The Challenge of Finding a Fixer Upper Within Your Budget

Even with little to no money in savings we’ve been keeping an eye out for trailers, buses, and RVs. Websites, salvage yards, friends and neighbors. We look and look. Our ultimate goal in this tiny living endeavor is to live on wheels, explore the country, buy some land, park on it, build a stationary tiny home, and live out the rest of our days debt free. Right now, all of our attention is on that first step. We’ve examined several buses and trailers, hoping for an elusive deal: something under $1500 with all the important bits still fully functional (good axles, base, frame, fair tires). It doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t even have to run. We just have to be able to tow it. So far, we’ve been disappointed.

When I was a kid, I went to a lot of garage sales with my grandma. She never failed to find something usable for the house, and we’d have to look a long time to find anything over $1. Back then, people knew their junk was junk. But all that’s changed. These days, everyone thinks their trash deserves to be on Antiques Roadshow, and they’re happy to price accordingly (original release Tupperware container, no lid, with slightly melted edges? $50). They hear stories about a friend of a friend’s cousin making 20k by selling a pair of old shoes on Ebay, and they think, “Why not me?”.

This troublesome trend is especially apparent when pricing live-in vehicles. Every once in a great while, I find a listing for an ugly rig with good bones in my price range, but it’s gone almost as soon as I’ve found it, sometimes literally disappearing right before my eyes (hit refresh once, and you’ll miss it). Warped axles, rusted trailers, cracked tires, and severe water damage are generally what you have to look forward to in anything under $2000.

Over the years, sellers have had an additional reason to jack up the prices on their overrated castoffs due to the growth in popularity of the tiny house/nomadic living movement. But trust me, not everyone is on board with this shift, and many are downright annoyed by it. Last weekend, Boyfriend and I were driving around the West Bottoms of Kansas City where we found several beat up metro buses (opportunity!). Each one was covered with graffiti, and it was obvious by the aggressive size of the surrounding weeds that none of them had been moved in a tortoise’ age (who knows when they were last started). Their doors were wide open, and I can only assume that someone had been using them for shelter.

overgrown bus1overgrown bus2

When we called to find out how much the owner wanted he quoted us $50,000 (cue jaw-drop). He claimed that the engine alone was worth 15,000, which is understandable as long as it actually runs. All well and good. But then he began to complain about how many people had called him wanting to turn the buses into tiny homes and how irked he was that they weren’t willing to meet his price. (The desire to live prudently and without debt is a common theme among those who opt for tiny living; few would pay $50,000 for a bus that wasn’t clean, furnished, and up to code. Many can’t afford to.) So we dealt with our disappointment, owned up to our minimal budget, and decided to keep looking.

As we continue our search, we do so with the renewed understanding that this could take some time. The logical part of me knows that it’s best to wait for the perfect fit, that everything today costs more than it did when Grandma and I were hitting up sales, that the best things in life require the most effort. I have very little advice to give about solving this particular problem. I’m so new to the tiny living scene, and I probably haven’t thought of half the places a person could look for a good deal on a 1989 Bluebird school bus (any suggestions, please comment below). The most important thing in these situations seems to be patience. I don’t want to spend $600 on an irredeemable trailer because it was cheap and I was desperate to get on the road, only to have it fall apart before we’ve even completed construction. Rather, Boyfriend and I go on searching, making sure to keep our standards firmly in place. We check Craigslist and Ebay every day. On the weekends we drive around little-traversed parts of the city just to see what we can find. We’re planning on becoming very familiar with local salvage and junk yards. We’ve even picked out a few new lots to explore this Saturday. Live auctions are another good option, but auctions in general leave me crestfallen if I’m outbid (that’s why Boyfriend does most of the Ebay checking).

I plan to do a better job of keeping this blog updated on our grand quest for the perfect fixer upper. We learn something every time we go out looking, and that’s what this blog is dedicated to: the struggles and the lessons they teach. Personally, I still have a lot of learning to do.

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