While my focus is on helping people to build their own tiny houses, I do recognize that not everyone wants to or indeed should build their tiny house. Building a tiny house is a huge thing to do. It requires a lot of time, effort, patience, and skill. If you're even slightly unsure about doing it, you probably shouldn't go there.
Which leaves you with two main options. Your first option is buying a brand new tiny house from a manufacturer like Blue Ridge Tiny Homes (I saw their house, The FitNest at the Tiny House Conference and it was AMAZING). The second option is buying a used tiny house from someone who no longer wants theirs. In this post, I'm going to focus on the second option.
Why Consider Buying a Used Tiny House?
There are many reasons for buying a used tiny house.
Perhaps you've come across one for sale in your area. Maybe you've just fallen in love with that particular house. It could be that you want to visit and go inside a tiny house before you buy it. Maybe you don't want to make any design decisions at all. Perhaps you've found a used tiny house that's cheaper than the same model would be brand new. Maybe you want to get your hands on your new home straightaway.
Why Would Someone Sell Their Tiny House?
Likewise, there are many reasons why someone might put their used tiny house up for sale.
Often it's to do with logistics or an unforeseen situation – children come into the picture or the owner needs to relocate for work, for example. Occasionally it's because tiny house living is no longer right for them. Very rarely is it because there's something wrong with the tiny house itself.
Where Do You Find Used Tiny Houses?
You'll probably start your search for a used tiny house online. There are several sites with tiny house listings, like Tiny House For Us and Tiny House Listings. Some other tiny house websites also mention tiny houses for sale in their blog posts. Follow sites like these, whether that's on social media or by signing up to their newsletters. This way, you'll be the first to hear of any new listings.
You could also set up an alert on a site like Craigslist, post in relevant Facebook groups, and ask around at tiny house events, workshops, and in tiny house communities. Of course, a quick Google search could bring up some results too.
What Should You Ask When Buying a Used Tiny House?
Buying a used tiny house from a stranger may feel a bit more nerve-racking than buying a brand new one from a reputable manufacturer. You've got no idea what sort of person you're talking to, what experience they have with construction, and therefore what the quality of their tiny house is likely to be.
By preparing your questions ahead of time, you'll be able to find out everything you need to know to make sure this is a sensible purchase. Here are nine questions I recommend you include in your list.
1. Who built it?
You want to know if the tiny house you're considering buying was built by an amateur or a professional. If it was built by a professional, you can have more confidence in the quality of the build. If, however, it was built by someone who had never built anything before this house, you'll need to tread more carefully.
It might be worth dragging a friend along or hiring someone who works in construction to come and check out the structure with you. You'll want to be confident that the house is safe and that it won't fall apart as soon as a storm hits or you hook it up to a truck.
2. Is there anything wrong with it?
If someone's already lived in this tiny house, you need to know why they're leaving it. The chances are that it's nothing to do with the house itself; it's probably a personal decision.
Ask if the current owner has had any issues or annoyances with the house. Is there anything in it that doesn't work? Is there too little space between the kitchen cabinets? Does it get too cold in winter? Ask as much as you can to find out about the reality of living in this exact tiny house, so you understand what you're signing up for.
3. How much does it weigh?
It's important that the tiny house weighs less than the maximum weight the trailer was designed to handle. It's also important to know if it's approaching that maximum weight. If it's close, you might not be able to move all of your possessions into the house.
You'll also need to know the total weight to ensure you'll be able to tow it. If you're looking for a tiny house you can travel with, look for a light tiny house. My tiny house is at the upper end of the weight scale but that's fine for me, because I'm not planning on moving it much.
4. Was it built on a new trailer?
One way to cut costs when building a brand new tiny house is by building on a used trailer. However, building on a used trailer comes with a lot of downsides, as Adam Odom explains in Tiny House Decisions.
