Tired of Austin's hot housing prices? 'Queer Eye'-featured business flips shipping containers into affordable tiny homes
Once set out for long voyages at sea, Del Valle business Bob's Containers is looking to cater to the intersection of Austin homebuyers' interests—from affordability to sustainability—by transforming unassuming shipping containers into fully customizable homes.
As housing costs and the tiny home movement continue to rise in the Texas capital, the company has quickly grown in popularity in its three years of business—so much so that a deluxe version of their popular "Joshua" home model is set to be featured in the upcoming Austin season of life improvement Netflix show "Queer Eye," premiering Dec. 31.
While Bob's Containers originally sold shipping containers as-is, the company quickly saw demand in decking out the 20- or 40- foot units with insulation and basic housing amenities Bob's spokesperson Weston Field told Austonia. Customers looking for bare-bones hunting cabins or backyard Airbnbs began asking for custom add-ons to their 160-420 square feet, and soon the company transitioned into a fully-fledged contracting business that can flip a container into a fully-customizable home.
"We just got more and more requests like, 'Hey, can you put a door in?' Can you insulate it?' and then it just kind of snowballed from there," Field said.
Homebuyers who balked at Austin's soaring home prices may find solace at Bob's—the company's simplest units go for under $30,000, while more expensive units like the "Queer Eye"-backed model or multi-container homes run for as much as $89,000.
An even bigger draw for the company is those who want to add accessory dwelling units to their backyards to make extra change with Airbnb or even increase the value of their home.
Much like Austin company ICON, which quickly assembles 3D-printed homes, Bob's Containers can assemble a home quickly. Field said units can be completed in two to five weeks.
And because they're built on containers made for transport, the homes can be sent anywhere worldwide—Field said that one unit is setting sail for South America, while other containers have been shipped to California, Oregon, Idaho and Canada.
For urban nomads that don't want to stay in one place, Field said the portability of container homes has become a popular solution.
"They're movable (so) you can make some passive income through that," Field said. "And say a big subdivision gets built next door, and maybe the appeal for that piece of land isn't there anymore, or you have to sell... You always have the option to get one of those trailers come out and just pick it up and take it to your new place."
Bob's is far from the first to find a lucrative movement in the unlikely world of shipping containers, but they're gaining traction fast: the young company was given the Small Business Excellence award in 2021 by the Greater Austin Chamber, and while around 70% of their customers are looking for homes, some—including Elon Musk's The Boring Company—have gotten more creative with their requests. Musk's startup recently ordered offices from the Austin company.
Meanwhile, one innovative barber has transformed a unit into a mobile barbershop, and for those looking for a one-night getaway, The Container Retreat on the Hill Country's Canyon Lake has ordered over a dozen units for vacation homes.
There can still be some drawbacks to the container home plan, including potential zoning issues, high shipping costs and the industrial look of living in a steel container. But Bob's has found some workarounds by transforming the containers with paint, wooden add-ons and rooftop decks; and even attaching wheels so that it legally registers as a "recreational vehicle."
And with sustainability a hot topic, Bob's customers can be at peace in knowing that many of their homes were made from repurposed containers that sit idly after just one use.
- Affordable tiny homes expand to to housing-starved Austin - austonia ›
- Austin's Community First! Village announces massive expansion ... ›
- Austin-based startup to open 66-unit micro home community - austonia ›
- In afterglow of ‘Queer Eye,’ Safe in Austin animal rescue ranch sees heartwarming mission go global - austonia ›
- Austin housing market prices continue to climb in 2021 real estate frenzy - austonia ›
- Austin-Round Rock metro sees record home prices in March - austonia ›
Last year, we examined how Austin has an unlikely lookalike in Boise, Idaho, a fast-growing metro that, like Austin, has earned both praise and ire as thousands flock to the city.
But while Boise and its suburb, Nampa, were named the two best-run cities in America by WalletHub, Austin ranked 85th—below fellow hubs Phoenix and Miami and six fellow Texas cities.
The study, which measures 150 US cities across 38 metrics, compared each metro's quality of city services to its city budget per capita. While Boise ranked third in both categories, Austin's 12th-best quality of services was offset by a city budget that ranked 112th per resident.
Here's a look at how the Sun Belt's former pride and joy fell so far below its tinier "twin":
Booming economies—both cities
Both Boise and Austin ranked in the top 5 for their economies, with Austin taking the cake.
Bolstered by a mass pandemic migration and tech influx, both metros are caught "mid-metamorphosis" as they quickly transform into major cities. While Austin suburbs Georgetown and Leander both saw the fastest growth of any metros from July 2020-2021 with double-digit growth, three Boise suburbs—Meridian (5.2%), Caldwell (5.2%) and Nampa (5.0%) rounded out the top 10.
Tech giants like Tesla and Oracle, alongside other developments in tech and business, helped Austin produce one of the fastest-growing economies in 2021. And with employers like Albertson's, Hewlett-Packard and Micron Technology, Boise's unemployment rate sat at 2.4% in April—well below the national average of 3.6%.
