Learn How To Title a Tiny House

I wrote the below in response to a question in the Tiny House People Facebook group: “How do I get a title for my tiny home?” I hadn’t yet captured a clear record of each step it took for me to get to this point in Gyrtle’s journey and what I learned along the way, so I figured I’d post my full comment here to help other people who may have the same question.

Now that Gyrtle is titled, all I can say as far as her future goes is that still don’t know.  I had been really hopeful about one option that would have transformed her into a mobile technical school that went around teaching students in Arizona and the surrounding  areas about energy efficiency in collaboration with a local technical school — but my tiny just doesn’t quite fit their needs. For now, I’m looking into hauling Gyrtle down to Phoenix on my own and storing her close by, where my uncle and I can work on her systems at our own pace and find a solution for her future that feels right.

For now, if you have a CDL, OTR, or owner/operator commercial driver to recommend, I’m all ears! I’ll also be diving headlong back into the insurance issue to help ensure Gyrtle stays safe whenever and wherever I do move her. Any tips or ideas on that front are more than welcome, too, since my deadline to relocate Gyrtle her current location is this Friday, November 18. 

Enjoy the recap of my trip to title town, and wish me luck on the next leg of my journey.

Blessings & Happy Trails,

Lianna


HOW TO TITLE YOUR TINY HOME:

Disclaimer: these were the steps required to title in Colorado. Check with your local DMV for specific instructions in your state.

STEP 1. COMPLETE A RECORD SEARCH REQUEST AT YOUR DMV:

I didn’t have to do this part, because I had the original title for my trailer. If you don’t, you’ll likely have to do a record search request to determine any previous owners or liens on the vehicle. You’ll need a VIN number to perform a record search request, so if you don’t have one of those, you’ll need to check with the DMV about your first/next step. Provided there are no active liens, you should be good to move forward.

STEP 2. GET A VALID VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER:

Before you can title, you need a valid VIN number to accurately & legally identify the trailer on all future applications & documents. If your trailer already has a VIN number assigned and it’s valid, you may be able to skip this step, BUT CHECK WITH YOUR DMV about whether your VIN is valid before doing anything else. Colorado state required that I get a new VIN because the original VIN sticker had been damaged AND the body style had changed from a flat-bed trailer to a live-in camper.

  1. Get a certified VIN inspection performed by the local sheriff’s office or other authorized inspector (check requirements with DMV) that classifies the home as a self-built live-in camper trailer.
  2. Take your certified VIN inspection to the DMV and fill out an application for a new VIN number. You may need to provide other details to support the findings of your VIN inspection, including photos of each stage of construction and current state, receipts for all labor and parts, and a statement of work.
  3. REMEMBER: your new VIN number will be used on every application you fill out from this point on. If it’s not valid and accurate for the vehicle you’re trying to title, all of your time, money and effort will be wasted from here on out. MAKE SURE you do this step first, and do it right.

STEP 3. GET A BOND APPRAISAL:

The DMV uses surety bonds to provide a bonded title when a previous title is no longer valid or available, but first, you need a valid bond appraisal in order to determine the amount of the surety bond you buy. My bond appraisal in Colorado had to be done by a licensed auto dealer, but this requirement varies by state. Your new VIN number will be included on this appraisal.

Note: You’ll want to work with whomever does your appraisal to come up with the proper value to title your tiny home. Keep in mind that the higher your bond appraisal, the more expensive your bond will be. This number shouldn’t affect insurance or sales pricing, so valuing your home LOW but within the realm of reason is OK in this step. You appraiser should know a reasonable number to value your self-built THOW at.

STEP 4. PURCHASE A SURETY BOND:

I got a recommendation from my bond appraiser about a local insurance agency that could provide my bond same day. I took the notarized appraisal to her office and got my bond within minutes. This bond will also have your VIN number on it.

Note: A bond costs about 1.5% of its total value, with like a $150 minimum. Colorado requires that you bond a vehicle for 2x its appraised value. So, even though I think my THOW is worth a lot more than this, the appraiser and I agreed on a value of $5,500. My $1,100 bond cost me ~$165 – a much more reasonable amount than I would have paid if I’d appraised it at, say, $30K ($60K bond = $900 dollars!)

