She knew the minute she walked in the front door.
"The house spoke to me," said Susan Foster. Sure, as a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty Integrity Lakes, she spends many a workday walking into homes. But when she set foot into this 594-square-foot house in south Minneapolis built in 1925, she experienced the immediate feeling that she'd found her happy place and home away from home.
Foster's full-time residence is a bungalow she shares with partner Dick Brewer, a fine artist, who works from a studio that was built on the back of their lot. "He's an extrovert, and he has other artists and friends stopping by all day to talk with him," she explained.
Their dog, Gus, is a "barks-trovert," since he sets up a loud canine alarm for every new visitor, backyard squirrel or falling leaf (you're welcome, humans). "It's a fine place to be, as long as you don't want to string two consecutive thoughts together or have any semblance of peace and quiet," she said.
Which brings us to this classic workman's cottage, less than a mile from her home, which Foster instantly recognized as the office and retreat her overstimulated nervous system needed.
"I belong to an accountability group with six other Realtors," she said. "In the summer of 2021, we weren't fully back in our offices, but I was super busy. That's when I realized that I couldn't focus at home. I brought it up to the group, and someone said, 'Why don't you set up a search for a very small place?' I'm experienced in setting up these searches for clients, so I entered in my budget and then waited to see what might come up," Foster said.
Love at first sight
While Foster began the process with no preconceived notions about what she wanted, or even without the hope that a solution existed, she soon got a match for the property in the Morris Park neighborhood. "I'd been to one other place before that, and it wasn't a good fit," she recalled. "It was a condo in Bloomington with a floorplan I didn't like and not enough light. It made me cringe."
There was no cringing when Foster walked up to what would later be nicknamed the "nano-manor." Instead, there was that "This is the one" feeling that many home buyers recognize.
"It made me giddy," Foster said. "I loved all the natural light, because I think it makes me more productive. And there's a monster white pine in the backyard that I can't even wrap my arms all the way around. It's a grandmother of a tree, and it smells like heaven."
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Then there was the old kitchen sink, which she believes is original to the house. "I had a total appliance crush on the sink, and it might be true that I bought a sink with a house around it," she said.
As an experienced real estate agent, however, she knew that there's more to a long-term relationship than just the initial thrill. Hard reality set in when an inspection revealed a major sewer issue.
"I had offered $164,000, but once we found out about the sewer, I consulted with the listing agent and dropped my offer to $157,000," she said, "I made a 25% down payment, so my monthly payments are $804 a month. I think I got a spectacular deal, because it's so close to my home and it's just right for what I need."
Still, there was plenty of work ahead before the space was ready. "It had a bit of a fat lip and a black eye," she said.
Her saving grace was the wide network of talented, reliable tradespeople who came through recommendations from colleagues. From her late December 2021 closing through this spring, work was done on floors, ceilings, electrical, plumbing, HVAC and more. Contractors covered up cracks, worked through layers of old linoleum and replaced massive metal grates with flush-floor vents.
"They were spectacular, and all the work has been impeccable," Foster said. "You don't see even the tiniest crack between the trim and walls, which is incredible for a house that's almost 100 years old."
An affection for tiny houses
As happy as she is in the space, Foster knows it wouldn't be right for everyone. There's the issue of the closets, first of all. In addition to a small hallway linen closet, there are only two closets in the home, and they're each so narrow that a clothes hanger won't fit in them the traditional way. Instead, a short rod runs widthwise while hooks allow for a few hangers to sit flush against the wall.
But issues like that didn't stop her, since she already knew how to work with small spaces. Her primary home is 752 square feet, so the two places combined are less than 1,400 square feet.
Foster's in good company, too, as this kind of lifestyle has become something of a movement, as evidenced by television shows like "Tiny House Hunters," "Tiny House, Big Living" and "Tiny House Nation." And while there are builders who specialize in small spaces, buying a tiny house often means buying an older home.
In the 1940s, for example, nearly 70% of new houses were 1,400 square feet or less, but today only about 8% of new single-family homes are at least that small, according to a New York Times article citing CoreLogic financial services.
Now that her micro-space is renovated, Foster is focusing on decorating and making it more her own, starting with lots of color. A bright red statement couch fills part of the three-season porch while a wall-sized neon-green portrait of herself, painted by local artist Frank Gaard, hangs in the hallway.
The palette is cooler elsewhere, with storm window trim painted an icy Nordic blue to match the mailbox. For summer, she'll switch things up by installing screen windows that have been painted a sunny yellow shade that matches the interior walls. Foster plans to install a Little Free Library, just as she's done outside her nearby home.
While she plans to stay here quite a while, Foster is also planning ahead. She could see the cozy cottage becoming an Airbnb someday. And of course, being a Realtor, she's considered the resale value.
"One of my contractors said he'd be willing to buy it just for the garage, which he could turn into his ultimate workshop," Foster said.
For now, though, she is focusing on the space's superb restoration, plentiful natural light and — most of all — its abundant peace and quiet.
Julie Kendrick is a freelance writer in Minneapolis. Follow her on Twitter @KendrickWorks.