City budget, safety—Boise
Austin's city budget for 2022 was around $1.2 billion. (Hensel Phelps)
Boise's City Hall offers 42% of its budget to general funds. (Boise City Council/Facebook)
With a $661.8 million budget and a projected population of just over 235,000, Boise has the third-best city budget per capita.
As the city experiences rapid change, city leaders said their budget priority was community-oriented, including "housing, transportation, environment, and more," and that 42% of the budget went to general funds.
And while Austin had a $4.5 billion budget this year, the city had to stretch that among its nearly 1 million residents. 1.2 billion—or 26%—of the budget was placed in general allocation, with two-thirds of that slotted toward public safety.
Austin remains one of Texas' safest cities, according to Police Chief Joseph Chacon, but pales in comparison to Boise. While Austin ranked 71st in safety, Boise clocked in at eighth. Boise's crime rate per 1,000 citizens was 35.5 in 2020, a 2.4% decrease from the year prior, while Austin's was 40.98 in the same time period.
Austin has become known as a "brain drain" in part thanks to the University of Texas. (University of Texas at Austin/Facebook)
Boise's biggest university is Boise State University. (Boise State University/Facebook)
Aside from its top economy ranking, Austin also shone in its high school graduation rate, which clocked in at 1st in the US. Known as a "brain drain" city, Austin's college-town status and wealth of job opportunities have created one of the most educated populations in the U.S.
Three of the top 25 public high schools in Texas are located in Austin, and the city's education system ranked 16th. And while four of the top 10 high schools in Idaho are located in Boise, the city's overall education earned just 41st place.
Both cities are known as fitness and health havens thanks to robust outdoor amenities and health-conscious residents. But Austin still edged out its Idahoan lookalike, ranking 7th overall to Boise's 10th.
Affordability and infrastructure issues—both cities
Housing has become a scarce commodity in Austin.
Both Boise and Austin are experiencing affordability issues thanks to an overpriced housing market. (Boise New Construction/Facebook)
Still, the effects of high-speed growth have done some major damage to both formerly sleepy cities.
Both cities pose higher than average incomes relative to their state. But thanks to a rapidly diminishing number of available homes for both new and old residents, both Boise and Austin ranked as the top two most overvalued housing markets in the country, according to a Florida Atlantic study.
With more and more residents priced out of homeownership and burdened with a higher cost of living, both Boise and Austin ranked below the top 30 in the financial stability index.
Both cities have seen even more development in neighboring suburbs—like Boise's Nampa, which was named the US's best-run city for the sixth year in a row—while its inner-city infrastructure often struggles to keep up with the times. While Boise's infrastructure and pollution ranked 32nd overall (Nampa ranked 77th), Austin's car-centric infrastructure ranked 45th.
- Austin ranks #1 in best U.S. capital to live in - austonia ›
- Austin, Phoenix share rapid growth, booming housing market and ... ›
- Austin's housing market is more overpriced than any U.S. city but ... ›
- Austin and Boise share similarities w/ California migration - austonia ›
Enjoy live music all weekend long and check out the hotels’ state-of-the-art amenities between sets. Make a splash in the pool, enjoy outdoor fire pits, or challenge your friends in a yard game while enjoying a weekend full of live music! Did we mention the package includes deluxe accommodations and a bucket of beer? Oh, and if you needed more convincing, this pet-friendly hotel means the whole family can join in on the fun.
Explore any of the Court Hotels by Valencia Hotel Group for a memorable escape. Each property offers a unique experience remnant of yesteryear but with all of the modern amenities that make for a fun and comfortable stay. With acres of landscaped courtyards, relax and unwind in an outdoor environment perfect for doing everything or absolutely nothing at all. With locations in Austin, College Station, Irving, and Lubbock your urban retreat has never been so close.
Locals and travelers alike are invited to enjoy the deep roots of Texas music all summer long with a robust lineup of live performances. From the banks of the San Antonio Riverwalk to Irving’s manicured streets, Valencia’s hotels are a place to gather and reconnect, offering uniquely Texan settings for the weekly performances.
“We’re proud of the community we’ve fostered among Texas musicians and the many rising stars who perform at our properties,” says Amy Trench, corporate director of brand marketing & PR for Valencia Hotel Group.
With unique programming at each of Valencia’s properties, there’s something for everyone to enjoy all summer long.
If you’re a Valencia Hotel Group Rewards member, the perks are plentiful. Enjoy up to 10% off the Best Available Rate, and for a limited time, members can save up to 15% off a stay of 2 nights or more, for select stays in 2022.
But that’s really just the beginning. At select locations, you can enjoy discounts on weeknight stays, a complimentary third night, or curated packages for a romantic getaway or a night of watching the Verde at Q2 Stadium. You’ll also find special rates for AAA and AARP Members, educators, and front-line heroes including military, law enforcement, fire, and rescue workers.