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Entrepreneur looks to build Raleigh’s first tiny home community for ‘digital nomads’

UPDATED APRIL 11, 2022 11:55 AM

The mayor and council members approved new zoning rules that allow tiny homes throughout the city to increase affordable housing and provide cheaper homes.

Nomad Nation, a Raleigh-based company, is planning to build a tiny home community in Raleigh. A local entrepreneur is looking to build Raleigh’s first tiny home village since the city revised its codes in December to encourage their construction.

The community planned for 3708 Rock Quarry Road is being marketed as a hub for “digital nomads,” those who work remotely and like to travel, a growing demographic since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Behind the concept is Zach Milburn, a cryptocurrency investor and former app developer who grabbed headlines last year when he listed his Wake County home for $5.5 million because it came with an NFT. An NFT, or non-fungible token, is a token used to represent ownership of unique items, more commonly art and collectibles. The homes, which people would pay an annual fee to live in for weeks or months at a time, are open-concept, futuristic and glassy. “We don’t even call it a tiny home, but most people would see it that way. It kind of has shipping container vibes to it,” Milburn said.

Nomad Nation, as the company is called, has raised $1 million for the effort so far. The chief investors, Milbrun said, have been North Carolina real estate developer Jim Anthony and Balaji Srinivasan, a writer and former chief technology officer at cryptocurrency company Coinbase.

Anthony said he recognizes the nature of work is changing as high-speed internet becomes ubiquitous. “I think more and more people who are dissatisfied with the life they’re leading may actually discover it’s a lifestyle that appeals to them,” he said. “This is kind of the next evolution, where all you’re really carrying around is your computer and your smartphone and some clothing and essentials.”

Milburn, in a separate interview, shared that vision. “I think we’re still underestimating the impact on humanity remote work can have. We just want to build a platform that enables people to do it more seamlessly and enhances the experience,” he said. “Real estate is one of the slowest-moving, slowest-changing industries. It’s a big challenge, but it’s a big opportunity.” The “cottage court,” as the city calls them, will be located at 3708 Rock Quarry Road.

Milburn said the grand vision is to be a “multi-billion dollar business with locations in most countries.” As they progress in Raleigh, they’re also looking into placing hubs in Miami and Salt Lake City. Miami was a given because of its tropical weather, sandy beaches and “great vibe.” Salt Lake City, where Milburn is from, was selected for its proximity to the mountains and outdoors appeal throughout all four seasons. They initially thought Austin would be part of the mix, but soaring real estate prices there dampened the company’s enthusiasm. The digital nomads can stay in any of the hubs for any length of time with their memberships. A Nomad Nation community already exists, at around 150 members and adding a person a day, Milburn said. Their app connects a community of remote workers and hosts meet-ups quarterly, in locations including Utah, Mexico and Portugal. It costs $240 per year. “We are losing money on it right now,” Milburn said, though they’re soon upping the price to $50 per month, plus a $1,000 sign-on. It will feature a workspace at the the center of 40 tiny homes.


The Raleigh City Council voted unanimously in December to change zoning and building codes to encourage homes under 600 square feet, both on their own and in groups called “cottage courts.” “All the stars aligned, and things just fell into place at the right time,” Milburn said of the change. Katie Dombrowski, communication manager for the Planning and Development Department, said a few cottage court developments have been approved, though none has secured a permit.

Milburn’s property on Rock Quarry Road is zoned for 64 units. They’re planning to build 40 tiny homes. Nomad is currently building a tiny home prototype on another property in Raleigh, which will help give the company a better idea of how much they cost to construct and maintain. Plus, when construction wraps up this summer, the revenue generated from renting it on Airbnb will help raise money for the grand vision. Milburn said they would “experiment” with nightly and monthly rates. “It’s a massive undertaking. It takes a ton of capital,” he said. “Over the next few years, we really want to hit scale.” This Raleigh home, owned by Zach Milburn, is listed on Zillow for $5.5 million. Amenities include a hobbit door, a four-story spiral staircase, and an NFT.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE NFT HOUSE IN RALEIGH? Milburn, 31, is not new to the tiny home world. He bought his first property, where he and his wife would live, in a trailer park in Raleigh. They couldn’t qualify for a mortgage at the time and wanted to do things cheaply. “I’ve been following the tiny home space for probably seven years,” Milburn said. “I designed what was essentially a tiny home, but it got rejected over 10 times in Raleigh because it was too small. Over time we kinda blew the house up little by little.” Now they’re living in their own castle, the custom-built NFT house, and renting parts of it out on Airbnb. Milburn’s home (and NFT) did not sell last year, though Milburn said he had a few investors send real estate agents out to take a look. “I got way too much interest. I had people messaging me threats on social media,” he said. NFTs are controversial. Most require vast amounts of energy to buy and sell, and many question whether the greenhouse gases are worth it. Some simply think the whole concept is a scam. “I didn’t actually plan to sell it. It was kind of a joke,” Milburn said.

Getting a $5.5 million-offer could have swayed him, however. “I really really love this place. It was a labor of love building it and i would have really been sad to see it go,” he said. “But that’s the price I probably would have sold it for.” This story was originally published April 11, 2022 11:09 AM by MARY HELEN MOORE

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