Small wonder

Cork woman Deirdre O’Sullivan knows all about the ups and downs of the rental market. Nine years of renting at ever-higher rates taught her she had little prospect of ever getting on to the property ladder.

“I moved into Cork city roughly nine years ago, paying only €250 for a double room,” recalls Deirdre. “The following years that price averaged out at about €450 to €500 as I moved around. I moved to Passage West about four years ago when my business – Style 25 Painted Kitchens and Furniture – relocated to nearby Douglas. Rent there was roughly €750 for a small cottage; the following year that went up to €950 which was when I decided to move home to save to build a house.”

She came up with a novel – and cheap – temporary solution; one that would allow her to save money while owning her own space.

She decided to buy a mobile home – and luckily her parents allowed her to park it on their land.

It might seem a desperate move. Deirdre herself says that people’s reactions ranged from pity to shock. “A lot of people didn’t seem to understand that it was a positive thing for me. I get that because we all have a preconceived notion about what mobile homes would be like to live in in winter – miserable – since they are mostly made only for holidays,” she says.

But according to Olan Gleeson, of Olan & Son mobile homes in Arklow, Deirdre is just one of an increasing number of people to have looked at new and used models as temporary homes over the last five to six years.

“Demand has always been there but it has really picked up as rents are so expensive and because of the lack of accommodation. They’re popular among those building their own homes. They’re the way a lot of people can catch a break,” he says.

Prices, he says, range from €5,000 up to €100,000 but the most common price bracket is €10,000 to €20,000. “New models are bigger and better, with much more insulation, comfort and better use of space. The top-of-the-range mobiles are used long-term and are as good as a house.”

Deirdre had originally looked at a wooden cabin but ruled it out as she found it too expensive. “With all the necessary extras, insulation, heating system and so on, I felt it was too much to invest for a temporary living solution. However, I am very open to the idea for my future house as there are some great Irish companies out there specialising in cabins and timber frame homes. “

Typically a custom-built log home might come in at around €750 per sqm, which includes assembly, roof, insulation, windows and doors as well as steel roof.

Deirdre bought her home on Done Deal for €6,000, including delivery. “It was in great condition, absolutely liveable as it was, but I wanted to make it my own and was very excited to have it as a project,” she says.

“The beauty of mobile homes is that they are made to be moved and easily hooked up to services with electrics, boiler and plumbing already in place so it is a simple enough job to hook them up.

“We levelled the small site but it didn’t need a foundation as it is just jacked up on to blocks. The stove heats the whole place quite easily and we have plenty of wood from the garden,” she says.

She also relies on her parents for utilities such as, for example, their washing machine.

“All I did to the exterior was wash it down and paint it with a black water-based satinwood for exterior wood and metal. We also boxed in the base to stop wind from getting underneath.”

She gutted the living space. “We took out all of the fitted furniture except the kitchen. This created a lot more space as mobile home furniture is usually oversized.”

Other DIY jobs included new doors for fitted wardrobes and a lick of paint throughout. It’s exactly the sort of transformation Deirdre does all the time in her interior design and upcycling company, Style 25. “The whole transformation was cosmetic and was quite straightforward,” she says,

Excluding the stove, which came to about €1,800 including fitting, she spent about €600 on the refurb, most of it on flooring.

Her collection of vintage furniture and secondhand kitchenware was built up over the years from car boot sales and vintage shops, and kept costs down.

“Those pieces have made this place feel like home now. My style is quite eclectic when it comes to colour and textiles but I am a sucker for mid-century furniture,” says Deirdre.

She moved in just a couple of months ago and has survived her first winter snugly. There are many pluses to having her own spot. “I have entertained a bit since I have moved in. It is lovely to be able to have friends over to stay again and to have a place to call my own. If I don’t head out on weekends, I love lighting the stove early, pottering away cooking or reading.”

One unexpected boon is being close to nature. “It is an amazing space to relax in, surrounded by trees and wildlife. It’s not unusual to see red squirrels playing outside or jays flying around the garden. You can hear everything outside very clearly – rain, birds and wind – which I love,” she says.

“The reaction since I have done it up has been amazing. I have had lots of people contact me saying I have inspired them to do the same and I am so delighted. The reason I decided to share my tiny home story was to do exactly that, to highlight another option for some people who might feel stuck,” she says.

“It has been the best decision and investment I have made for myself. It has exceeded my expectations in regards to warmth, space and general comfort. It almost feels too good a home for a mobile home.”

She plans to build in Blarney eventually. “I am hoping to build within a two-year time frame. In the meantime I will continue to save. It will be a small house with a very manageable mortgage. I don’t want a mortgage that will determine the way I live.”

Deirdre’s tips for a tiny home

If you don’t have the budget to insulate, source a mobile home with double-glazed windows.

Make sure the frame underneath the house isn’t rusted – most mobiles have spent time near the sea.

Check everywhere for damp and leaks.

Invest in a stove. You’ll save money and it will help your mobile hold its value if you plan to sell it on.

If you are ripping out built-in furniture, be very careful not to take the walls away with it, as they are quite flimsy.

Be aware of ceiling heights, if you are any taller than me at 5′ 3″ as you might want to get a pitched roof if you want to stretch out in your home.

Make sure your pipes are insulated. Mine froze with the first bit of frost.

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