Are Tiny Houses Over-Priced? Over-Rated?

Categories: Mobility

If you ask a senior citizen about tiny houses, they know that years ago, most homes were small, so it's really nothing new. Travel trailers used to be smaller too, and they've gotten bigger and bigger with more slide-outs. Now a travel trailer can be as big as a small house!

The tiny-house movement might have gathered a lot of steam on cute-ness factor and hip-ster factor but they're really not cheap if you want to buy one, and definitely not for everyone. You see, because RV's keep getting better, and tiny houses are competing for that market space, there are a lot of fantastic deals to be had on used trailers that shouldn't be passed up. So rather than spend $75,000 buying a tiny house that's 150 square feet, and you have to spend $2500 on an oversize hauler to move it, you might just get a used fifth wheel trailer for under $20k that's 300 square feet with slide-outs, and has lots of self-contained options.  In other words, there is much more of a used marketplace for RV's than for tiny-houses, at least for now.  

The tiny-house movement grew popular on the idea that you could run down to the local lumber store and start building one yourself.  It went viral because of stories of people who spent $5,000 and built their dream, and that is exactly the type of person who should build a tiny house.  It lost steam when dealers and builders tried to sell them for $60,000.00 and up.  Those who wanted to buy them couldn't afford them, and those who want to build one themselves had to do it all by themselves to stay in budget.  It is a value to the hearty builder-type who could probably build a house, but didn't want a never-ending multi-year project.  

For the same money you might spend on buying a tiny house, you can buy a large motor-home with slide-outs too, and drive it away at your leisure!  Can you think of any good reasons to buy a tiny house rather than a nice motorhome? This may sound contrary to many of the articles you've read, and even ones that I've posted here.  I jumped on the bandwagon for a while, but eventually, upon reviewing the marketplace of trailers and rv's just setting around doing nothing, I realized that there is a much better value to be had if you're going to be throwing dollars at it.  

Let's compare:  

This tiny house begins with a base price of $79,000.00:

photo by Tiny Heirloom Homes

The bespoke luxury tiny house:

Name: Tiny Heirloom Homes
Size: Customizable
Cost: $79,000 (base price)
Key features: Personalized exterior and interior design choices; base model includes granite countertops, real-wood or bamboo flooring, stainless steel appliances, washer/dryer combo [More info]

Now, don't get me wrong, for the amount of space you get, I think it's beautiful!  All the amenities of a larger home in a down-sized version, including granite counter tops!

But there is a certain discount that happens in the construction of an RV, because of the factory component that they are mass produced.  A home tends to rise in value, where a vehicle tends to depreciate.  If we can take advantage of that depreciation factor to find ourselves a home, there is a "sweet spot" to be had somewhere between age and condition, and finding it is key.  

Take for instance this 37 foot fifth wheel for $18,000.00:

Or this 2006 32foot Motorhome ($40,000.00) is also in the "sweet spot" where it has low, low miles, yet all the features one could dream of having for much less money.  A new one would cost you over $100,000, but the age gives you value.  It leaves room to update and add-on to your hearts content in the budget:

And if you're willing to go with something 10 years older, there are values to be found:  

Like this tent trailer in Modesto, CA for $3700.00

Or this one in Buffalo New York

Or this trailer at Lake Tapps Washington

Value has everything to do with the year they are made, and not necessarily condition.  Finding an rv in good condition that has been garage kept for many years could lead to a sweet deal on a good home to meet your needs.  You also don't want to have to replace everything on it in the near term either.  Buying the wrong one could lead to many repairs and headaches.  You need to check wheel bearings for lube to be sure a trailers' wheels don't go rolling off the vehicle your first trip out (been there done that).  You need to check the motor on motorhomes.  Make sure the generator runs and keeps running.  Check the air conditioner for cool air. Ones with low miles should be in better shape.  Watch out for  rust underneath, leaks in the roof, etc.  Most RV's are used occasionally, so they don't always get the maintenance they need.  Many get rain damage, and are repaired at some time.  A little sealant and checking the roof ever so often can prevent those types of headaches.   

A great merger of the two ideas could be had.  If you are hoping to build a tiny-house yourself, I suggest finding a water damaged rv or trailer.  You can find them for very very cheap... sometimes under $1,000!  You can make use of all the good components, like the refrigerator, water tanks, pump, generator, kitchen amenities, air conditioner, etc, and use them in your tinyhouse project.

Completing a tiny-house build means you've spent your own time and labor to make one, and you can make a great profit when you do go to sell it, and that is a wise thing!  

Remember that a tiny-house is not a travel trailer.  If you plan to move around, get a trailer or RV.  When you're ready to build something to stay put, build a tiny house.  I hate the worry that comes with building something, and wondering if a piece of it flew off on the freeway.  Making sure your project is able to handle highway speed winds is important.  A travel trailer is made to handle lots of miles.  As you park your tiny house and live in it for a while, the wood settles and ages.  Aged wood becomes brittle, so how long it will travel before replacing siding, shingles, or parts is critical knowledge when considering which type of portable home is for you.  So the friend that told me they wanted a tiny house.... I asked a series of questions, then recommended a trailer.  For the right answers, I would recommend a tiny house.  The point is, be sure of what you are getting, and know what you want to do with it.  :)

I still look forward to all the great things you come up with and create!  Be realistic about what you will spend, and keep hunting for great reclaimed components to your builds.  I love hearing all of your great ideas and sharing your projects around!  Send em in, and I'll share them! 

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