A few years ago, when tiny houses were all the rage, some people changed their lives entirely and ran with the idea. But what if you don’t want to live in a little house that might be located in the middle of nowhere? What if you’d rather be where the action is — but on a budget?
For people like you, there are micro-apartments.
What Is a Micro-Apartment?
Micro-apartments are just what they sound like they might be: tiny apartments that have all the basics and not much more. They’re located in pretty much every metro area you can imagine, and often close to where people want to be either for work or play. While the number of newly constructed micro-apartments may give the impression it’s a new concept, in some cities there are micro-apartments over 100 years old.
In the past, you might have called these units studios, but rather than being an apartment big enough to share, micro-apartments are very much a housing unit for one, coming in between 100 and 400 square feet. Studio apartments are typically 500 to 600 square feet, according to Apartments.com. Just like studios of days gone by, micro-apartments make up just a small percentage of the apartment inventory.
How Much Do Micro-Apartments Cost?
Since there are all kinds of apartments that technically qualify as micro-apartments, there can be a wide price range.. However, since these units do tend to stay toward the bottom end of the rent ranges for their areas, here are the least expensive micro-apartments in several desirable cities to illustrate just what you’ll spend to rent these units on the low end.
Each unit on Zillow.com included a kitchenette, a private bathroom and natural lighting and was available for rent as of August 20, 2023. Rates are per month.
And yes, in some cities, you can even buy a micro-apartment. It’s not common to find them, but they are out there in high-density locations like Manhattan, New York.
“Micro apartments are a tiny and unique subset of the Manhattan apartment sales market, representing roughly one-half of 1% of sales,” says John Walkup, co-founder of UrbanDigs in New York City. “Buyers who can handle the tiny size tend to get huge discounts compared to the overall market, as micro-apartments tend to trade at a steep 60% discount compared to more regularly sized ones.”
According to Walkup’s data, micro-apartments in Manhattan in April 2023 saw an average sales price of approximately $425,000, though they did have a substantial peak in October 2022 of $600,000. This is an area where larger apartments easily go for a million dollars or more, he says.
What Will You Get For Your Money?
Older micro-apartments run the gamut in offerings since they’ve had decades to be changed, remodeled and reimagined, but more modern micro-apartments have fairly consistent offerings.
“Like other traditional apartments, the amenities will follow the class of the property: A class units will have many great amenities while C class units will have only the basic amenities,” says David Peters, managing director of First Floor Equity, a Minneapolis-based company that converts hotels into micro-apartments. “Most micro-apartments have a kitchenette in them. The most common configuration for that kitchenette is a full apartment-size refrigerator, 6 to 8 feet of countertop with a single bowl kitchen sink and a wall-mounted microwave above a two- to four-burner cooktop. Generally speaking, most units do not have dishwashers or washer/dryer units or full ranges in them.”
However, Peters explains, upgraded units may have considerably more amenities, including full apartment-sized ranges, dishwashers and 24-inch wide washer/dryer combination units. You’ll pay more for the pleasure, but it can be worth it.
Pros of Micro-Apartments
Although living in a micro-apartment isn’t for everyone, there are advantages. Not only do micro-apartments offer smaller spaces for people who may not want to share their living quarters, they can get you much closer to your job or favorite area of a city without having to spend a fortune.
“Perhaps the best benefit of a micro-apartment is the value it can offer,” says Mihal Gartenberg, broker at Coldwell Banker Warburg in New York City. “That can mean something different to different types of people. For example, a micro-apartment can be the only way for someone to afford to live in an expensive part of town or even in the city in general.”
Cons of Micro-Apartments
Even if you really enjoy a minimalist lifestyle, a micro-apartment might not be a great fit. Their compact size limits the lifestyle of someone living there, which can mean that most occupants are only going to stay a few years until they decide it’s time to cohabitate with someone else, want to get further off the beaten path or choose to move into a larger space, whether that’s an apartment, condo or house.
“Micro-apartments have limitations for families, lacking the space needed for growth,” says Seth Williams, owner-broker at Reference Real Estate in Boston. “They’re better suited for couples starting out, but even then, overcrowding can occur. These units can’t accommodate larger families, hindering long-term suitability.”
Should You Live in a Micro-Apartment?
If you love the idea of being closer to everything, but you can’t quite see yourself in a micro-apartment, it might be because of the things you own. Switching out some bulky furniture for lighter pieces is just one piece of advice that might help you fit into a micro-apartment lifestyle.
“It is easier to live in a micro-apartment if you are more minimalist in your lifestyle and habits,” Gartenberg says. “Bulky furniture will make the home feel small. Packed cabinets and closets will make the apartment feel cluttered. It is important to find a home that will house you and your lifestyle appropriately.”
Micro-apartments aren’t for everyone, but they are for some people, especially those who love living alone and don’t mind doing it in fairly tight quarters. Living in a micro-apartment is a different version of the same trade-off between living in the city versus the suburbs. When you live in the city, you’ve chosen an entirely different way to live your life, just like when you choose a micro-apartment by yourself versus a larger apartment with roommates or your family.
“Living in a micro-apartment is definitely not for everyone and most likely not for more than a two-person household,” Peters says. “I think it is most viable for single individuals, but it can be a very enjoyable and freeing way to live. Rather than having a lot of stuff and space to take care of, you can focus your time and energy on people and experiences and life goals.”
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Update 08/23/23: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.