STEP 5. APPLY FOR A BONDED TITLE:

Take ALL of your documentation so far (records search; VIN registration and supporting materials i.e. statement of work, receipts, photos etc; bond appraisal; & surety bond) to the DMV and apply for a bonded title. Again, you’ll want to work with your DMV representatives closely throughout this whole process to ensure you follow your state’s specific steps and requirements.

Note: Usually, there are one or two DMV managers in each county that know the ins and outs of titling and are required to sign off on any title requests. Find out who these managers are and become their best friend. They will be your greatest resource to ensure you get everything you need done in the right order.

GOOD LUCK!

Registered, Titled and Tagged. Gyrtle is Finally Ready to Roll!

I don’t think I can express the relief I feel. My tiny home is finally titled, tagged and registered properly — which means now, I can take her wherever she needs to go! All it took was three years, multiple trips and calls to the DMV, three separate VIN inspections, one temporary registration and haul to get it weighed, calls to every car dealership in Colorado Springs to find the single bond appraiser who could do what I needed (Bob from Bob’s Colorado Classics), a trip to Heather at Colorado Springs Insurance for an on-the-spot issue of the bond I needed to re-title, and Voila! Gyrtle is tagged, titled and ready to roll.

I’m not sure that most tiny house people have to deal with all these steps, but because I inherited this house from my mother, there were quite a few hoops to jump through. Boy, am I glad it’s over!

It was wonderful to be back in colorful Colorado. Even though I had a lot to accomplish, I still got a chance to renew my spirit and soul. I was lucky enough to visit my dear friends Ed, Sallie and Tad of Germinal Stage Denver and to stay with a now dear friend and exceptionally talented metal artist in Historic Monument, Jodie Bliss of Bliss Studio & Gallery. I even got a great yoga class in with my mom’s good friend (and now mine), Raleigh Dove of Yoga Pathways Studio. I highly recommend her classes if you’re ever in Monument. She made two adjustments to my positions that made a world of difference on the long drive home to Phoenix!

Jodie, who had just returned from an incredible looking vacation in Belize, and I had a blast binge watching Hulu, sharing stories of our travels and passions, and cooking dinner over the fire pit in her backyard. We even got an outdoor, island-style dinner party in with Jodie’s musician friend Harry Mo, Raleigh, and her husband Lewis on my last night in town! The company, the music, the food — it was all exactly what the doctor ordered!

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Island-style eating. Photo courtesy of Raleigh’s former career as a photojournalist.

This trip — from the drive up through Albuquerque, NM, where I stopped to visit family, to my last day in town, where I left Gyrtle behind once again — was exactly that, a trip. Driving up, I relived the last time that I’d made the 12-hour journey in November 2013, when I sped straight through to get to my mom as fast as possible upon hearing about her cancer diagnosis. It was autumn after the big Black Forest Fire, which broke out just a quarter mile from where Gyrtle then stood. At the time of that fire, I thought losing her house was the biggest threat my mother faced. I had no idea of the battle that was brewing in her body.

It’s interesting to me that Gyrtle’s current home is on the opposite edge of Black Forest’s massive burn area. The last time I stopped at the house on this trip, I pulled over to snap a picture of the damage that still lingers. My mom’s friend Deb didn’t seem to quite understand why, but to me, the stark skeletons of charred pine trees standing in contrast to the lush woods around them are a perfect metaphor for the struggles, strength and simple dumb luck that’s required to live tiny. The forest persists, despite its setbacks. Here I am, still working to discover Gyrtle’s future in the face of both a beautiful and tragic past.

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Black Forest burn area, October 2016

I can’t believe all this happened just last week, when I returned to Colorado from Phoenix to get Gyrtle ready for her next journey. I’m still working to finalize the details of that journey, but I’m hopeful it will be something my mom would be proud of. I can’t wait to tell you all about it once I know for sure what’s happening! My November 18th deadline to move her from her current location is fast approaching, but I’m confident I’ll get something figured out — even if it’s just a temporary storage solution while all the details are ironed out.

In the meantime…

Blessing and Happy Trails!

Lianna

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