Living in a treehouse probably seems closer to Swiss Family Robinson than a modern place to call home. However, TV shows like George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces and Grand Designs have showcased the versatility and long-term cost effectiveness of structures like this, and even well-known chains of forest holiday villages are now cottoning on to the appeal of the treehouse.
Simon and his brother Andy started their company, Blue Forest, building treehouses ten years ago. Their original office was in a treehouse on their family’s Sussex farmland, and when the business really took off four years ago they had to move to bigger premises. That’s where Bensfield Treehouse was born, as a way to keep their old offices in use, and also make some additional earnings for the family. They have now converted the building into a stunning B&B that’s not just lucrative, but gives them the opportunity to meet new people and share their handiwork.
A natural option for extra income
The space is open-plan, with a bedroom area, kitchen, and bathroom. They’ve also made it more homely with the addition of a king size bed, widescreen TV, and local produce hampers for all guests - definitely far from the wilderness. But there are a few features that really connect the building to the outdoors: “The only way to get to the treehouse is to cross over a wide lake using a suspended Indiana Jones-style rope bridge. The main trunk of the Oak tree grows directly through the middle of the treehouse, making it a key visual feature of the interior scheme.” During the summer, green buds grow from the trunk, which is a wonderful reminder of how close to nature you really are.
As well as keeping Bensfield ticking over, the brothers are busy coordinating builds of bespoke treetop structures, with everything from “treetop dining rooms and party venues to enchanting playrooms.” Customers of Blue Forest include Madonna, Ed Sheeran, and J.K. Rowling, which should give you a glimpse into how luxurious they can be. But the cost is not as steep as you might think, with the price of building one including fully fitted kitchen, bathroom and central heating around £160,000, which is over £45,000 less than the national average house price of £205,9041. Land costs need to be factored into this, however, so there needs to be research done beforehand to find a good price.
As a business enterprise, it is not a decision to take lightly as there will be cleaning, hosting and general upkeep to stay on top of day-to-day.
High demand for a special experience
As an investment for Simon and Andy, though, it has massively paid off. Guests pay from £350 for a two-night stay, with Simon saying: “There is always a high demand for such a unique structure so the occupancy rate is always high.” With 43% of families citing saving for a rainy day as an important factor2, this may be a choice for people who want a stable extra income, as well as adding value if they do decide to sell down the line.
Simon states there were other reasons for them being attracted to treehouses in particular:
Inside every adult is a big kid, and a treehouse takes you back to your childhood – people’s faces light up when they first see the treehouse and that’s what makes it so magical.
Since the family all live on the same patch of land, it’s a personal experience rather than simply a business venture. He continues: “We enjoy sharing the treetop experience with other people, and find it rewarding when we know how much our guests enjoy staying in the treehouse. We also really enjoy meeting different people and having our farm open to them to explore.”
A home in the skies
For those who also want to embrace their inner child, there are a few things to consider. Simon advises: “As a raised structure, you will need planning permission before building work commences. Is your chosen host tree protected? Speak to some reputable land agents if you are looking to purchase woodland. Getting your treehouse insured as a home once it has been built will be a lot easier if it’s been professionally built and meets building regulations.”
A change to the Town & Country Planning Order in 2008 means there are now some more hoops to jump through depending on which amenities you choose to have in your treehouse. Plus, if you decide to let it out or turn it into a B&B like Simon and Andy, you will also have to consider this a source of income with taxes reflecting that. The best idea is to get in touch with your local authority and, as Simon mentioned, use a reputable company that is experienced in this particular area. As a matter of politeness, it always helps to speak to neighbours first too, as any construction is likely to cause disruption.
More and more people have been choosing alternative living such as treehouses, whether that’s to supplement their income or to live in full-time. This is partly for financial reasons, as house prices go up, and the chance of getting a conventional mortgage goes down. The cost of living in cities is also much higher, which heightens the attraction to a more purse-friendly existence away from overpriced coffees and needless purchases.
For many it is also as a way of living a simpler and more earth-friendly lifestyle. Regarding this trend, Simon says:
A natural sustainable treehouse that fits in harmoniously into its surroundings without altering it can be very appealing. If designed with all the eco-friendly features such as compost loos and solar heating a treehouse can have an incredibly low carbon footprint. Escapism is also an appealing aspect to living off-grid and living up in the trees is the ultimate retreat. With many struggling with the stresses of a fast-paced and pressured lifestyle, in a technology and social-media filled world, a life away from it all can be very appealing.
Whether you want an eco-escape or have designs on running your very own nature hotel, the advice is clear: Do your homework and get the right advice. Then, the sky’s the limit – quite literally!
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Aviva Family Finance Report 2016