top of page

Buying a Secondhand Tiny - How to Reap the Benefits While Avoiding the Pitfalls

So you've decided to go tiny! Congratulations! Now it's time to secure yourself a house.

If you don't have tools, space to build, or the know-how, a DIY tiny may not be the answer for you. And maybe you considered a builder, but then you found out that your favorite one has a ten-month waiting list. So what's a would-be tiny houser to do? Well, we might suggest you consider buying secondhand.

Buying a secondhand

tiny home has many benefits! It will, however, require a few extra layers of due diligence. That's why we are dedicating today's post to breaking down what you stand to gain and how to stay out of trouble when shopping the secondhand market.

First, let's focus on the benefits!

Purchasing a secondhand tiny home has several advantages. Perhaps the most alluring piece of the equation is that you won't have to wait for your house to be built. This means your tiny life can start right now! In a world where builders can have a waitlist of more than a year, it's appealing to have a timely option!

Another advantage of purchasing secondhand is the mitigation of risk. When you plunk down a deposit on a home that doesn't exist yet, you run the risk of not getting what you paid for. This could mean anything from the builder doing the tile a little crooked, to forgetting the walk-in closet you requested, to going bankrupt mid-build and leaving you with a tiny house shell. Yes, that happens. Sussing out the company, keeping close tabs on your build, and having a new home inspection done before your tiny leaves the builder's possession might help you avoid these pitfalls, but there is still no guarantee. When you buy secondhand, however, you will be able to inspect and approve the house before shelling out any dough.

Still not convinced of the benefits? Here's another one to consider. People often underprice tiny homes on the secondhand market. Let's say Joe bought his tiny home three years ago for 75k. He knows that tiny homes depreciate, so he asks for 70k when he puts his three-year-old tiny up for sale. But here's the thing. Joe hasn't accounted for what demand, inflation, or the current cost of building materials has done to the market value. In reality, Joe could probably get more than 75k for his secondhand tiny house; he just doesn't know it. But you do! (Because you are smart and read our blog.) You've subscribed, right?

So let's say you do decide to buy secondhand; how do you protect yourself in the process?

We'll go into more detail in a moment, but the bottom line is that there are two things you'll want to ensure.

  1. That the house you are buying is safe.

  2. That you actually own (and can prove ownership!) of the house by the end of the sale.

You'll want to ensure these two things no matter who you buy your home from, but when buying secondhand, you won't have a builder's experience to guide you. And speaking of experience, it's important to note that things could go wrong simply because of a seller's inexperience and not

necessarily because of bad intentions. So, just because the seller is the nicest human on the planet, doesn't mean you can bypass any part of the due diligence process.

So how exactly do you perform due diligence? Well, let's break it down.

Making Sure the House is Safe

The house might look Pinterest-perfect, but even tiny homes with deadly issues can still get likes on Instagram. That darling shiplap isn't quite as cute after you discover black mold growing behind it. And nothing puts a damper on the party like trying to transport your new tiny home only to learn that it was built on a trailer that can't support the weight.

If you're a contractor-turned-mold-specialist who knows a thing or two about metal fabrication, you may be in a decent position to evaluate a tiny home. But if you're not, you'll want to call in an expert.

We'll give you a heads up that you may have to make a few calls before finding an inspector willing to evaluate a tiny home. Most are hesitant to involve themselves in something they consider outside their jurisdiction. We have found that it helps to explain that tiny houses are a new thing and that you are seeking someone with a pioneering spirit. We've also been known to lure them with Chipotle gift cards in addition to paying all or part of their fee. :-)

Professionals are great, but even professionals can sometimes miss things, and this is why we would encourage anyone looking to buy a secondhand tiny home to do a little sleuthing of their own. Because here's the question that runs through our heads: if tiny living is so great, why is the owner selling??

Sure, maybe they unexpectedly had triplets and decided to upsize like they said, but it's still worth marking sure their story stands. This is why we recommend you stalk their Instagram, friend them on Facebook, and make it a point to chat with their neighbors in the RV park. If your research reveals a plethora of pictures of the tiny couple looking exhausted with three babies in tow, you're probably fine. But if their Instagram stories feature the calamity that was last month's flood? Uh, run.

Making Sure You Actually Own the House by the End of the Sale

If you were buying a traditional home, you would have a real estate agent, an escrow company, and a title rep to help you dot your i's and cross your t's. As most tiny homes are considered personal property and not real estate, however, you will likely be on your own.

This is why it's super important that you triple-check to make sure your paperwork is in alignment. You don't want anyone trying to lay claim to your tiny house baby!

If you purchase a tiny home on wheels, the chassis will have a VIN number- we suggest starting there. You'll want to:

A) Verify the VIN number on the chassis and the title

B) Run the VIN number through the DMV to ensure clear title

C) Check identification to make sure the sellers are who they say they are

The bill of sale is the next thing you'll want to address. Check to see that all parties who could lay claim are listed, that everyone's name is spelled right, and that the VIN number is listed and correct. You'll also want to note anything included in the sale, like propane tanks or appliances, for instance. Oh, and the most important part: get this document notarized. You'll want official documentation if the sellers try to pull something crazy.

We know due diligence can be overwhelming, but stay with us because there are two more things you should do. First, if the sellers have a lien on the home, you'll want to make sure you get a letter directly from the debt holder that proves settlement of the debt. You could be in hot water if you pay the sellers, but they don't pay the lender. Second, you'll want to make sure you get a title issued in your name as soon as possible. Remember, titles prove ownership, and should you ever lose the title that was signed over to you, it will help to have the DMV in the loop about the sale.

Whew! We know that was a lot of information, but it is so, so important to stay safe out there! It might take a little extra leg work, but if you're willing to put in the effort, purchasing a secondhand tiny home could pay off in a big way.

We'll be back next week with more high-quality content! And if you subscribe here, we'll even drop next week's blog right in your inbox.

See you then!


bottom of page