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,
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.