
That’s what makes it so interesting to public officials, he said. It’s affordable housing that doesn’t exist in Harford County.
Falanga said he knew people would be interested in the house, if for no other reason than simple curiosity.
To help satisfy that, he intends to hold open houses so people can see it for themselves, even if he doesn’t keep it.
“It’s only fair to the people who drive past it every day wondering what it looks like inside,” he said. “If that was me, I’d be stopping by and looking in the windows.”
Of the 180 phone calls he’s gotten in just three weeks, he could have signed 20 contracts, “sight unseen,” he said.
“It’s not the breakdown I thought it would be,” he said.
He knew he would get calls from widows who aren’t ready for assisted living and are looking for a one-story home without a lot of property. What he didn’t expect was an equal number of widowers looking for the same type of home, he said.
“It’s been split down the middle,” he said.
About a third of the calls he’s gotten have been from widows or widowers. Another third are divorced men and women. The remaining third are a diverse group, some of which he expected and others who surprised him.
He expected interest from young singles — those just out of college, who would want a tiny house rather pay rent in Baltimore City. want to buy now.
“Especially with a little bit of a renaissance in town, now that group of young people can afford to come back to where they grew up,” Falanga said.
He was surprised by the interest of young single couples who don’t plan on starting families, he said.
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“They tell me ‘we know we don’t want kids, this would be perfect for us,’” he said.
A grandfather of four, Falanga said that notion makes him sad.
“I didn’t know that many people were going to pass up the family,” he said.
He’s had several calls from older women “trying to get out of their marriages,” he said. They have the money for this type of project, but not much more.
“They haven’t chosen an apartment because where they can afford $1,000 a month, they can’t live in a place like that. It’s not what they’re used to and they can’t live there,” Falanga said. “So they’ve chosen to stay because there’s no alternative.”
Falanga said he expects the first tiny house to be finished by early March.
“This needed to be done. There’s been too much of a frenzy about it and it’s too popular for someone not to do this already,” he said. “I thought it would be unbelievable. If people put their money where there mouth is in the end, we’ll see.”