It sounds too good to be true but a Wisconsin-based tiny house builder is conducting an odd experiment in American commerce by giving away its rugged tiny homes for free to partners willing to use them as Airbnb rentals.
There are a few catches, which we’ll cover below, but the company — Escape, based in Rice Lake, Wisconsin — produced a line of well-designed and nearly self-sufficient tiny homes inspired by the prairie-style cottages that dot the wintery landscape there, as well as by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s renowned appreciation of nature. Those who simply want to purchase an Escape tiny home is looking at a cost ranging from $40,000 to $80,000, plus any utilities and the cost of a license plate, since these tiny homes on wheels are legally designated as recreational vehicles.
However, the rental program that offers “free” tiny vacation homes is rather elegant as well. Here’s how it works. The “partner” deemed well-suited to receive an Escape tiny home undergoes a credit check and drops a security deposit of up to $2,000. Escape will deliver its free rentals to any location within 100 miles of the top 50 metropolitan areas in the U.S. (delivery and setup costs will be deducted from future rental fees). The partner is also responsible for maintaining the unit, including housekeeping, as well as carrying adequate liability insurance.
The partner must also set up utilities, including water and septic, but the Escape tiny homes designed by Sala architects are surprisingly robust and adaptable. In addition to solar power, the units can be outfitted with water or gas tanks as well as composting or dry flush toilets and even a washer/dryer upon request. Heat can come from a variety of sources including baseboard heat, a furnace, split system or a fireplace.
Once everything is in working order, the unit is free to the partner to use for a year with the option of yearly renewals and the opportunity to purchase the unit at any time. Escape will promote the rental unit on its website as well as a variety of PR channels, at no cost to the partner, although it’s obvious that partners should advertise the unit on Airbnb’s website as well. Once rental commences, the partner’s share of the rental income is 40 percent, minus any booking, credit card or other fees associated with the direct rental of the tiny home, with checks sent to partners on a monthly basis.
With the ability to adapt the Escape homes for off-grid use as well as wheels to make transport or moving nearly effortless, these mobile wonders can operate almost anywhere. The handcraftsmanship is clearly a feature, as are modern accents like panoramic windows, plenty of storage, climate control and LED lighting. The company also affirms that design is key through architectural models that use windows, light, long sight lines and maximized space to make them feel bigger on the inside.
The Escape homes are sold factory-direct but aspiring entrepreneurs with the resources to outfit them could be looking at a business opportunity.