What Is a Micro-Apartment? Even Tinier Than a Tiny House. A Huge Trend Explained

October 24, 2018

What is a micro-apartment? It’s the urban equivalent of a tiny house—a small dwelling, typically under 300 square feet, some as little as 100—that is gaining popularity in pricey cities where larger apartments are financially out of reach.

These pint-sized pads give people a chance to live in the thick of things without blowing their paycheck … that is, if they’re willing to do some serious downsizing. Here’s the lowdown on micro-apartments, where you can find them, and how they make diminutive dwellings far more comfortable than you might imagine.

Where to find micro-apartments

A decade ago, micro-apartments would have been illegal in most cities. But the dearth of affordable housing options for singletons and lower-income individuals prompted a change in zoning regulations so developers could build smaller dwellings to meet this pent-up demand.

“Cities like New York City had size regulations amended in order to accommodate construction for these über small apartments,” says Steven Giles, a real estate agent with Douglas Elliman.

In 2015, New York City unveiled its first micro-apartment building, Carmel Place, leasing units as small as 260 square feet. Their clever design—fold-out beds, mini-balconies, space-saving services to stock your fridge and do your laundry—made living in a shoebox seem so chic, a bunch of other developers began carving up their own properties into smaller parcels.

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A micro-apartment at Carmel Place in New York City

Carmel City

Other cities that have embraced the growing mini-apartment trend include Boston (Factory 63), Washington, DC (Moda17), Denver (Turntable Studios), and Houston (The Ivy Lofts). San Francisco, notorious for its exorbitant rents, features Panoramic, a micro-apartment project located in the SoMa neighborhood.

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A micro-apartment at Panoramic in San Francisco


Main features of micro-apartments

Recognizing that certain features can go a long way toward making a small space appear large, many micro-apartments boast high ceilings, large windows, and balconies, which create the illusion of space. Rooftop decks, patios, and other common areas offer a chance to entertain guests without needing to squeeze them into your cramped “home” per se.

Within these units, modular furnishings create a flexible space that can serve different needs, depending on what’s desired. A comfortable, 5-foot sofa with a hidden queen wall bed conveniently opens with one hand, while the coffee table converts to a work desk or dining table. Micro-units may also feature sleek, full-service kitchens. Others have kitchenettes, with two stove burners instead of the usual four and a slimmer fridge.

Some micro-apartments have desirable amenities such as free Wi-Fi and housekeeping, which make tiny spaces that much more tolerable. Others come furnished, so you can avoid the potential headache of figuring out how to fit your futon or Murphy bed in on your own.

How much do micro-apartments cost?

If you’ve had your heart set on living in a coveted but pricey location and don’t have the funds to pay up for a large space, these micro-units might be the solution you and your budget have been dreaming of. But don’t assume that their small size means they’re cheap.

Depending on where you choose to live, you’ll still pay a pretty penny compared to what you’d get in the ’burbs. For example, units in Manhattan’s fully occupied Carmel Place range from roughly 260 to 350 square feet, and still command upwards of $2,500 per month. In Los Angeles, One Santa Fe rents 474-square-foot studios for $1,975 per month.

Micro-apartments are primarily prominent in the rental market, but there are exceptions out there. In Washington, DC, buyers can pick up condos ranging from 350 to 680 square feet in the ultra-hip Adams Morgan neighborhood for $249,000 to $549,000. New York City also offers micro apartments for sale, such as this Greenwich Village studio at $479,000 (pictured below).

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A micro apartment for sale in New York City


Is a micro-apartment for you?

If you long for big-city life on a budget but crave more privacy than you’d have with roommates, micro-apartments may be just the ticket. If you’re single and focused on your career, chances are you’re not spending a ton of time at home anyway. Why pay an outrageous amount for a place where you only sleep and shower?

“Renters for micro-apartments are often young, single millennials,” Giles says. “In some cases, micro-apartments are offered as affordable housing, where there’s an income ceiling in order to qualify. Some people are looking for an alternative to the traditional picket fence and backyard, and I think micro-apartment living factors into housing alternatives.”

All of which suggests that you can expect to see this micro-apartment trend just get bigger and bigger.

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