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How to do your due diligence when buying a pre-loved Tiny Home

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

Sometimes it makes more sense to buy a secondhand Tiny rather than commissioning a custom build from a reputable build company.

Maybe you just don’t have the time and need one right away.

Maybe you’d prefer to buy one you can walk through, inspect the quality firsthand, and visualise how it will work for your individual lifestyle.

It’s also often much cheaper buying pre-loved, where wear and tear is factored in.

There are many reasons it’s a smart idea.

But if you’re not buying a brand new build from a reputable builder- how do you know what you’re getting? And how can you safeguard yourself from buying a lemon? (Check the blog for my post about how not to buy a secondhand Tiny!!)

Here are a few key things you should be looking for:

  • Plumbing and electrical certificates

If the home contains any 240v power sockets or electrical work, you definitely need to be sighting the certificate from a licensed electrician.

Many Tiny Houses use only low voltage 12v power for the lighting, compost loo exhaust fan, air exchange system etc. These can be installed safely and legally by any handyman or avid YouTube viewer.

240volt not so much. If the home has 240v power but no certificate of electrical safety- I personally wouldn’t touch it (literally or otherwise).

Plumbing, while not life and death as such, can have a massive impact on the long term safety and health of your home.

My own Tiny was constructed by an unqualified DIYer (not me) with insufficient waterproofing in the bathroom, and incorrect installation of the shower pan and drain. As a result, 4 years later I not only have mould and rotten floors, but potential electrical risk due to the moisture in the walls.

Take it from me, buying a house with no plumbing certificate is also not worth the risk.

  • Is it registrable as a caravan?

This is a whole post in itself…  (stay tuned for a future post!!)

But for brevity here, you need to be asking whether it currently has (or has previously had) registration as a caravan.

**Note: having a trailer with a VIN on the compliance plate is not the same as being able to register the completed dwelling as a caravan, despite what the seller may tell you**

Ultimately, not being able to be registered as a caravan is not life or death either. But it will limit your ability to insure it and potentially finance it.

Many Tiny House insurers (the ones who are left) require caravan registration. Likewise, many lenders who fund Tiny House purchases will also only consider you if it’s a registrable “caravan”.

If either of those factors are important to you, I suggest having it registered prior to your purchase.

Check with the transport body in your state about what is required for this to be possible. There are stipulations about width, weight, height, which side the door is on, overhang from axles to rear of trailer, lighting, indicators, the type of brakes and more.

If the Tiny you’re considering buying doesn’t meet these standards, that’s not to say it’s not a good buy. There are many circumstances where a non-registrable Tiny on Wheels is totally fine (like if you’re going to park it on your own land and not worry about insurance).

Before going shopping, decide if you need finance or want to be able to insure it. If the answer to either is a yes, look for a THOW that can be registered.

  • Who built the Tiny House?

If it’s a self build or a local builder who’s turned his hand to building a Tiny- be VERY careful. While many have the best of intentions, some will tell you all sorts of things they can’t back up. Ask for progress photos of the build during construction, at every possible stage. When I bought my Tiny, I got photos of the trailer when it was originally delivered, once floor was in, frame stage, then the cladding/insulation/fitout after lockup stage. If you have no clue what you’re looking at or for, check with a builder, in forums, or book a consult with yours truly.

These photos can tell you A LOT about how carefully it’s constructed, and if crucial things have been missed (like waterproofing, flashings, or insufficient framing support).

Buying a DIY build is not always a bad idea- but make sure ALL your checks have been done. Keep in mind also that insurance and finance can also be extremely difficult if not impossible for a backyard build.

On the other hand, it’s often very obvious when the build has been done by a professional and reputable Tiny House build company. This is often listed on the compliance plate on the drawbar. Many builders also have a signature style or look to their homes that make them easily identifiable.

Many pro builders offer a warranty. Look for this paperwork. If that’s not available but the seller has told you who the build company is- call the company and ask if it’s still under warranty.

Buying a pro build gives many people peace of mind. But Tiny builders are definitely not all equal..!! Keep in mind the industry is still as yet unregulated, so there’s no set “standard” for Tiny builds.

And there are definitely a small number of shonky operators out there. Unfortunately it’s not always a case of “you get what you pay for”, and I know a couple of builders at least who price their builds comparably to others, while being of far inferior quality.

If you’re in the research stage of going Tiny, there’s a whole article that goes further into this in our Tiny Resource Hub. Link to join here:

You deserve to have a Tiny House worthy of your long-held dreams.

Our goal is to help that happen for you.


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