The Benefits of Living Small: Traverse City Company Talks Prefabricated Homes, Rental Options for Owners

Roost, a Traverse City company, was created by Geoffrey Nelson and architect Michael Fitzhugh. They design and build prefabricated houses in just eight weeks and deliver them directly to your property. Their system is based on “Core” units—360-square-foot rectangles—that can be stacked three high in a variety of configurations to create accessory dwellings like a backyard studio or small cottages and family homes—the possibilities are endless. (View floor plan examples at roostdiy.com.)

We sit down with Geoffrey to talk about all the possibilities small homes offer.

What was your motivation behind starting Roost?

I’m glad you asked. Many people have taken this into a whole other conversation because affordable housing is the buzz of the decade. Everyone wants to know is this, Roost, the solution, and I understand why they think that, but it’s not what we set out to do. Michael is an architect and I’m a designer and a builder. We’re both living in the new-construction world and recognize that it’s a very long process to build a brand new structure/building. From the time you decide you’re going to build, on to dealing with architects and engineers, getting bids, selecting the construction company and then waiting for the construction company to have time to start, set up their on-site ‘manufacturing company’—all this is often looking at a year or two on the short side. That’s a problem. Additionally, even though you get a bid you never know how much a project is actually going to cost or exactly when it will be done until the end. So we thought, what if we can solve a number of those problems? Roost creates beautiful, highly designed, handcrafted structures in a fraction of the time—with an exact cost up front. The process we have created with Roost is a lot like Legos, you have this rectangle (the base is 360 square feet) that can be stacked three high and we have four different roof styles. You can put any of the different styles together and make it your own.

What’s the appeal to these houses?

They’re just really cool. We call it “Great Lakes Style.” Of course, there’s also the super efficient, green, less costly to maintain, get it super quickly aspects …

How does it work?

It’s sort of like the Amazon.com of houses honestly, you order it and have it delivered, not the next day (8 weeks) but pretty close in construction time.

We are able to deliver our houses so fast just because we are building inside, not because we’re making people hit specific time clocks. We build in a process that makes sense. When the materials come in they get cut into the pieces we need and those then get assembled. There are no weather delays. All the materials and tools are here. We have everything where we need it. We can minimize the disruption on site and get it out in minimal time with no delays. So that’s what Roost is all about. We deliver ready-to-finish, which means this 360-square-foot rectangle is delivered as one volume, we put the roof system on, and we are out of there. Then you get it inspected exactly as if you had just built it on-site and you as the homeowner can finish and furnish the interior. If you want help finishing, we have a partner company that can help.

What uses are people considering?

Well, certainly small cottages and homes ranging from 740 square feet to 1500 square feet. Super cool, energy efficient, open plan spaces with an abundance of natural light.

There’s a lot of interest in these as backyard offices, studios, etc. There’s also a lot of thought of adding one to the top of a detached garage and turning them into an income property. It would cost about $500–600 a month to finance one of these but you could rent it for well over that in Traverse City. You’d be making money on your investment.

Some young couples are using two of these Core spaces, one for a kitchen/living room and one for a bedroom/bathroom, and then they’re adding one more and renting it so it cuts their mortgage in half. It also increases the value of the property for when they’re looking to sell it, and being able to rent puts you in a position where you are able to afford a property that has some value. We also have a lot of people up here saying, we have the big house on the lake, but we know how much we can rent it for during the summer so we want to live in something small for three or four months and rent the big one on the lake—it pays for everything for the year.

The Roost Core units range from $60,000–$70,000.


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