Making the Most of Your Tiny House Expo Visit
Once I dove headfirst into the design process for my tiny house, I didn’t want to stop for any reason. I wanted to see my exact path forward and start sprinting. But after a few weeks, I realized that I was still checking myself every time I told someone about the project. I’d be speed-talking through my plans and skid to a stop to turn the “when this happens…” to a “well, IF this happens…” My brain was telling me to pump the brakes for a minute. It had been two months of design, research, and obsession. I told myself I needed to slow down and take some time to absorb the scale of what I was planning to do. I already had my pin-up presentation on the calendar for my co-workers, so I decided that I would go through with that and then take a bit of a breather. Click here to read that post if you haven’t already!
I needed to give myself some space from the idea to gain some perspective.
I walked out of my presentation and felt the gears running in my head slow down a bit. I had crossed the finish line of the sprint I had been running, and knew it was time to take a break. I needed to give myself some space from the idea to gain some perspective. I needed to ensure it wasn’t something I’d get bored with or leave behind if the going got rough. I had reached the point where the next real steps forward were securing financing (*GULP*) and figuring out where I was going to park the darn thing. I could continue playing around with my design until the cows came home, but if I was going to take concrete, potentially costly steps forward, I needed to take some time off first. During that time I could still do research and explore ideas, but I made a few guidelines: I could continue to do research and educate myself, but I could not complete any additional work on my design, nor could I put any large amount of money toward the house.
A few weeks into this self-imposed break, I felt like I was just sitting on my hands, waiting for a bolt of lightning to strike with some incredible realization. I needed to put some deadlines in place - I’m not one who often thrives in a “oh, whenever you feel like doing it” atmosphere. Give me a date for a project to be finished, and I will build my whole schedule and thought process around that date. I like a little unstructured free time as much as the next gal, but I’m also a planner at heart. I didn’t want to somehow let 6 months go by and still not know what I was really doing. I decided to take six weeks off of the project, and at that point, I needed to be ready to make a decision: Am I doing this? And if so, am I doing it right now?
After thinking about it, I realized I hadn’t really toured many tiny houses, nor had I ever stayed in one. I had seen plenty of TV shows and documentaries, but I had only toured two or three - there aren’t many in the Richmond area that are often opened up for anyone to come and check out. And of the ones I had toured, I hadn’t spent more than 5 minutes inside. Around that time, I saw a post about the Mid-Atlantic Tiny House Expo happening in May, in Fredericksburg, just 45 minutes from Richmond. Tickets were $10 - DONE. I bought two and asked a friend to come along.
I was strangely nervous about going to the expo and it took a while to unpack exactly why. Attending the expo made the project feel real, and having someone there to challenge my ideas and ask questions kept my mind buzzing the whole time.
Overall, I ended up seeing about 15-20 tiny houses in one day, stayed for a handful of educational sessions, and gathered as many brochures as I could. Instead of giving you an exact play by play of every minute of the day (it was such a blur, I’m not sure I could if I tried!), I’ve gathered some tips and suggestions below for getting the most from your expo experience!
1. See as many houses as you can! (Duh.) Don’t be scared of waiting in line - you will get the most bang for your buck if you take the opportunity to see as many houses as you can. The longest lines I waited in at the expo were actually some of the best houses I saw! You’ll get to see lots of layouts, arrangements, design finishes, and storage solutions. Each one has the potential to either give you a new idea for your own house, or to reaffirm the choices you’ve already made if you see something you don’t like as much. Snap quick photos of any decor finishes that strike your fancy, take note of unique storage solutions, and bring a notebook so you can jot down or sketch out things you may want to implement in your own home.
2. Check the schedule for educational sessions and make room in your day for the ones from which you can learn the most. I got the most helpful information of the entire expo from Christian and Alexis of Tiny House Expedition, because not only do they live and travel in their home full-time, they are an incredible resource for information on zoning, certifications, and all other kinds of technical information that you’d have to scour the internet for otherwise! They led an educational session about their journey, and a super informative Q&A session afterward. I also got to sit in on sessions covering downsizing, zoning issues, and building community.
3. Look for exhibitors who actually live in the homes they are showing. At the expo I went to, a lot of the homes available for touring were not actually ‘lived-in’ houses, they were more models for building companies, and the people staffing the tours were sales people, not tiny home dwellers. I knew that buying a fully built home was not the route I wanted to go, so I didn’t spend much time lingering over questions with the salespeople. Check the brochure, program, or website for the expo to read the bios of each exhibitor, that will help you determine which houses are which! People showing their own tiny homes, camper conversions, or skoolies will have insights that you can only really get after living the tiny lifestyle. Their tips and thoughts about tiny living will likely be much more helpful than someone who is just hoping you’ll sign a contract for a $70,000+ custom-built house. That being said…
4. If you’re in the market for a builder, an expo can be a great place to get a good deal! Lots of expo vendors offer discounts on their services to attendees if you are willing to make a commitment. I knew that this was not the path I was pursuing, so I wasn’t digging deep into details. But I did see multiple builders offering deals of around $3-5,000 off of their normal rates for certain models if someone were to start working on a contract with them that day. Granted, this is not a path everyone can follow! If you want to go this route, you have to be really ready to make that jump and start your tiny living journey ASAP. This may just seem like common sense, but if you are looking to potentially sign a contract with a builder at an expo, do as MUCH research in advance as possible. Try to have answers to your major questions: How are you paying for it - financing or cash? Where will you be parking it? What is your timeline? Being prepared in advance will mean you know what questions you want to ask your builder before signing anything, will put you ahead of the game when it comes to nailing down any specific changes or upgrades you may need, and will generally make your journey from expo to move-in MUCH easier.
Lastly, and most importantly...
5. Do NOT be afraid to ask questions! Vendors and exhibitors at these expos are there. to. answer. questions. Take advantage of it. Think about what is important to you and your build or design, and figure out some questions that will help you make decisions. And don’t be afraid to take notes on their answers!
I’ve dropped a list of some sample questions that can give you more insightful feedback than your standard “how big is it?” or “do you hit your head on the ceiling?” kinds of questions:
What helped you determine the size your house needed to be?
How much did this build cost? [This one may seem touchy, so don’t push it if they are not comfortable divulging numbers, but I guarantee that this is one of the top three questions every tiny house-r gets, they are used to it!]
What was the toughest part about the build or move-in process?
What is your favorite part of your house?
Do you have any downsizing tips?
Do you have any unique storage solutions built into your house?
What do you wish you had included in your house?
Who is your favorite tiny living content creator on YouTube/Instagram/etc?
If you could go back and do it over, what would you do differently?
Overall, if you are thinking about going tiny, definitely check and see if there is an expo coming to a city near you. They are normally super affordable to attend, and well worth your time. And if you bring along a friend or family member, you might just be able to convert more people to the tiny living lifestyle along the way!
PS: Here are a few online resources to find a tiny house festival or expo near you: