Here’s a guide on how to buy a shipping container online letting you in on the in’s and outs of what to look for before making a purchase.

With shipping container homes becoming an alternative choice for people looking to live off the grid, many designers and architects have found exciting ways to make the most out of shipping containers.

For starters, shipping containers are secure, durable, wind and watertight, affordable and able to retain their value. This explains why they are highly sought after, especially as the shipping container home movement continues to sweep through the country.

Unfortunately, buying a shipping container isn’t among the easiest things to do. Plus, there are a lot of bottlenecks in this industry, so you want to do your homework before jumping on any deal you come across.

In today’s post, we will be showing you everything you need to know about buying a shipping container for your tiny home project.

buying a shipping container for tiny home

Things you should know before buying a shipping container

Buying a shipping container can be a logistical nightmare or a simple walk to your local port. For those who live very close to a port, you should be able to find plenty of suppliers to do business with. On the flip side, if you don’t live too close to a port, the container has to be shipped to you.

And if you’re on a budget and looking to cut some cost, you can simply rent a truck, especially one with a tilting bed and go pick it yourself.

Prefab containers are not budget-friendly: If you’re on a budget and looking for a great deal on a shipping container, you’ll want to avoid places that sell prefab containers, especially those with roll-up doors. Also, you don’t want to go for containers that have been prefabricated for work sites as they are a little bit expensive.

While these containers already cost so much, you will still make some changes to the layout to fit your own needs, which should cost you even more.

Find deals on eBay and Craigslist: If you’re interested in saving money while putting together your dream shipping container home, you’ll want to look out for great containers on Craigslist and eBay. As at the time of putting together this article, we were able to find ads for 40ft containers going for as low as $1900.

While the average cost was $2,200 for a 40HC container, we saw some ads for as lows as $1,800 and $1,500, respectively. As a matter of fact, we saw one listing which offered to deliver the container for free, provided you’re within a 50 miles radius. Plus, the deal also came with three years warranty.

Used containers are also great: Going for used shipping containers comes with many perks, especially for those looking to save money. While brand new containers are durable and all shades of excellent, used containers also don’t disappoint, especially when fabricated for tiny homes.

So instead of spending all that crazy money to get a brand new shipping container, look around for a fairly used container. Our visit to local warehouses that feature several shipping containers on their inventory showed that you could easily negotiate a used 40 ft container for as little as $500.

But before you get too excited, we would like to warn you to do your due diligence. Check to make sure the container doesn’t belong to a shipping company. To do this, all you have to do is write down the container number and call the owner, using the number painted on the side.

How To Buy A Shipping Container

Check the materials it is made of: The truth is not all shipping containers are made from Cor-Ten Steel. So you want to go for containers that are made from Cor-Ten steel, and that’s because they are designed to last and can easily withstand inclement weather and rust.

Get professional help: If you’re new to this niche and looking to get a decent shipping container, you’ll want to go the extra mile to hire an inspector to inspect the container you intend to get. For those looking for a sealable and secure container they can use for a long term, hiring an inspector will ensure you get a suitable container that ticks all your boxes. To get in touch with an inspector right away, simply search for an inspector close to the sale location.

Always negotiate: Before jumping on any shipping container deal you come across, take a minute to negotiate with the seller. Because of the enormous deficits with other countries, the US and other countries see containers pile up at seaports. And because sellers are looking to decongest their space, they are open to negotiating with buyers. To this end, try to negotiate a good deal before you opt for any deal. If possible, try to include free delivery in the mix.

Choose a container that works for you: With the myriads of options available when it comes to shipping containers, you want to make sure you go for one that suits your budget and is suitable for you. When it comes to shipping containers, there are typically four options you should be looking at, and they include:

New Containers (One trippers): These containers are relatively new containers sent directly from the manufacturers’ factory to local ports.

Certified containers (Cargo ready): These containers have been certified ready for shipping products overseas. And because they are in excellent condition, you’ll not be disappointed to get one for your tiny home project.

Wind and watertight containers: Even though these containers have been used, they are in great shape and will work very fine for your shipping container home project.

“As is” containers: These types of containers are a no-no for shipping container homes, and that’s because they may have serious rust. Not just that, most of them are missing 100% seal or pinholes.

At the end of the day, most people prefer to go for new or used WWT containers.

Buying shipping containers: Where you can buy from

Buying a shipping container can be pretty tricky and arduous. But because we have your back and want to make the process hassle-free, we have put together a simple guide that makes the buying process as straightforward as possible.

Read on as we break the whole process into bits for a hassle-free experience:

how to buy a shipping container home

Finding local and national dealers:

One of the first things to do when scouting for a suitable shipping container is performing a simple google search to find local or national dealers.

To make the result as accurate as possible, you want to filter down to your current city and state. Doing this will provide you with a list of local and national dealers close to you.

The good thing about doing business with dealers is that they have access to large inventories and offer delivery as part of their deals.

The only caveat with these guys is that their containers are the highest priced. Plus, negotiating with them isn’t always fun.

Finding a local seller:

Finding a local seller with fantastic deals for shipping containers isn’t all that difficult, and that’s because you can easily find a dealer on Craigslist, GumTree or Backpage. To get a dealer who is very close to you using any of these sites, you have to filter your location or parameters by searching for local dealers close to you.

The cool thing about doing business with local sellers is that they offer various used containers at a very cheap price.

The not so cool part is that most local sellers only have one container to sell and because of that, many of them don’t include delivery as part of their deals.

Find a good deal on auction sites:

Another good place to find great deals for shipping containers is on auction sites. And an excellent place to check is on auction sites like eBay.com, shipped.com and gaincontainers.com.

While you’ll find great deals on eBay, our only complaint about their deals is that most prices we have come across doesn’t include delivery. So if you’re looking for deals that include delivery, you’ll have to look through other auction sites.

On shipped.com and giantcontainers.com, all auction prices include delivery.

The perks of doing business with auction sites is that they sell both new and used containers at mouthwatering prices. And because they offer buyer protection, you can always buy with confidence.

Negotiating delivery fees for shipping containers

If you have reached this stage, then we are sure you must have found the right shipping container that ticks all your boxes. The next thing you want to do is negotiate delivery with trucking companies.

However, if you’re buying from a local or national dealer or buying the container from auction sites like shipped.com and giantcontainers.com that offer delivery as part of their deals, you wouldn’t need to negotiate delivery fees as they offer delivery as part of their deals.

Before kicking off the negotiation process, you’ll need to decide which of these three delivery truck types work for you:

Flatbed trailer: If you have a crane or forklift, going for this option will save you some extra bucks. With this option, the driver will show up at the designated drop off-site, and you’ll proceed to offload the container using your crane or forklift.

Flatbed tilt trailer: This is one of the most common delivery methods. With this option, your shipping container is loaded on a truck that has a trailer that tilts. Once the container arrives at the designated drop off location, it is offloaded by sliding it off the trailer.

Trailer with crane (Hiab Truck): This type of truck doubles as a crane and vehicle simultaneously. We like this truck because it makes it very easy to load and offload shipping containers. The not so cool part about this option is that it is more expensive than other options on our list.

For most trucking companies, the cost of fuel is what determines the rates they charge. So when diesel prices are low, you can expect to pay lower rates for delivery and vice versa. Here is a brief breakdown of some rates.

  • For short runs which are a little less than 25 miles, you can expect to pay around $5 per mile.
  • Anything from 25 to 100 miles will cost you around $4 per mile
  • And if it is over 100 miles, you can expect to pay around $3 per mile.

Note: These figures above are subject to change based on current realities, so we expect you to do your homework and see the current fees. This way you can prepare your mind for what’s to come.

Finding a trucking company

Now that you know a thing or two about what to expect in terms of truck types and rates, it’s time to show you how to find a trucking company that can deliver directly to your location.

Uship.com: This marketplace is a brilliant place to compare different shipping offers. Here, you’ll find trucking companies with amazing deals you’ll love. Our only complaint is that they can be a little expensive if you compare them with other options out there.

Explore freight brokers: With these guys, you’ll not only end up with a deal you’ll be proud of but will also save money and time. To explore this option, you can try searching Google for freight brokers close to you.

Go direct: If the options above don’t work for you, you can simply reach out to trucking companies directly. The thing about dealing directly with trucking companies is that you get cheaper deals, which is great if you’re on a budget.

buying a shipping container guide

Frequently asked questions

How much does it cost to buy a shipping container?

When it comes to pricing for shipping containers, you’ll discover that prices vary in terms of sizes. And depending on the size that works for you, you may end up spending between $1,400 to $5,000 for a shipping container.

How long do shipping containers last?

Shipping containers are built to last. As a matter of fact, shipping containers can last for up to 10 to 12 years without any problems.

Are shipping containers waterproof?

Most shipping containers are waterproof, and that’s because most of these containers come fitted with durable rubber seals around their doors. This helps prevent water or moisture from going through.