For years, tiny homes have been gaining ground in U.S. cities like Durango, Colorado, Fresno, California, and Flat Rock, North Carolina. Until recently, however, buyers seeking options for an alternative, eco-conscious lifestyle, extra income from a rental property, or simply an affordable place to live mostly had to do the legwork themselves. (The HGTV series is called Tiny House Hunters for a reason).
Soon, that could change. Nestron, the Singapore-based company behind futuristic prefabricated homes such as the 279-square-foot, galvanized steel-clad Cube Two (starting at $77K) and wood-wrapped Legend Two ($55K) wants to make it easier for potential buyers to see what they’re getting into, quite literally.
Although no one in the U.S. is currently living in one of its tiny homes, the company plans to open supermarket-sized retail showrooms in Las Vegas, Houston, and Fort Lauderdale in June 2023, followed by more in Japan, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand the following year. Nestron says it already has 15,000 preorders requiring $10,000 deposits from customers across those U.S. cities.
"The needs and calls of tens of thousands of market customers are our driving force," says Lawrence K., president of Nestron, who didn’t want to share his full surname. "Our goal in opening Nestron Centers is to realistically showcase the tiny home lifestyle we offer and to provide a more direct live experience and complete after-sales service."
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To date, one of Nestron’s models has been installed in the U.K. for a private resident, and the company expects to deliver to Hawaii, Maryland, and Tennessee by the end of 2022. Is it a wild idea to open multiple showrooms in an overseas market without proof of concept and a successful track record of ownership? Perhaps, but K. says preorders and inquiries tracked on the company’s AI-powered database show growing demand in the U.S. from a diverse set of buyers and potential customers.
"Backyard housing, disaster victims, low and moderate-income people, Airbnbs,campgrounds, resorts, hotels—these are our audiences. It's very large andcontinues to grow," K. says.
More than just retail showrooms for individual consumers, the Nestron Centers are envisioned as hubs for decentralized networks of sustainable, low-carbon tiny homes that are meant to serve local markets by alleviating affordable housing shortages. The United States alone is short 1.5 million homes according to a report by the financial research company Moody’s Analytics. K. believes that by exposing consumers and city officials to Nestron’s homes and the quality of life they promise, the company can begin to shore up the gap, if only in baby steps.
"The inspiration, I would say, for the Nestron Center is, of course, the audience," K. says. "If we have this kind of showroom, we will probably get the attention of the local government and society at large."
It sounds like a big bet, but it’s one with a distinct vision. K. says the showrooms’ designs, like Nestron’s homes, are inspired by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Foster + Partners–designed Apple Stores, and sci-fi films such as Tron and Avatar. Renderings show the centers dressed in white metallic facades and glass curtain walls, with solar arrays to minimize reliance on local energy grids. Outside the 20,000- to 50,000-square-foot buildings, landscaped areas will feature Nestron’s homes styled as glamping fantasies, disaster relief houses, medical facilities, and residential dwellings for expansive tiny home communities.
The interiors are depicted with a curvilinear floor plan that includes full-scale modular homes, interior furnishings, and LED-illuminated studios, meeting spaces, and purchase locations. According to K., the centers will help to explain what Nestron sees as the benefits of the tiny home prefab lifestyle: a lower carbon footprint, floor plans that facilitate efficient living; abundant natural light; and smart features like lighting, sound, and air-conditioning systems.
For now, the company is keeping the details of showrooms curiously vague. The Orbiter, as a press briefing states, is "a space tunnel with a sci-fi vibe"; the Generator is a destination for "like-minded people such as designers, builders and more to connect"; the NFT Gallery, a space to "experience the virtual world of Nestron."
What is clear is that prospective buyers will be able to browse homes, use smart interfaces to customize models to their budget and preferences, and finalize purchases through an in-store app. According to the company, units can be shipped in about 90 days and installed on the day of arrival, and an after-sale service for maintenance and furnishing upgrades will give buyers ready access to customer service. Think of it like a modern-day Sears kit home backed by the Geek Squad.
K. says homes are delivered complete, and that "there’s zero installation needed upon arrival." But that’s not strictly true. Local contractors are needed to install the units, which are anchored in the ground by four support legs bored with screw holes—60- to 100-centimeters in circumference depending on the terrain and building requirements. Then there are the electric and water hookups, and most crucially, permitting the building type according to an area’s building and zoning codes.
Last April, in North Las Vegas, local leaders brought in bulldozers to demolish a community of tiny homes the nonprofit New Leaf had built for unhoused residents on a parcel of land zoned for single family homes at least 1,200 square feet in size. But a Nevada state law, Senate Bill 150, which passed in 2021, will require large cities to create building and zoning codes to allow for tiny homes in select areas by 2024. Nevertheless, the incident lays bare the bitter fault line that has emerged over tiny homes and where they’re allowed to be built, which, in many cases, due to encoded size requirements, amounts to structural discrimination against the poor and underprivileged.
K. offers assurance that Nestron has been doing its homework, and says he’s currently in talks with authorities in Houston, Las Vegas, and Ft. Lauderdale who are "very accepting of our product." Even if true, Nestron’s ambitions for a tiny home world takeover, if you can call it that, are likely to be held up by jurisdictions across the U.S. The states and cities that prohibit tiny homes rarely do so openly, but instead have inspection programs or onerous requirements for square footage, ceiling heights, and exits that make it illegal to live in them.
Still, building showrooms could serve as a way to raise awareness around the viability of tiny homes to alleviate the housing crisis, especially as housing prices continue to soar. Prefabricated and assembled in Asia, homes like the Cube Two, offered at a base price of $77K, can be built up to 50 percent faster than those built on-site, according to Nestron’s media representative, TzeYan Law. Advanced automation and casting processes—Nestron has 27 proprietary molds—achieve greater precision than traditional building methods, generating less waste, and using fewer materials to keep costs in check, says Law.
The centers Nestron plans to open are are just one phase of its larger vision. The company also wants to open factories in the U.S., the European Union, and Japan to ramp up production and reduce shipping costs. To naysayers who might find such an investment premature, K. contends the need for affordable, fast-to-market housing is real, especially in the context of disaster relief, and it is past time for manufacturers to rise up to meet the demand.
"Last year, California forest fires kinda destroyed a lot of things," K. says. "If we had a solution back then, I think it would have helped society immensely."
While K. and Nestron lay plans to solve the housing crisis and come to the rescue of disaster victims across the U.S., we await its first U.S.–built home.