Usually a lot of work needs to be done to fix up the old trailer, to make it a solid enough foundation upon which to build a house. You need to know what you're doing to fix up a salvaged trailer and make it fit for purpose.
If you're considering buying a used tiny house, you need to get an idea of the condition the trailer was in before the house was built on top of it. If there's anything wrong with it, your tiny house won't last long.
5. How do the utilities work?
There are lots of different ways to set up utilities in a tiny house, and each way comes with pros and cons, which I go into in Tiny House Decisions. To understand whether or not a used tiny house is appropriate for you and your needs, you need to know how these utilities work.
For example, you'll want to ask whether or not there's a water tank. If there is, you can go off-grid. If there's not, you're going to have to stay hooked up. If there is a tank, is there also a way to hook up to the mains? If not, you're going to have to find a way to keep the tank topped up and you're not going to be able to have long showers, for example.
And how is this tiny house heated? If it uses propane, how much does it use? If it uses electricity, you won't be able to go off-grid. If it uses wood, where are you going to store the wood?
You'll also want to ask about winter plumbing, hot water, the toilet, the fridge, the ventilation, and so on.
6. What type of insulation does it have?
Depending on where you live, insulation can be important. For me, living in Vermont, it was essential that I chose the most efficient insulation per square inch of wall cavity. If you live somewhere cold, make sure the insulation in the house will be good enough for your area. Check the R-value of the material used to make sure it's good enough for your climate.
7. What type of electricity does it use?
“Typical” homes in the USA are wired for AC, which means our appliances are designed to run on AC too. If the used tiny house you're looking at is wired for DC only, you'll have to buy special versions of all your appliances.
The good news is that since boats and RVs are usually wired for DC, these appliances aren't hard to come by. The bad news is that these appliances tend to be cheap and of poor quality. They're not designed to be used every day.
Make sure you know which type of wiring is used, as well as what the implications of that decision will be for you.
8. What's included?
Make sure to find out what's included in the price. If, for example, they remove the fridge, you'll need to find one that uses the right kind of fuel and that's the right size. Extras like this will bring the total cost up.
It's unlikely that they'll remove too many items, since many will have been specifically chosen with the tiny house in mind, but it's worth asking just in case.
9. How will you get it?
If you like the look of a used tiny house, double check where it is and whether or not transportation is included in the cost. If it's not, find out what you'll need to do to arrange collection. Will the previous owner help you hook up the house to a truck? How much will it cost to have someone drive the house across the country? When will you be able to get it?
Make sure all the details are ironed out before you commit to anything. You don't want to end up buying a used tiny house that you can't then move.
Buying a Used Tiny House Can Be a Good Option
If you want to save time, money, and effort, and get your hands on a completed tiny house quickly, buying a used one could be the perfect decision for you. But make sure you know what you're looking for when you start your search and how you'll know whether or not you've found a good deal. If necessary, find someone who knows what they're looking for to go with you when you check out any potential new homes.
Buying rather than building doesn't mean you get to skip learning about the different types of electricity, fuel, insulation, and so on. Each decision made during the building of your used tiny house will have an impact on your tiny house lifestyle. If the toilet's a composting toilet, you'll have to source sawdust and keep a compost heap. If there's no water tank, you won't be able to go off-grid. If the house is heated with a wood stove, you'll have to stick to the clearance requirements.
It's also important that you understand your tiny house and how it works for the times when it's not working so well. When you live in a regular house and something breaks, you can call any old electrician or plumber out to fix the issue. But when your house is as unusual as a tiny house, you need to know what's what and what's where, so you can guide the professionals.
Hopefully these questions will enable you to find out the right information about any used tiny houses you consider buying. Come up with your own questions too and work out what you're looking for in a tiny house before you go to any viewings. Good luck!
Where to go for more?
If you're buying a used tiny house, the next thing you'll need to do is find a place to park it. Don’t forget to check out my book Tiny House Parking for advice on finding the place best to put your new home.