Shaina and Tessa wanted a home to support their dream of living more sustainably
They fell for a house with enough land to set up their passion project, a tiny home
Better helped them make an offer in record time—7 hours!—and they closed 30 days later
There’s not much to do in Fairbanks, Alaska. It can be hard to meet people when you first move there. Which is why, when Shaina spotted Tessa sitting at a local coffee shop one afternoon, she had to say something.
“I awkwardly approached her,” she laughs. “And yeah, we just started talking.”
“We call it the Magic Cafe Story,” Tessa adds. “We talked for hours, got Thai food, and then…fell in love!”
Shaina was a personnel officer in the Air Force at the time and had only been stationed in Fairbanks for about 6 months. Tessa, originally from Canada, was there studying urban planning and resource management through a university exchange program.
After dating for a while, they talked about moving in together. Here’s where things took an unconventional turn. Rather than signing a lease for an apartment, they decided to do something a bit more adventurous—live in a tiny cabin in the woods for a year. It was a daunting idea (the structure had no running water, for starters) but it was also an opportunity to practice the sustainable habits that they both valued.
“Downsizing to fit into the cabin was very therapeutic,” says Shaina. “You have to be thoughtful about what’s in your space.”
That year in the woods kickstarted the next chapter of their life together—they got married along the way—and helped them figure out what they wanted from a home. When Shaina was eventually reassigned to a base in L.A., the couple traded the Alaskan wilderness for sunny beaches and urban sprawl. Although they left their little cabin in the woods behind, their interest in sustainable living and the DIY building community was stronger than ever.
“We don’t equate a big home with happiness or success.”
While living in California, Tessa took a carpentry program at a trade school and got more interested in construction. They connected with a local group advocating for tiny homes as an affordable housing option, and started building one of their own. But before they could finish that project, COVID-19 disrupted their plans. The dream of tiny living was put on hold as priorities shifted and Shaina and Tessa re-evaluated their next steps.
They visited family in Washington periodically throughout the pandemic. On those trips, they started thinking about buying land nearby and relocating to be closer to loved ones. Shaina had shifted careers at this point and they had more flexibility in where they could move. So they packed their bags once more and headed north.
Tessa began to browse online listings—mostly plots of land, but some houses too. They had been back in Washington for about a week when they saw a place that had potential.
“We were still in the exploring phase, but when we went to see this property we were blown away by it,” says Tessa. “It was this really neat house, cool property, there was this forest behind the house, and we realized that our tiny home could also go here!”
There was also a garden with fruit trees and the property was walking distance to the little town nearby—factors that could give them the sustainable lifestyle they wanted. It was another love-at-first-sight situation for the couple. “We could see ourselves here so perfectly.”
But it was a hectic time for homebuyers, and Shaina and Tessa weren’t remotely prepared. “We didn’t even have a lender, and the sellers were only accepting offers until the next morning!”
What ensued was an extremely stressful 24 hours and a whirlwind of paperwork. First they checked out a brick-and-mortar bank, but the pace and response time felt excruciatingly slow—scanning documents and waiting around just wasn’t an option.
“Because we were on such a tight timeline, we needed things to be processed quickly.”
So they reached out to Better Mortgage at 9pm—about 7 hours after touring the home, and only 14 hours before their offer had to be submitted. Oscar, their Better Home Advisor, responded with a plan of action. “When we found Better, it was very structured, there was a checklist, it gave us peace of mind,” says Shaina. “Plus, Oscar was really helpful at answering questions and didn’t make us feel stupid for asking; it made us feel safe making this type of investment.”
Because of Shaina’s military service, the couple was approved for a VA loan. But when they were told that the sellers would only accept conventional loan offers, they made the difficult choice to switch their loan and decided to dip into their savings to cover the down payment. It was a race to the deadline, but they somehow submitted their offer on time—working with a nimble, tech-forward lender made it easy to upload and sign the necessary documents.
“What if we had been working with a lender that needed us to print things? Our printer was in a box in LA! I don’t know how we would have pulled it off,” says Shaina. “Maybe go to Kinko’s? Do they still have those?”
Their offer was accepted the following day and they closed a month later. When they moved in, they brought their dog Waffles and, of course, their unfinished tiny home. (The property has plenty of space for the 168 square foot structure, and Tessa is currently working on the interior electrical and plumbing.) They have plans to transform it into a rental unit at some point and possibly host other people interested in tiny homes.
Until then, they’re settling into their house and the surrounding property is theirs to explore—so far they’ve found a creek, a pond, a little bridge, and some rose bushes. “We’re doing food processing with the fruit trees on the property, making cider from the apples and jams from the cherries.”
In hindsight, they can also see how some aspects of the rushed timeline didn’t work out in their favor. Along with encountering a few magical and unexpected features of their property, Shaina and Tessa have also been met with some less charming discoveries—things that their home inspector missed.
“But that’s part of buying a home I guess,” reasons Tessa. “Like there are the positive things we didn’t know we were getting, like the rose garden and the cool pond, and then there’s also—”
“Termites!” Shaina says. “But overall, it’s a dream how much we love this place. There’s birds flying everywhere, the view from the kitchen is so beautiful. On a day with no clouds, you can see so far up the Puget Sound. I’m still pinching myself.”
“Yeah,” agrees Tessa. “When you find the one, you just know.”
Bret Lawrence is a senior copywriter at Better, where she writes about the ins and outs of home financing. Her work also explores the human side of homeownership—the people, places, and perspectives beyond the paperwork. She lives in Queens, NY with her wife and their dog, Banjo.
Interested in finding your own home? We’re here to help.
Real customers have been paid for their time. © 2021 Better Holdco, Inc. and/or its affiliates. Better is a family of companies. Better Mortgage Corporation provides home loans; Better Real Estate, LLC provides real estate services; Better Cover, LLC provides homeowners insurance policies; and Better Settlement Services provides title insurance services. All rights reserved. Better Mortgage Corporation is a direct lender. NMLS #330511. Loans made or arranged pursuant to a California Finance Lenders Law License. Not available in all states. Equal Housing Lender. www.NMLSConsumerAccess.org. Better Real Estate, LLC dba BRE, Better Home Services, BRE Services, LLC and Better Real Estate is a licensed real estate brokerage. A full listing of Better Real Estate, LLC’s license numbers may be found at https://better.com/with/better-realestate-license. Equal Housing Opportunity. *Better Cash Offer is offered by Better Real Estate. Terms and Conditions apply.