How to build a shipping container home for less than $150k


Looking for a cheap and easy property investment?

Not only can you do it for less than $350,000 but, thanks to innovation in sustainable design, you can now do it for under $150,000 (ignoring land costs) using a shipping container.

Companies such as Jamie Van Tongeren's Container Build Group use shipping containers as their building blocks instead of bricks and mortar.

shipping container

A new shipping container will cost a couple of thousand dollars before it's transported.

Add walls, insulation, flooring and electricity and you have a home - ready to produce income.

A container home's affordability is its biggest attraction. Unlike a conventionally constructed home, it is quicker and cheaper to build. Van Tongeren says it won't need a concrete slab foundation, which will save you about $40,000.

You also save substantially on labour, as the process can take as short as a week or two to be completed.

Turning a shipping container into a granny flat

Van Tongeren owns a two-bedroom container granny flat in Ballina, in northern NSW, that cost $130,000 to build.

It is a spacious 85 square metres (including structures such as decks), which compares with a small two-bedroom apartment.

RP Data reports the median price of a two-bedroom unit in Ballina is $274,000 and a one-bedroom $247,000. (There's an element of land price in each).

If you plan to build, BMT Quantity Surveyors estimates the average construction costs for a uniquely designed, single-level, full-brick dwelling in Sydney at about $2230 a square metre.

For a home the same size as the base construction of Van Tongeren's granny flat (60sq m), the cost would be about $134,000 - but he has an extra 25sq m of living space.

Is it a good investment?

Does it work out to be a good investment? Van Tongeren's shipping container rents for $350 a week, which also happens to be the median rent for units in the area.

That's an impressive yield of 14%pa, compared with RP Data's median gross yield of 5.3% for an apartment.

After selling one of his container properties (not a granny flat) in 2015 for a $205,000 profit, Van Tongeren still has 10 more of them in his portfolio.

Last year's sale - of a three-bedroom house in rural Drake, NSW, covering about 340sqm including balconies - brought Van Tongeren $475,000, which according to LJ Hooker real estate is in the top price range for a house in the area.

LJ Hooker's statistics show that Drake's local government area of Tenterfield has a median sale price of $200,000.

Van Tongeren had also rented the property for a brief period, charging $450 a week. That's $140pw more than the median rent in northern NSW, giving Van Tongeren a gross rental yield of about 8.7%pa.

Shipping container homes are a breath of fresh air for both renters and buyers.

Sustainable and modern, they stand out from the crowd compared with a conventional brick or timber home.

If you are investing, consider the cost of land as well. The cheapest option, of course, would be to build on land that you already own or have been given by, for example, your parents.

A tax office example subdivision of a 460sqm block incurred costs of $22,000 for land survey, legal fees, a subdivision application fee and water and drainage provision.

And the price of a plot adds considerably to cost of the investment.


Steph Nash was a staff writer at Money until 2017.
July 6, 2016 8.07am

Interesting article - I have no idea why so many people are not convinced to container houses.
I really enjoy living in container house.
Unfortunately it is not so obvious how to build it properly. Personally I made a few mistakes which become annoying right now like noisy wind...
Currently with my husband I'm trying to fix it.
I'd like to give a advice to everyone who is planning to build a house from containers - take look at this book:
You can find a very detailed plans and tips how to avoid mistakes. It's a pity I haven't read it before construction.

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