We have not asked this question for a few years, and now with increased popularization of the tiny house movement via television, a wider range of folks are considering a tiny house life. So it seems like a good time to ask it again.
Would you build or buy a tiny house? (See survey below)
Before you answer let me run through some pros and cons. This isn’t the definitive list of considerations, but a good start and some of the weightiest decisions you’d need to make.
Building a Tiny House
- Save Money – Building your own tiny house can save thousands of dollars in labor costs.
- Learn New Skills – Many people that undertake building their own tiny homes learn a wide variety of new skills along the way.
- Feels Good – Many owner builders report a deep sense of accomplishment building their own homes.
- Mortgage Freedom – Most folks don’t seem to choose to borrow money to build their tiny homes, so in the end they technically have no added debt.
- Your Own Personal Touch – Owner builders often take their time seeking out special sinks, doors, windows, light fixtures, and hardware solutions for their homes which can put a very personal touch into the home.
- More Easily Customizable – Once you’ve built your house you’ll know every nut, bolt, and nail and have the skills to repair and change things.
- Controllable Costs – Since the owner builder often pays for everything out-of-pocket as they go, costs are naturally controlled, albeit sometimes at the cost of compromise.
- Control Over Design – Owner builders are in full control of the design of their home. They can choose from a wide variety of tiny house plans and even make their own customizations.
- Huge Time Investment – While sweat equity costs less money, it costs more time. If you have more time than money, building may be a better option.
- Physically Hard Work – Many owner builders report that the construction process is often also a slow learning process and requires a lot of physical stamina.
- Emotionally Hard Work – Many owner builders report that the construction process feels overwhelming at times. Juggling life with a project like building a house can be stressful and even put a strain on relationships.
- Mortgage – More and more tiny house builders are finding that if they build their tiny homes to RVIA industry standards that they can then also offer financing. This can be good for some people but does result in a mortgage.
- Lower Quality Craftsmanship – Since do-it-yourselfers often don’t have a lot of experience building homes, the quality of an owner-built home may be lower than a professionally built home.
- Live in Construction – Often owner builders find themselves needing to move into the house before it’s done, or report that there are always little things left to do.
- Unknown Total Cost – When owner builders start a project they usually only have a rough idea what the project will cost. This can lead to exceeding the initial budget, albeit with the cost overage fully at the owners discretion.
- Not Everyone is Good at Design – While owner builders are in full control of the design of their homes, they may be better at other things than design, which can affect the end result of their home.
For the buying a tiny house option we’ll also include the option having one custom built for you by a contractor. This is mainly because most tiny house builders don’t normally have turn-key tiny houses on a lot ready to buy – like RV manufacturers.
Buying a Tiny House
- Known Cost – Since the project (or sale) doesn’t begin without a contract, the full cost of the house is known up-front.
- Fully Specified – The specifications of the house, and what will go into it, is often fully described and agreed upon in the contract, everyone’s expectations are fully understood.
- Known Quality – Tiny House builders have more experience than the average do-it-yourselfer with building homes, and often have a portfolio of projects and referrals from past customers. So it is easier to be certain that the finished quality of your future tiny home will be up to a specific level before signing the contract with a builder.
- Built to Standards – Many tiny home builders are experienced building to industry standards, so financing and insuring a professionally built home may be easier. You may also feel more secure knowing that your home was built to a certain level of quality.
- Move in Soon – Professional builders are usually faster at building homes than owner builder, due to their teams of sub-contractors and experience with the process.
- House 100% Complete – When you move into a house you buy, it will be 100% complete. You will not need to live and work on your home at the same time.
- Warranty – Many home builders warranty their work, which can add a sense of security to the homeowner.
- Higher Cost – Simply due to labor costs the price of a complete tiny house will often be higher, but at lower risk of rising during the construction process like the owner builder’s DIY project.
- Change Orders – Sometimes opinions change as a house goes-up and the owner can see things in person. This often results in change orders that can add cost and time to a project.
- Off-the-shelf Parts – Builders will often specify standard off-the-shelf items to be used in the project. This can be a good thing, but may take-away from the personal feel of a home.
- Choosing a Builder – An often overlooked aspect of buying a tiny house from a builder is the working relationship. Not everyone always gets along and when hard work and money are involved, the added stress can lead to complications and disputes. So spending time getting to know the builder before signing the contract may be time well spent.
- Faster Transition to Tiny – While this may seem like a benefit, downsizing your life and collection of possessions is often the hardest part. When building your own home the longer build process can often give the homeowner more time to make the transition to a tiny life.
- Later Customization Challenging – The homeowner without building experience or detailed knowledge of their home’s construction may have more difficulty changing things later. In this situation hiring professionals to make changes may be needed.
- Warranty Value Varies – Not all warranties or home builders are created equal, so the warranty may be of limited value depending on the builder and their situation.