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Rapid City Realtor Hopes to Break Big-House Mindset with Small Solar Homes

John Hult writes about the Rapid City Council’s waiver of its minimum lot size requirement for realtor Rod Poeppel, who wants to build 600–800-square-foot homes—the size Grandma and Grandpa used to build and find perfectly amenable to their needs, but now with solar panels!—to address the shortage of affordable housing in Pennington County. I wouldn’t think large lots would stand in the way of building a small house—a smaller house just means more room for vegetable and pollinator gardens, a chicken pen, a bicycle shed, and an art barn.

The bigger problem seems to be breaking down the mindset of homebuyers and bankers who expect bigger houses:

The “build bigger” mindset is common, according to Daniel Herriges of Strong Towns, an organization based in the Twin Cities that advocates for less rigidity in city planning and more incremental, flexible development.

Even as people like Poeppel sell smaller homes and line up customers for new ones, generations of city dwellers, city planners and financiers have grown accustomed to the notion that small won’t sell.

Even with encouragement from planning departments for innovative approaches, Herriges said, multimillion-dollar investments in neighborhoods with unproven potential don’t have built-in support from loan officers and investors.

“Nobody wants to be first,” said Herriges, who edits the Strong Towns newsletter and was a recent guest of an urban planning conference in Sioux Falls [John Hult, “Big Prices Drive Interest in Small Homes, But Lot-Size Rules Stand in the Way,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.10.27].

One way to bust up that mindset is to offer solar-powered small houses in Poeppel’s target price range of $150K to $180K, half of the state’s median house price of $350K.

Related Reading: Motley Fool reports that South Dakota’s median household income is 23% of typical home value. In other words, South Dakotans have to work for more than four years (and buy nothing else!) to afford a typical house. Housing is harder to afford to our west: the income/home value ratio is 21% in Wyoming and 15% in Montana. Housing is more affordable in our other neighboring states: the income/home value ratio in North Dakota is 27%; Minnesota; 24%; Iowa, 32%, and Nebraska, 27%.


  1. sx123 2023-10-28 08:52

    Still too expensive at $250/sq ft. ($150k/600).

    Ditch the expensive solar panels (maybe have as an option). Cut the costs and price in half and effectively double the sq ft by adding an unfinished basement (cheap extra sq footage). Might have something workable then if the lots are cheap.

  2. larry kurtz 2023-10-28 09:16

    Why anyone would live in Rapid City remains a mystery especially since Black Hills Energy rapes idiot subscribers.

  3. larry kurtz 2023-10-28 09:25

    I built our 400 square foot casita for less than $100 a foot using doors, windows, the lavatory and kitchen sinks from the ReStore and bought our inverter, charge controller and photovoltaic system on Craigslist.

  4. P. Aitch 2023-10-28 11:12

    I’ve happily resided in 500 sq. feet for eighteen years and pay 22.4% of my income in apartment rent. I’m surrounded by over twenty-five bars and restaurants and am only a block and a half from the light rail station. And I can see four, fourteen-thousand-foot, snowcapped mountains from my third-floor balcony and picture window. (Any building over three floors in Colorado must have an elevator and mine has four.)
    In short, small can be grand.

  5. grudznick 2023-10-28 14:47

    grudznick prefers to stretch out in a warm but roomy well appointed and comfortably stocked abode.

  6. sx123 2023-10-28 15:54

    These houses might work for one or two people, but have a herd of kids and you’ll wish you didn’t blow your first time homebuyer benefits on one of these.

  7. jerry 2023-10-28 16:11

    A motel room is generally under 300 square feet, 12 foot by 24 foot. Many many people would love to be able to live in a home that is twice that big. If a couple could own something like this, what a way to start or even live there permanently. On top of that, if the home was well insulated and also had renewable energy, it would be an affordable win win for all.

  8. Richard Schriever 2023-10-28 16:40

    I read a report somewhere on the housing preferences of the younger generations. Small, energy efficient, and “smart” were the preferences – and willing to pay a slight premium for those longer-term advantages.

  9. Richard Schriever 2023-10-28 16:43

    PS my house is 672 SF, with a full basement. Plenty room enough to have 3 BRs and 2 full baths. Lot is 50×142. I have fruit trees, fruit shrubs nut-bearing trees and plenty of garden space. I do plan to replace my 2 garden sheds with a garage/apartment – alley entrance. Alleys are wonderful things that have gone by the way unfortunately.

  10. WillyNilly 2023-10-28 17:37

    When I was newly married all I wanted was a neat 2 bedroom home with a full unfinished basement and a single garage on a lot large enough for a garden and some fruit trees. I have spent years watching as homes got larger and larger and wondered what people were thinking of. The prices increased so much that a young family could no longer afford to own a home and still eat regularly. But the marketing is such that people are no longer satisfied with a reasonable sized home with a reasonable cost. The upkeep and maintenance is higher as the square footage grows. If a basement is suitable for the area, a home should have one. No one needs 4 cars with garages to match. But a veggie garden space is a necessity. Oh, yes, I got that modest home with a modest cost.

  11. grudznick 2023-10-28 19:08

    Basements are important, Mr. Nilly, and if they are walk-outable, all the better. Trees are good, but fruit trees are more of a pain when you get old like grudznick.

  12. Loti 2023-10-28 21:54

    Yeah if u have a big growing family its quite different than being alone & just wanting or needing the essentials. Plus not wanting the responsibility of mowing the lawn and shovel snow, etc.

  13. jerry 2023-10-29 04:09

    If you have a big growing family, why? Just stop already. Planet is burning and we don’t have enough fresh water to put it out.

  14. larry kurtz 2023-10-29 16:42

    Do South Dakota a favor, seize Stan Adelstein’s assets he accumulated through the rape of treaty lands and build housing.

  15. larry kurtz 2023-10-29 16:49

    Same with Hani Shafai: seize his assets because he is a war crimes collaborator and build some affordable housing.

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