Q&A of the Week: Young Man Seeks Advice on Mortgage-Free Home Strategy

A modest home being built by a young man mortgage-free.

UPDATED 17Apr2020: A while back I got an email from a young man who reads my newspaper columns regularly and visits BaileyLineRoad.com. His name is Caleb and he’s  looking for advice about a sane, sensible and mortgage-free approach to owning his own modest house. Here are his questions and my answers . . .

Caleb writes: Can you help me decide what to do about building a house mortgage-free? I didn’t want to bother you, but your website said to feel free.

I’m a carpenter’s apprentice and was raised in the country. I’m getting married soon, and we want to live in the country and  live simply. We don’t want a mortgage or to pay rent forever and never own. I want to build a tiny house, but it’s hard to find reliable information. Some people say I can’t build anything smaller than 800 square feet. Others say minimum size depends on where I plan to build. Different people say you can’t live in an RV full time. They tell me to build a tiny house on wheels, then get a vehicle identification number for an RV. How is it not an RV then?

We don’t own land yet, but have our parents’ land available in organized townships. I don’t know how long we would live there for. Can I live in a tailer, say 20ft RV tailer? Can a build a house 8x20ish on a trailer bed and park it on my parents’ land and then my own? Does the building code still apply? We would be happy with a trailer and little wood stove, or something a little bigger that I can build, in exchange for freedom. But I want to be able to be on my parents land and then my own. We live in northwestern Ontario, Canada in the Nipigon/Thunder Bay area.

Anything you can tell me I’d appreciate, or any resources or titles of people to call. Thank you for your time and assistance. I also read your article every weekend in our newspaper and like it. Thanks.

  • Caleb P, Thunder Bay, Canada

Steve writes: Great to hear from you, Caleb and congratulations on the wise plans you’re creating. Very few young people think like this any more and they suffer for it.

My own oldest son, Robert, is 29 years now (born in 1990), and he did something like what you’re thinking of doing. He and I built a 16 x 25 foot cabin on a forested corner of our property, and he lives there now with his wife, Edyta, and their daughter, Lily, born in August 2017. It’s a very nice thing having an extended family situation so close. We see them many times each week. We’re there to help them, and they’re available to help us. It’s great to be around a granddaughter, and it’s especially good that Robert doesn’t have a mortgage. He started his own business after high school, so he also has no post-secondary debt. This approach is entirely possible for far more young people than follow this path now. That’s Robert and Edyta below, while they were building their home and before Lily arrived.

Robert & Edyta in construction mode building their home. Neither of them are carpenters, but care and patience can lead to the skills necessary.

The main thing to understand is that building a tiny home on a trailer will mean a very tiny, tiny home. That may be fine for a couple, but things will change when children come along. So here’s what I recommend:

1. Talk to your municipality about the rules around building a second dwelling on the same property (the one owned by your parents). Two houses on one property is sometimes a problem in some townships, but the province of Ontario, where I live, has enacted policies to encourage a second dwelling on the same lot. Ask your municipality and see what the policy is.  The whole second dwelling movement is taking off across North America.

2. How large is your parents’ land? In our case, our property will go to our son when we die, so it’s much more streamlined that he’s built on our land and will stay here forever. We have 90 acres and he’s 500 yards away in the forest, so it might as well be a separate property. Settling in one place, then moving to another is a big waste of time and money. If you want to live in the country, do everything you can to start with something you can stick with forever. Time goes quickly. You’ll be surprised how soon you will be in charge of the property your parents own now.

3. Building very small makes sense to start, but you should build in a way that’s easy to add to. When we built Robert’s place we framed door openings into walls where we knew we’d want to cut an opening for an addition later. At the moment these openings are covered in drywall, but we know where they are, available to be opened up later. Building in phases allows the financial well to refill, so borrowing isn’t a necessity. Your carpentry skills will let you build for much less than the average person, so you’re in very good shape to avoid a mortgage and everything that comes with it.

That’s Robert’s cabin you see above. He’s added a small addition for an indoor bathroom and laundry area, and there’s a sleep loft up above. Robert is planning another addition, too. Since we planned the building for these additions, the whole package looks nice and unified.

Want to see a tour of Robert’s cabin? Click here to see what it looks like close up. and how we built things.