Did you ever play house as a kid? I did. And while once in a while my play house would contain a family with kids, most of the time my play revolved around adventure and the experience of living somewhere new. Then like most of us, I assumed I gave up playing house when I became a teenager. But this last week I realized that in many ways I still play house on a regular basis. In fact, every time Thom and I rent a vacation rental we are “playing house” in a similar way. Taking that a step further, this last week Thom and I bought a Park Model in Tucson and it hit me—this is just another way to play house! What about you? Did you play it as a kid? And are you playing a variation even today?
First, in case you don’t know, I should define Park Models. In many ways they mimic a tiny home, or should I say a tiny mobile home. But they are actually an RV (recreational vehicle.). Because they are considered a movable home (like a motorhome or trailer) and because they are less than 400 square feet, they can occupy RV Parks. A mobile or manufactured home can’t do that because they are bigger than an allowable RV and they also are often permanently attached to land. While some Park Model communities allow you to own the land, in the vast majority you rent the lot (or space) just like with an RV.
So why not just go the RV route? Many many years ago Thom and I discovered that we were not RV people. We borrowed Thom’s parent’s motorhome for a two-week vacation and at the end we decided that even though there were some benefits, there were too many negatives for us. And now with the availability of vacation rentals everywhere in the world, when we travel we prefer to stay in a home or apartment (rather than a hotel) and get a feel for the location. We often rent a place for a full month (or even two) and that really helps us to settle in, “play house,” and imagine life in a different location.
Meanwhile, throughout much of our lives Park Models have existed as a possibility. In fact, back in the early 90’s we almost bought into a business that manufactured Park Models up in Phoenix. While we appreciated their value and opportunity even then, after working there for two months we discovered we were not cut out for a corporate nine-to-five type occupation. Fast forward 30+ years and we were reintroduced to Park Models and the types of communities they offer its residents. So rather than drive your RV from place to place, you buy a Park Model in a place you want to be and just visit there. After several trips to Tucson over the course of a year, we decided that a good way to try on the lifestyle was to rent one for a month and play house.
We had barely been here a week and we found a Park Model for sale at an unbelievably low price. Of course, it was 30+ years old and needed a lot of cosmetic work done, but many important upgrades had been made (like a new roof, new A/C, double pane windows, new flooring) so we made an offer. A few days later we were handed the keys. Remember, a Park Model is considered an RV so it’s more like buying a used car than a house. In fact, you go to the DMV and get it licensed and that’s pretty much it.
Now that we own it, we have begun going through cupboards and drawers and getting rid of dated and unwanted items. Although previously owned by a woman from Alaska, it had been rented out as a vacation rental for many years and was filled with lots of stuff. During the summer we will have a contractor come in and take the popcorn off the ceiling, take out several unnecessary cabinets, and paint the entire interior. Remember this is in Tucson and it is hot during the summer so we don’t want to be here anyway. Then in the fall we will return and start enjoying our new “play house” in an on-and-off way whenever we want to visit Tucson. If not, we can always rent it out ourselves (especially now and then to offset the dues.)
So again—why? Since we have been here for a bit over two weeks now, we have met dozens of incredibly friendly people. And this is during the off season when only a fraction of the activities offered by the park are still happening. Only people who are 55 or older can live here and there is something about being in a retirement community (this is our first) along with the RV lifestyle that seems to bring together people who want to be social and very active. Because Thom is more introverted than I am, he was initially hesitant. But even he is appreciating the fact that if we want to chat and do things with others—they are all around us. If not, we can stay at home and stay to ourselves. It’s nice to have a choice.
Of course, a big draw for such a property are the numerous amenities offered. Not only is there a very large pool (for lap swimming and aerobics classes) and two hot tubs–there are numerous sitting areas so you can visit with others. This park has exercise rooms and a gym, an amazing (in Thom’s words) woodworking shop, a huge library with free books for the taking, a sewing room (which I doubt I will see much off) several classrooms for things like Spanish classes, a room with several pool tables, a card room, a dance studio and an art studio with its own kiln. There are also tennis courts, pickleball courts, bocce ball courts, shuffle board courts, horse shoe pits and three dog parks. There is a large auditorium and a smaller one for parties and events. They also offer dozens of clubs for every sort of interest. And one big reason we picked this RV park is that you can access the Tucson Loop (130 miles of car free bike trails) through a gate on our property. We are also about 15 minutes from downtown Tucson and close enough to the freeway for easy access to just about anywhere in city. Plus, the parks and nature opportunities surrounding Tucson are just minutes away.
So yeah, there are a lot of reasons why we took the plunge to see how we like playing house here in Tucson. At the price we paid we can either stay or go with only a minimal investment. We can also rent it if we aren’t going to use it much which we’ll find out as time goes by. And although most people who own Park Model’s here are snowbirds who travel south for the winter, some people live here year round. At this price point, living in a Park Model is actually a very economical way to live as a person ages. Sure, they are small, but with an approved “Arizona Room” you can add on an addition 400 feet, giving a person up to 800 square feet if wanted. If a person is “Rightsized” and doesn’t need a large or luxurious place to live but wants to stay social and connected, it is a great alternative. Ours is approximately 650 square feet.
Thom and I tend to be pretty thrifty and have never seen a reason to buy a second home, so this is an experiment for us. Without a doubt we would not have considered it if the price hadn’t been so low. (What’s low? Less than $30,000) We also like Tucson a lot and have considered living here permanently. (Just not at this time!) Additionally, in the past we have toyed with the idea of buying into a co-housing community. Not only does this share many of the same qualities, the price is much more affordable than every co-housing community ($350,000 to $800,000) we’ve ever heard of or seen. So throw in the fact that buying here is a bit like “playing house,” we can afford to see if we fit are a fit for the Park Model lifestyle.
The news is full of stories about how a huge number of seniors become cutoff and isolated from each other as they grow older. From what we’ve experienced so far, it would be almost impossible to be lonely here. Plus, the affordability for many on a fixed income is a huge bonus. I have no idea if the idea of playing house in a Park Model (or tiny home for that matter) appeals to others, but I think it is always SMART for people to be aware of their options. And from what we’ve seen so far—playing house in one can be incredibly fun!