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Austin business Bob's Containers flips unassuming shipping containers into fully-functional homes. (Claire Partain/Austonia)

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.

A massive deck adds space to the Queer Eye unit built by Bob's Containers. (Bob's Containers)

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.

The company customizes its homes for each customer's needs. (Claire Partain/Austonia)

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.

(Claire Partain/Austonia)

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.


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