HOULTON, Maine — While many businesses have seen a slump in sales or even outright closures since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Corinne Watson has experienced growth in hers.
Tiny Homes of Maine, which manufactures small trailer houses known as “tiny homes,” has seen an increase in sales during the coronavirus outbreak. People are seeking them for different reasons. One customer recently wanted a home to run a massage parlor in, since she no longer felt comfortable having her business in her residence. Others are looking to downsize their houses because of increased job insecurity and worries about paying mortgages.
“They don’t know if they will have a job, and if you can sell your home and can have cash left over, you have no bills to pay,” said Watson. “Since the pandemic, it’s also been more 50-50 in terms of people wanting residential vs. commercial properties.”
Watson and her husband Tom started the business in 2016 in Windham, but difficulty with labor shortages led them to move their manufacturing facility to a hangar at Houlton International Airport in 2018.
With the pandemic beginning to affect southern Maine in March 2020, Watson and her family, who had been managing the business remotely, decided to move to Houlton too.
“We came up here for a weekend in March, and suddenly the kids’ school was getting canceled,” said Watson. “We decided that we might as well just sell our home and work from up here.”
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For some Mainers living in tiny houses, the shelter-in-place orders due to the coronavirus have stretched the limitations of their living quarters.
Sometimes the hardest part of starting a simple lifestyle is finding the right home.
“People need to remind themselves why they want to live in a tiny house. You kind of have to take an active role in living tiny [and] determine your priorities in life.”
Just prior to the pandemic, Watson had been experiencing some difficulties with issuing titles for her homes through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, as Maine had no legal definition of a tiny home and would no longer recognize them as camp trailers.
With some help from Houlton’s State Sen. Mike Carpenter, Watson got a bill passed and signed into law recognizing tiny homes, just as bills related to COVID-19 were beginning to take priority in the Maine Legislature.
“I was actually up at night watching it on my phone, and it just barely passed,” Watson recalled. “If that hadn’t passed, I don’t know what would have happened.”
Tiny Homes has also seen an expansion of its customer base into all of New England and beyond. One customer in California ordered one. Another wealthy couple flew in at Houlton Airport from New York on their private plane to inquire about purchasing one.
“I’ve had people ask me ‘but don’t they have tiny homes out there?’ They do, but it’s not a Maine tiny home,” said Watson. “We’ve really built up our brand.”