Would You Build or Buy a Tiny House?

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

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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.

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Would You Build or Buy a Tiny House?

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20 thoughts on “Would You Build or Buy a Tiny House?

  1. Spring Dew says:

    Both – Buy a kit to build out myself. My kit includes trailer, panels for floor and roof and walls, all connecting hardware, and house wrap. The rest is up to me. This gets me past the scariest part of doing it myself while leaving me plenty to do that I can be confident of and save money.

  2. Deb says:

    As much as I like tiny houses in theory, the more I see them on tv, etc., the more I’d like to have small (800-1000 sf) house that doesn’t go anywhere and maybe a tiny trailer (Teardrops are cool!) It’s partly age (no lofts for me) and that many years ago I had a book about houses ‘1000 sq. feet or less’ and loved it. I don’t want to live in a bowling alley. They’re just too narrow for me! Plus I’m much more interested in the creative possibilities of other shapes/designs. But it’s the perfect house for younger people, especially if they have ridiculous college loans to pay back! And they can travel, too.

    • Tonita says:

      Deb, I feel the same way after buying a tiny home to try on for size. Somewhat a part of my “emergency preparedness kit”. They come with a HUGE set of headaches for many people. Legal parking being a #1 BIG problem. For years I have paid $4,500-$4,700 a yr in property tax where I owned land and a 2500 ft home in King County WA , It was on a private, quiet road with woods and privacy at the base of Mt Rainer. Yet I was not allowed to spend one night in my tiny home after the neighbor turned me in when I was running electricity to my tiny home. It seems funny that so many people brag about being mortgage free yet piggy back off others peoples land. Freedom at the cost of someone else. And good thing that tiny homes have wheels because it just takes one neighbor to make a complaint to the county and the headaches begin. I know first hand. And while tiny homes are charming and cute I think that people jump into the “concept” rather than the “reality” of actually considering daily life in a box. IF you are a person that owns land where you can park them legally and you don’t mind living in a box they can work out. But I completely agree that a home at least 500 to 700 feet works MUCH better and makes ALOT more sense. Plus- owning a stick built home can be cheaper than buying a tiny home since they have become so trendy. Take a message from TONS of owners of tiny homes that are for sale these days. I already know 6 people who have upsized after trying on the tiny life style. Do your home work before you build or buy one.

  3. Richard says:

    I’d do both. I’d be in on the building but at the same tine be getting advice/assistance from the pros. I get the satisfaction of building and knowing everythings up to specs.

  4. Jay says:

    We are in the process of building our own Tiny. It is 240sf and on a foundation on 12 acres of land east of Dallas. For us, it was mainly an economic decision. We’re paying for materials as we go to avoid a mortgage. Our county (Rains) allows for an agricultural exemption for beekeeping. That will take our property taxes, including the house, down to about $300/yr. Our insurance is $390/yr. We’ve added solar panels so our electricity bill will average around $15/mo. We use about $10/mo worth of propane. A $25 water bill takes us to around $100/month for total house expenses. This will be a game changer for us. About $2,000/mo cheaper than the house we’re currently supporting. We couldn’t come us with a way to get a $25K raise for the rest of our lives, but we found a way to reduce our expenses by this amount. In the end, it’s the same thing, isn’t it? We’ll have the option of working as much as we do now and putting a lot more away for retirement, or we can work a lot less and enjoy our time more. Either way, we win! http://DreamsByTheAcre.blogspot.com We’d love to hear your thoughts.

  5. Barbara E Morey says:

    We are building 10-15 tiny houses for a village as affordable housing. We are building to codes for houses (not on wheels) except for size and foundation. Our effort involves experienced contractors working with community volunteers, including potential residents (as in Habitat homes). All of these factors make it fine for us to build our own without many of the cons and with additional pros. Our cost for a tiny house on skids, with insulation, exceeding egress codes, and fully inspected electrical service run about $6000 to completion. Each also meets HUD codes.

  6. Madeline says:

    I’m excited to read peoples’ comments on this debate. When I got involved with this movement, I was fully intending to build my home. I have already made peace with the physical work and the time commitment, and am building savings to get started.

    But as my drafts and sketches multiply, the thing that makes me break out in a sweat is the potential for poor craftsmanship. As an engineer, I have access to professional structural design advice, but at brass tacks, I have no building experience. I don’t know how my plans will translate to a house. Will the house look funny without sufficient overhangs? Will there be enough windows? Building a house is a huge time/money investment, and it would break my heart if at the end, I was not happy with the results.

