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VOL. 43 | NO. 23 | Friday, June 7, 2019

Want a $130K vacation home in Monteagle? Go tiny

By Joe Morris

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Getting Chip Hayes on the phone isn’t easy. He’s often busy with would-be tiny home owners, taking them for a walking tour and, more often than not, completing some paperwork when that’s over.

Not that he’s complaining.

This is what Hayes, the president of Oakstone Land & Capital, had in mind when he connected with the team at Designer Cottages, a subsidiary of Knoxville’s Clayton Homes, about creating some getaway-style tiny home communities in Middle Tennessee.

“I’ve been doing vacation property since 2004, working on Center Hill Lake and all over the Southeast,” Hayes says. “Lake and mountain properties are my passion because I love being outdoors.

“But a lot of those sites are expensive. The entry-level ones were going for $300,000 or more. That’s awesome if you can afford it, but many people can’t.

“So, I began looking around for something that was much more affordable, and the idea of something smaller made sense.”

The highly visible tiny home movement caught his eye, and he arranged a tour of Clayton’s manufacturing facilities to see what they were building.

“I didn’t think anybody had the facilities, the financing or backing to mass-produce these, and I was wowed by what they were doing,” he adds. “They are part of Berkshire Hathaway, so they have the best backing in the business.

“And Clayton has the best history around when it comes to building any type of manufactured home.

“Some of the tiny homes I had seen weren’t all that great, and these were an amazing upgrade to the concept,” he adds. “They are beautiful homes – just small. I’ve seen multimillion-dollar real estate agents just fawning all over these things.

“They come thinking they’re going to look at something hokey, and they get their socks blown off.”

What sent Hayes over the edge from interested investor to all-in developer was an open house at a trade show.

“I watched young millennials walk in and say, ‘this is all the house I need,’” he recalls. “I saw 40-somethings with little kids talk about how they could use something like this as a vacation home, and it would fit their budget.

“I saw older couples making the same decision. It resonated with me that tiny homes fit people at all stages of life, from all walks of life, and that they could be put down in so many different places, as either a vacation home or permanent residence. I was ready to get started.”

Start he did, and just over a year ago Oakstone’s inaugural development, the Retreat at Deer Lick Falls, began near Monteagle.

Hayes says the main thing he wanted to get away from was the refurbished-campground idea and create something much more resort-like in nature. What came of that mental reset was a gated community of 40-plus homes with a waterfall, communal fire pit and hiking trails. The home/land combo packages offered starting prices in the low six figures with a small monthly homeowner association fee.

They sell in less than three weeks, he says.

“We didn’t want to take an old property, pack tiny homes in there and then lease those out,” he explains. “If I am getting away, I don’t want people right next to me. We wanted to package the lot and home together, on properties that range from .3 to 2.5 acres, and create a community with options.”

Hayes claims this is a new approach to tiny-home communities, and by also offering add-ins such as decks, patios and the shared amenities, it piqued a lot of interest.

“We got found by some Realtors who bought property, and then other people, and the next thing we knew we were sold out in 2.5 weeks,” he adds. “It became something of a frenzy.

“We hit a niche of people who wanted these unique, affordable homes that were designed by Jeffrey Dungan and are truly magazine-worthy.”

Dungan, of Jeffrey Dungan Architects, is an award-winning architect from Birmingham who designs luxury lake, rustic and mountain homes with natural and reclaimed items.

The Designer Cottages team was equally enthusiastic about the partnership.

“Clayton is excited about partnering with developers and proprietors to open sales locations and build communities that feature our Designer Cottages floor plans,” says Jim Greer, national brand manager for Designer Cottages, a division of Clayton Homes.

“The [retreats] feature our luxury tiny floor plans and offers secondary housing solutions for customers in the Nashville and Chattanooga areas. Oakstone has the land-development experience to be a good fit with us, and their success speaks to how much interest people have in tiny homes.”

As the turnkey vendor for Designer Cottages, Oakstone is the dealer for both its Low Country and Saltbox models, as well as the land, all of which are sold as a package.

After the success of the Deer Lick effort, the company began taking reservations for its next project, the Retreat at Water’s Edge in nearby Tracy City, which will be about twice the size of the Deer Lick community.

There were 89 reservations before marketing even began, with multiple showings to people who plunked down a $1,000 deposit just to secure a viewing appointment.

“We did that because with the first development we had people on the property wanting to purchase a home while on a tour, and by the time we got back to the office it had sold,” Hayes acknowledges. “That was not a fun conversation to have. We were just overwhelmed, and so now we’ve got the processes in place to make sure we’re taking care of everyone as fairly as possible.”

Both developments, as far as future ones, will feature hallmarks such as roundabouts with flagstone firepits and other community space. The idea is to create a home by the lake, or the woods, where an owner can be as isolated or engaged as you wish, Hayes says.

“There are plenty of things to go and do nearby, and you’re just an hour and a half from downtown Nashville,” he says. “Coming from anywhere, really, it’s a simple commute.”

Next up on the Oakstone drawing board is the Retreat at Whiskey Creek, which is visualized for an area near Lynchburg.

“You’ve got 1.2 million people visiting the distilleries there, and there are limited short-term housing options nearby,” Hayes says. “We think a tiny-home community could take someone’s visit there and make it much more special.”

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