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  • A retired software developer moved to a tiny home community and is now mortgage-free.
  • EJ Runyon bought a “Hobbit”-style home for $30,000 and says it’s now worth about $50,000.
  • The owners of the community said about 70% of its residents are single women over 45.

In a field outside Knoxville, Tennessee, a fast-growing community is accommodating residents in their own homes for as little as $20,000.

A retired software developer told Insider how she went mortgage-free by leaving her traditional home behind to move into a “Hobbit”-style dwelling where most residents are single women over the age of 45.

‘Family from 170 total strangers’

EJ Runyon, an author, moved to the community after living in New Mexico and New Hampshire when she realized she could afford to buy a home outright.

The 65-year-old spent $25,000 on a bespoke “Hobbit”-style home in 2020, and another $10,000 on renovations and three years of ground rent to live in the community. The home was designed by Incredible Tiny Homes, which made some adjustments to the property at Runyon’s request.

The home is a wooden structure with a circular door reminiscent of those in the fictional Shire. The interior is 160 square feet and there’s also an elevated 36 square foot sleeping area accessible by ladder.

She has since had the property appraised by an insurer, which said it was now worth more than $50,000. But the financial windfall pales in comparison to other benefits Runyon has reaped from living tiny.

Runyon says she “wasn’t a hugger” before she moved to the enclave. But after setting up a support group for tiny home residents before moving to Tennessee, she has found intimacy easier.

Runyon will go for breakfast with other residents on Sundays, while there are four libraries in the area. She says other helped her get over the loss of a friend last July.

The village also hosts pot luck dinners and are designing a section to play the game horseshoe.

“I’m just amazed at the level of family you can find from 170 total strangers,” Runyon said.

Runyon is one of several residents able to go largely debt-free by living in low-cost dwellings made by Incredible Tiny Homes. Residents pay $200 per month for a lot in the village.

The story echoes “Nomadland”, the film based on older Americans who lived nomadic lifestyles in vans or RVs after losing jobs or houses. 

Tiny house community "The Beach", outside Knoxville, Tennessee.

Tiny home community “The Beach” is outside Knoxville, Tennessee.

Tiny House Giant Journey



With housing costs soaring as mortgage rates rise to their highest level since 2006, Americans are finding new ways to settle down. Many have opted to live in vans, while one person told Insider how she had decided to sell her van to mainly live out of her car.  

This tiny home village, though, lets people stay put and build connections while scaling back their expenses.

Incredible Tiny Homes

Randy Jones, the owner of Incredible Tiny Homes, began building a tiny home community which has grown into a thriving village of more than 170 people. He now makes hundreds of tiny homes a year.

The community has become a hit with retirees. Jones estimates about 70% of the residents are single women over the age of 45. Some are widows, others are divorced.

“The ones that we’ve talked to are mainly alone either in an apartment or a big house that they couldn’t maintain. Now, they have their tiny house,” said Amanda Hayes, who runs the community with Jones. 

“They’re going to the stores together. They’re going on hikes together, they’re going to each other’s houses. They needed this community and they crave it so much.”



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