Rome entrepreneur Ed Watters has gone all-in with the tiny home industry.
Following the success of his Little River Escape tiny home community on Lookout Mountain, Watters is now developing four additional tiny home communities.
River Side Escape is an 11-lot tiny home, or stick built, community. It’s on the other side of the east fork of the Little River from the Little River Escape community. Lots range in size from four-tenths of an acres to 4.8 acres.
Mentone Mountain Escape is a 19-lot tiny home community located just three miles from “downtown” Mentone.
The Silver Hill Escape tiny home community is being developed in two phases. Phase One is 10 lots while the second phase is planned to have approximately 30 lots.
Cloudland Escape, on the Lookout Mountain Parkway, has 10 purchasable lots. The lots range from just under nine-tenths of an acre to just over 1.8 acres.
Watters also is a dealer for tiny home sales. The dealership, named River Ridge Escapes, markets several different models that range in price from $42,500 to $81,160. Upgrades like quartz countertops can send the price a little higher. Sales tax, annual tag fee, title transfer fee and delivery are additional expenses.
It has been five years since Watters opened the Little River Escape community on Lookout Mountain. The first year, most of the work was focused on infrastructure — putting in roads, power, water — and addressing amenities like a swimming pool. He thought the development would be ready by Memorial Day, then July 4, then Labor Day but finally got it open on Sept. 24, 2015.
“Right after the summer season was over,” Watters said.
In January of 2019, Little River Escape was written up in U.S. News and World Report as being one of the top six tiny home communities in the country. Over the course of the next 22 months, Watters leased out 32 lots.
“We’ve had people come from 12 states and move to Cloudland, Georgia,” he said. “It’s about 50-50; 50% of them are full time residents and live there year round and then we have people that use them as vacation homes.”
After Little River Escape, River Side Escape was developed on a 15-acre tract on Lake Lahusage.
River Side was developed differently than Little River in that Watters is selling the lots as opposed to leasing them.
“The advantage of the lease is that I don’t have to subdivide the property,” Watters said. “They have private roads, private water lines. I’m leasing you a site to park your house.”
The key word there is “park.” Each tiny house is considered to be a parked model recreational vehicle.
“Even though it’s an RV like a camper, it’s still a tiny house on wheels,” Watters said. “You’re leasing a spot to park your house for a five-year minimum. We include the water service, garbage service, the landscape maintenance service and use of all of the amenities in a gated community.”
Leasing eliminates the need for lawyers to do title searches and there are no closing costs.
On for-sale lots, someone gets a deed for the land and a title for the house.
Along with the national exposure in U.S. News, Watters credits a lot of his success to what he calls his “rock star” sales and marketing professional Emmye Holbert.
“She lives in a tiny house and is a walking testimonial,” Watters said.
Holbert said the tiny homes sell themselves pretty easily.
“I would say most people are shocked by the amount of space that is in 398 square feet,” Holbert said. “People see them on TV but when people come in actually step into one they’re like, ‘I could actually live in this.’”
She said most people prefer a first level bedroom but they also want the loft space that is included in so many of the models.
Watters realized he was going to run out of land pretty quickly, so he decided to buy land in DeKalb County, Alabama, for the Mentone Mountain Escape community. He’s got 19 half acre to three quarter acre lots for sale there.
The infrastructure is complete except for the final coat of asphalt.
“We just finished it 10 days ago and we’ve got three closings scheduled and two more pretty soon after those,” Watters said.
The Silver Hill Escape is being developed similarly to the original Little River Escape, with 10 lots right on the highway that will be for sale. The back 40 acres will be accessed by a private road, with 30 lots that will be leased out. That development will include a pool, a fitness center and dog park.
“It’ll be a gated private community and we’ve already got five of them under contract,” Watters said. “One (buyer) from Florida, another from Michigan.”
He expects at least three of the new Silver Hill Escape residents to move in before the end of the month.
Watters expects Silver Hill to take off because of its proximity to town, whether that’s Rome, or even Atlanta.
“Some people didn’t want to come all the way up the mountain and be so far from medical care or a sizable town. This is only 10 miles to Armuchee or Coosa,” Watters said. “You can get over on U.S. 27 and cut across Ga. 140 and be on I-75 in 15 minutes.”
The final project, Cloudland Escape, features purchasable lots right on the county road, Lookout Mountain Parkway.
“There are beautiful rock outcrops,” he said. “It’s close to the brow (of Lookout Mountain) but not right on the brow.”
By purchasing a lot and a tiny home, someone looking for a mountain getaway can be in a house with a landscaped yard for less than $125,000.
“People are looking to be debt-free,” Holbert said. “The higher we could go, the more people say they could buy a regular house for that much money. A lot of people are looking to stay in the $70,000 range.”
The landscaped lots, complete with outdoor seating areas and firepits, is really what sets Watters’ developments apart from a lot of other tiny home communities.
“All of ours are about a half acre to an acre in size,” Watters said. Each of the homes at Little River Escape is nestled back in a gently wooded area and not lined up all in a row.
The tiny home dealership is set up in Menlo with eight models on site. People can look at a larger variety on the website and Watters is able to ship the tiny homes anywhere in the country.
As a result of the success and growth of his tiny home business, Watters has arranged for a management level buy-out of his Watters Landscape Co.
He described the deal as similar to an Employee Stock Option Purchase plan (ESOP) and said that the only difference clients may notice is that he won’t be at the business.
He’s been working on the details for the past several months. The transition was revealed to employees during a special meeting Thursday.
Watters is also a principal partner in the Village at Maplewood senior residential community off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Rome.