Are container homes really a good investment?

Johannes van Graan Johannes van Graan
Pamodzi Diepkloof mixed use containers, A4AC Architects A4AC Architects Будинки
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The professional team in charge of today’s inspirational piece is A4AC Architects, located in Johannesburg. Although this architectural firm only opened in 2013, its growing portfolio showcases quite the variety of projects flaunting a variety of house plans, including one of the most exciting architectural evolutions: container houses. 

From sleek building materials and interior/exterior sliding doors to kitchen styles and bathroom ideas, A4AC Architects is also known for meeting clients’ unique requests via various additional services such as architectural plans, interior design, construction documentation, etc. 

But is cargotecture, which refers to the process of utilising steel shipping containers to build residential (plus commercial and corporate) spaces, really all that? Sure, an architect can design a small container home no bigger than a few metres in size, yet it’s also possible to combine and stack various ones atop one another for a grand, multi-storey design.  

But is the time and energy that goes into container housing really worth it? 

1. Building a container home

Of course, there are rules when it comes to building container houses, like the fact that zoning permits need to be obtained. And of course, every region will have its own sets of rules, meaning some research on your part to understand all the regulations before you start building. And remember that you will also need a vacant piece of land in order to set your container-home dreams into motion.

And with plots in popular areas priced lower than existing house prices, even when taking into consideration the costs of building a container home (plus its interior/exterior extras like built-in cupboards, elegant sliding doors, etc.) this type of construction certainly makes sense to many people. 

2. Investing in container homes: Flexibility

Building, and investing in, container homes certainly provide various benefits, and some of the more well-known advantages can include flexibility. That’s because the container’s shape and building material are relatively easy to modify, aiding in its potential to be used for many different purposes and applications.  

3. Investing in container homes: Durability

Built from strong steel and made to carry huge loads, containers are used to being under tonnes of pressure and withstanding hectic weather conditions while at sea. That makes them very unlikely to fall apart! 

4. Investing in container homes: Standardised

Because so many containers need to abide by the same measurements (standard height, length, width), they offer a modular element which can easily be integrated into a bigger design. And as shipping containers are already designed to interlock with each other, that conveniently simplifies the construction process. 

5. Investing in container homes: Costs and availability

It’s really not hard to find a shipping container in South Africa: both new and old ones can be spotted in most harbour areas, including Cape Town and Durban. When it comes to pricing, used containers can vary between R20 000 and R90 000, depending on location and size. 

And even with the additional (and much lower) labour costs involved, container homes still remain a much more economically viable option than most. 

6. What to consider first: Location

Interested to see how much income you can generate from a container vacation rental? Then location will be your first priority. 

If you’re already near a popular destination, like the beach, then the odds are in your favour. In fact, studies have shown investors making 2 – 5 times more on a well-located property, even if it’s just for a short-term rental instead of a long-term one. 

But also remember that your location can’t just be a “hot spot” during certain times of the year – it needs to be appealing as much as possible, even during winter.

7. What to consider first: Permits

Save yourself time by researching what local- and municipal building permits and permissions will be needed for your container house. While you might not be required to apply for building permissions from some municipalities, container housing still needs to comply with standard building regulations. 

Thus, always check with your contractor on what the correct procedure is, and which plans need to be submitted and approved. 

8. What to consider first: Size

Yes, containers come in different sizes and configurations, but once you start adding all those extras to your container house plans (including kitchen accessories, built-in bathroom cupboards, plumbing and HVAC, etc.), its size can become a little limiting. 

As most containers have a long and narrow layout, that forces us to rethink our design strategies when it comes to furniture, décor, and kitchen appliances.  

9. The lifestyle value

Investment value is one thing, but lifestyle value – for some, that’s more priceless than what you can earn from your container vacation home. And it’s also a value that you won’t gain from long-term rentals, bonds, or even stocks. 

In simple terms, lifestyle value is what you get from your holiday/second home when it’s not being rented out. Most owners can’t afford to purchase a vacation rental without generating an income, which means short-term rentals can help you establish and enjoy your own vacation home. 

10. Keep an eye out for…

Would you ever buy a second-hand car without taking it for a test spin? Or move into a house you’ve never even seen before? Then remain vigilant when scoping out shipping containers, as there are many scammers out there. 

One-trip containers, in most cases, are still in good shape apart from some dents, rust and/or scratches. That’s why it’s vital for you to see the product before you make up your mind. Of course if you happen to work with a reputable professional, like A4AC Architects, that definitely lessens the stress on your part.  

In the end, purchasing a container home can turn out to be a very smart investment – if researched and executed correctly. And thanks to the advances in building materials, techniques and design skills, an existing container house (or two) might just turn out to be the dream property investment you’ve been dreaming about.  

Now, What do you need to design your own home office? 

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