  7. Harold Anderson says:

    After watching the reality shows about buying and building tiny houses they all cost more than all 3 of my full size homes. I’ll have to rethink my dream. 🙁

  8. alice h says:

    I’m the only builder I can afford unless I save up for several more years. It’s already taken me 8 years to get to the point where I can afford a small skid shack on my own piece of land and at 62 I’m not getting any younger so this is hopefully the year I make it happen. The plan has gone from totally ideal dream tiny house to good enough to an even simpler possible to yes, I can definitely do this one. Many things were worked out on paper and in models, must haves sorted from nice to haves and assorted alternative sites explored. It’s now come down to finalising the material list, finding some decent affordable used windows and door and setting up my prefabbing site and plodding away until done. Hopefully the actual onsite build will go quickly after that. Not sure if I’m more scared or excited.

  9. Iris says:

    I love the idea of the Tiny House, but I don’t think I could live in one for any length of time. For one thing, we’re retired (read “not young”), and there’s no way I’m going to climb into a loft, be it by stairs or ladder, to get into bed every night. And you won’t find me crawling around on my hands and knees in that loft to change the sheets or make the bed. A bed on the ground floor would have to be accessible from both sides to work for two older people. That being said, I would love one in my yard for a guest cottage. And I would love to hear comments from families who have actually lived in their tiny home for more than six months . . . with children! I’m thinking that concept is much more pleasant than the reality.

  10. John Moses says:

    I am building my rustic tiny house on a 16′ lowboy trailer. I have built a number of conventional homes (100+) over the years. Also have worked on over 1700 new apartment units in the Dallas market. I’ve always been hands on in my construction companies.
    My Tiny House has brought several challenges vs. conventional construction. Although a novice builder can do it, it can be a tough deal going it alone. Plan to deal with several frustrations at the least.
    I’ve been retired since I was 55 and now 66. I love the challenges but I did not want to set a time table for completion. I’ve been working on it for about 10 months and could finish in a couple of weeks but I enjoy the other parts of my life too, so who knows when it will be complete ?
    I am torn between living in it or selling it. Time will tell but I have loved almost every minute of it and I have screwed in every screw and shot every nail in it. I only have had help on the plumbing and electrical but I worked side by side with a wonderful friend on that.
    My advice on a DIY build would be to have a craftsman help lead you and read everything you can get your hands and attend at lease one workshop on the “how to”. I’m On Facebook : That Tiny House on Wheels Guy.
    Conroe, Texas near Houston.

  11. Ruth Vallejos says:

    I like the idea of getting a shell ready, plumbed, wired, and ready to roll – leaving me to finish it out as I can afford and over time. I mean, there is no rules that says a trailer has to be outfitted with everything – it can be a box at first for camping in, right? I suppose it would complicate financing if it’s required. But I like the idea of growing to love the house over time and at my own pace.

  12. Mikki says:

    Building a tiny home is my retirement dream. I’m a single mom with two young kids, and we’ve already downsized to less than 800 sq ft. I know we could comfortably live in less space if I didn’t run a home daycare. I hope to someday retire to a tiny home and rent out my permanent house for income. I would be my own general contractor, so to speak. I know what I want and would source my own materials and such, but I’d like to have professionals for the major work like framing, plumbing, electrical, etc.

  13. David Galuhn says:

    I would not have a problem building my own Tiny home. As a kid, I built my own fort with my buddy Andy, built my own Go-Kart from the wheels up and restored a ’69 Beetle back to showroom condition. All this being said, the factor of time would be the big question mark!!! Finding the ultimate site to build would be the other huge hurdle.

  14. Joan says:

    I would build my own, and as much as lofts are appealing, I would not put one in the structure I would be living in except for storage. My live in TH would be a permanent structure, but I still want to build a Vardo Wagon style on wheels for guests to sleep in when they come to visit. I think it would be a great experience for them for their visit and maybe an occasional camp-out for myself. I have a lot of building experience because I live on my own farm. There are also at least two buildings on my property that could be converted into tiny houses. When the big house gets too expensive for me, it will either be sold and moved or rented with me living in one of the smaller structures. The TH reality shows may be full of it, but I find them entertaining and get some good ideas from them, but I do have enough sense to know that after all it IS TV.

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