GETTING STARTED WITH CONTAINER HOMES W ith an unconventional investment like container homes, a clear eye for the end game is import- ant. Michael Swinton of Millennium Home Designs offered these tips for container-home investors: • Work with a contractor who already has experi- ence with container homes. • If using prefab container homes, try to pick a com- pany that will do the finishing after the delivery. • The short project timeline may be deceptive. Although the lead time on a container home is usually about six weeks, start slow. You can always invest in multiple projects later, once you under- stand the process. • Select a market that is friendly to your unconven- tional building and provides the opportunity for the returns you need.

Design, an environmentally-friendly con- tainer home company. “More importantly the eco friendliness of container homes is a major bonus,” he added. Swinton’s company currently part- ners with Habitat for Humanity in Illinois to co-develop container-home subdivi- sions. “The container-home industry has so many options for growth,” he said. “It is limited only by your imagination!” FUNCTIONALITYAND BEAUTY IN ONE CONTAINER Shipping containers are shaped similarly to Lego blocks, making them relatively simple to stack. After all, in their first life they are stacked, lined up, and attached in a variety of ways for the trek across oceans and countries. Once repurposed, the shipping containers can be used to create a wide array of structures. One popular use for containers is providing shelter for the homeless. An- other involves using modified containers to create prefabricated (prefab) homes. Some investors and homeowners even use shipping containers to quickly expand living space, placing them where a home expansion was planned for faster, cheaper project. Schools also use them as extra classrooms, and they are nearly common- place in modern neighborhoods where their boxy appearance fits right in. COST & COMPARISONS Ready to buy your first container home? Shipping containers themselves may cost between $1,000 and $5,000 before factoring in shipping. Remember to factor in permits, modifications to make the containers livable, and the expertise of a trained engineer to make sure you are meeting all safety codes. Furthermore, don’t forget that often shipping containers are painted with hazardous materials to protect their outer surfaces from salt water and extended out- door exposure. You will have to consider

your future residents’ safety and that of your remodelers when cut- ting into and refinishing the metal shells. If you plan to purchase your ship- ping container homes already completely upgraded, remodeled, and refurbished, then you might pay any- where from $185,000 to nearly $1 million, depending on where you are purchasing the home and what all is included with the pur- chase. recently covered the release of a six-contain- er home kit that cost less than $185,000 and offered 2,000 square feet of living space once assembled. On the oth- er end of the spectrum,

MODULAR BUILDING: a sectional, prefabricated (prefab) structure consisting of multiple sections call modules. Modules are constructed offsite and delivered to the site of use for completion and assembly, and may be placed side- by-side, end-to-end, or stacked.


also purchase prefab container homes and create multi-family units according to your lot size. As companies start to understand the market and associated costs more clearly, a growth in predict- able options and outcomes will emerge. Of course, always do your due diligence and have a clear and proven strategy for entering and exiting the investment. Just about anything you can imagine for an interesting and innovative design can be accomplished with the use of these upcycled materials. Container homes are changing the way society views building and rehabbing. In the coming years, you will likely see these reusable containers popping up all over the country. •

a much smaller luxury container home in San Diego, California, recently hit the market at $799,000. By comparison, the average price per square foot to build a traditional brick and mortar home is around $150/square foot for a 2,000-square-foot home for a grand total of $288,301 according to homevi- Of course, depending on the amenities inside, container homes can cost considerably less than or just as much as a traditional home. JOINING THE CONTAINER- HOME MOVEMENT Real estate investors can invest their capital at various points in the contain- er-home creation process [see sidebar]. Passive investments can help build multi- and single-family communities as well as housing for the homeless and over-all affordable housing. You can

by Heather A. Elwing


shipping-container-based weight-bearing foundation that would support a habitable structure, but he noted that shipping con- tainers would make for an “ideal modular building material.” The container home went from fad to movement over the next 20 years. Today, the containers are used for purposes ranging from grow houses, where mar- ijuana is cultivated, to swimming pools, tiny homes, housing for the homeless, and affordable housing. “In the next 10 years, we see the contain- er home industry growing because of their high quality and lower costs,” said Michael Swinton, co-founder of Millennium Home

hen you think of alternative investments in real estate, you

are moving into the mainstream prefab- ricated and modular home space thanks to their availability, affordability, and nearly limitless potential for creative building and construction.

might not think of changing the building materials or the physical framework of the property. Maybe you should. Con- tainer homes, built from cargo shipping containers, are altering the way people think about and visualize new homes. Upcycling materials in the building and rehabbing industry is nothing new. In 2012, estimated there were at least 5.5 million 160-square-foot shipping containers sitting idle after their initial use, so there has long been a plethora of available material to work with. Today, shipping container residences


Shipping containers made their debut in the 1950s, and the first patent for a container home was obtained by Philip C. Clark in 1987. His structure was patented as “a method of converting one or more steel shipping containers into a habitable building.” Clark’s patent was actually for a

Heather A. Elwing is the assistant editor for Think Realty Magazine and is a li- censed Realtor in Missouri working on her GREEN designation. She may be reached


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