During the Tiny House Conference this year, one of the questions that came up during the open space forum was, “what if I want to buy my Tiny House instead of build?” The conference attendee asked the question because there hadn’t been any breakout sessions discussing buying options. In fact, most of the breakouts were focused on the details of building your own home. This question hit home for me because it was the same one I asked myself a year ago.
There aren’t many Tiny House dwellers who discuss buying a Tiny Home or even talk about what you should consider before you make the decision about whether you should build or buy. In fact, most of the blogs and websites start off with the assumption that you will be building your own Tiny Home.
Let me say up front that I think building your own Tiny Home is awesome! I have considered building my own second Tiny Home in the future, but we will see if that is the direction I end up going. There is something incredibly appealing about personalizing your own home and having a personal stake in every design element. I know you can save tons of money by building your own home. I also know the sense of satisfaction and excitement must be unparalleled when you step back and look at a home you built for yourself. But if you have been following my blog for a while, you know that I did not build my own.
I purchased my Tiny Home and I want to share my thought process regarding my decision. It isn’t that I didn’t like the idea of building, it was just that building didn’t fit in with my goals, experience or timeframe.
Here are 5 things to consider as you make the decision about whether to build or buy.
1. Define your short-term and long-term goals
Before you can decide what makes sense for you regarding your Tiny House, you need to know what your short-term and long-term goals look like regarding your life. Short-term you need to decide why you are going Tiny. Is it because you are in a new phase of life? Are you just tired of keeping up with a large space? Do you want to travel more? Are you trying to get out from underneath a home mortgage or rent?
My short-term goals included moving across country, paying off debt and simplifying my life so I had more flexibility in terms of my job. These goals influenced my decision to buy rather than build (which I will discuss more in a minute). You need to have a clear vision of what you are hoping to accomplish in the short-term before you decide if you want to build or buy.
You also need to consider your long-term goals. My long-term goals include using my Tiny House as my primary home for half of the year and then using it as a rental the other half. Because I knew I wanted mine to last for decades, I wasn’t sure if my building skills would be up to the task. If you plan on living a tiny house for a couple of years, then you probably don’t want to invest a large chunk of money on having one built for you. On the other hand, if you know your plans include keeping your tiny house for decades to come, then maybe buying won’t be as much of a financial burden.
2. Do I have the skills required to build/can I develop them?
After you figure out what your goals are, it is important to decide if you already have the skills you will need to build your own house. If you don’t, and you still want to build, don’t panic! There are tons of great resources out there to help you develop your skills. In fact most Tiny House bloggers have fantastic resources for you on how to build your own home.
Consider signing up with Habitat for Humanity to get some hands on experience, attend one of the many Tiny House workshops across the country, or find a friend or relative that has building experience and ask for help. You don’t necessarily need all the skills up front, you can develop them along the way if you decided to build. Don’t limit yourself just because you don’t have all the answers now, but at the same time be realistic.
As I looked at what it would take to build a Tiny House, I realized that I was sorely lacking in practical building knowledge. I know that I could have developed the skills I needed to build my own house and I know that it would have been a fantastic learning experience, but it didn’t fit my plan. I recognized that my lack of skill was going to slow my building process down to a snail’s pace. Could I have learned the skills I needed…absolutely. Would that have helped me meet my short-term goals…no, not really.
Make sure you are being honest with yourself. Don’t build a Tiny House just because everyone else is, unless you are truly excited about the process. If you have physical limitations, don’t trust yourself to build a house that will withstand the test of moving or time, or simply don’t have the desire to build, don’t let that stop you from pursuing your Tiny House Dream. Consider buying a partially finished home (like the Tumbleweed’s Barn Raiser) or work with a builder to design a custom tiny home that fits your goals and lifestyle.
3. What is my timeline?
Another consideration that goes along with goals and experience is your timeline. How soon do you want/need to be in a Tiny Home? For some people, like me, moving into a home coincides with a move across country or out of state. If this is the case, then you need to determine how long you have before your home needs to be ready. Set realistic goals for the building or buying process and make sure you understand how you get from start to finish.
My timeline for moving into my Tiny House was very short. I downsized, changed jobs and moved across country in just under 3 months. Part of the reason I decided a build wouldn’t be possible was because I knew I didn’t have enough time to complete one based on my goals and limited free time. I wanted to downsize before I took the new job so buying was the only viable option for me.
Understanding where you want to be and when you want to be there will help you make a smart decision. Realize that building from scratch will take much longer than a partial build or purchasing a Tiny Home that is move in ready. Again, time shouldn’t be your only factor, but it should be a planning consideration.
4. What’s my financial situation?
Closely tied to your goals is your financial situation. You need to know how much cash you have available to build or buy. I would have loved to have paid cash for my home, unfortunately that wasn’t an option. Honestly even if I had built a home I didn’t have enough cash on hand for a build. As discussed earlier, building can save you tons of money. When I did the math on purchasing a framed model and finishing it myself I found that I probably could have built my house for about half of what I paid for my Tiny House.
You need to be comfortable with the total price to build or the monthly payment if you finance and buy your home. I purchased my Tiny home with a “tiny” mortgage. The reason this plan worked for me was because I was able to rent out my previous home for enough cash flow to cover my previous mortgage and my Tiny House mortgage.
In my case, my financial situation wasn’t the only driving factor in my decision. Once I had walked through my home, I knew that I wanted that level of craftsman ship and I was willing to pay for it.
Again consider your short-term and long-term goals as you looked at your financial situation.
5. Live your own Dream!
I think the last thing you need to consider is what you want your Tiny House Dream to look like. One of the things that I heard at the conference from one of the attendees was, “I don’t want to have to explain why I am buying rather than building.” I could totally relate!
Most people assume, that like most Tiny House dwellers, I built my own house. ( I take this as a huge compliment because I know there is no way I could have built a home myself that is as well constructed as my current home!) I often have to stop and say something like, “actually I didn’t build, I bought my Tiny House.” Sometimes this creates awkward silence…as if I have broken some unwritten rule of Tiny Living.
So here is what I will end with…each of us have a very different reason for going Tiny. We have different family concerns, backgrounds, financial situations and goals. No one other than you can decide if it makes more sense for you to build or buy.
Once you have picked your path be proud of it, because you are one step closer to living your own Tiny House Dream!
Are you thinking about building or buying or are you undecided? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Until next time…Dream Big, Live Small!