A mother-daughter duo transforms school buses into tiny homes that sell for up to $60,000
Lisa and Megan Donahue founded Live Simply Buses, a company that transforms buses into tiny homes.
Live Simply Buses is a tribute to Michael Donahue, who died in 2015.
They have transformed 14 buses into tiny homes since 2017.
Lisa and Megan Donahue are the owners of Live Simply Buses in Graham, North Carolina.
The buses Lisa and Megan Donahue transform into tiny homes are more than just a conglomerate of mechanical bits and pieces — they're members of their family.
"We put months into them and end up loving them, so we make sure the people who buy these buses love them just as much as we do," Lisa, 58, told Insider. "And, it's where Michael will go."
Lisa's son and Megan's brother, Michael, died in a motor vehicle accident in 2015 when he was 15 years old. Their company, Live Simply Buses, was created to honor his legacy.
The first bus the Donahues built and sold was named "Gus," a school bus outfitted with white paint and living amenities. Since then, Lisa and Megan have converted 14 buses, including Linus and Agnus.
Michael's "adventurous spirit" inspired Live Simply Buses.
Lisa and Megan said that Michael was "infatuated" with the outdoors and enjoyed spending time in nature.
"Before my brother passed away, he tweeted, 'It's the simple things in life that make it worth living,'" Megan, 25, said. "So, we took that and merged our passions for design to try to give him a legacy we could actively work towards."
They said Michael would sometimes sleep outdoors in a hammock, make zip lines, and once racked up 1,000 miles on an ATV in a year.
Lisa added: "All these buses are all in his name. Every place that these buses go, so does he."
Lisa and Megan transformed their first bus in 2017, and Live Simply Buses took off in 2019.
While Lisa and Megan completed their first bus in 2017, they both had skills that lent themselves to spearheading a company like Live Simply Buses. Lisa's a visual coordinator and professional organizer, while Megan graduated from college with a communication design degree.
"I think it's been a major play for us because it's similar, like organizing everything according to how we feel someone would live in that space," Lisa said.
Lisa and Megan said it costs around $25,000 to renovate a bus, but the price varies based on decisions like choosing a generator or solar power. They typically sell between $20,000 and $60,000.
Linus, one of their 14 tiny homes, was built between June 2021 and October 2021.
They purchased the yellow school bus on Facebook Marketplace before starting renovations in June 2021. They worked alongside a family friend, Bob, who used to coach Michael in baseball.
"Working with him, Linus is easily the best one built," Megan said, referring to the quality. According to Live Simply Buses, Linus began as a Chevy Express Cutaway in 2011 before becoming a New York school bus in 2012.
Megan said they create a design in their heads and make the floor plan to start, making sure they think about how everything in the bus can have more than one purpose.
"Any kind of seating also has to be storage," she said. "People are packing up their lives and then moving in these things. So, it's like, 'what would you be taking and what would you be putting it?'"
Linus included several DIY projects and used repurposed resources.
One clever installation was the outdoor shower built by Bob from the bus' side mirrors.
"You don't really need the side mirrors used to see kids walking around the bus if you're just driving. So, we took them off and made them into a shower," Megan said, adding that the countertops were repurposed from a bar inside Bob's donut and coffee shop.
"Everything in there was custom-built," Megan said. "We usually buy the cabinets for the buses, but Bob built them all by hand." Linus sold for $55,000.
Each bus has its own personality and a special name with a hidden meaning.
The Donahues explained that the buses take on a personality during the building process — they give them backstories — and each one has a unique name that always ends in "us.
"Every bus ends with 'us' because it's a bus by us," Lisa said.
After renovations, the tiny home had a modern coastal theme — Cape Cod, to be exact — that included wood countertops, white shelving, storage space, and several windows that allowed drivers to see the nearby shorelines. It also featured a dining area that turned into a couch or twin-sized bed, an outdoor shower, and a portable toilet. Apartment Therapy noted that it has an outdoor dining area with barstools.
Part of working as a team, they said, involved playing to their personal strengths.
Lisa said that Megan "does everything online," like handling the marketing and sale of the buses on Facebook Marketplace.
Megan said Lisa "provides a lot of experience and knowledge that sometimes I love to ignore, but it always bites me. My mom's the executor — she's super detail-oriented, and she'll catch stuff you wouldn't even notice."
But they still have disagreements every once in a while.
"It's not because we're mother and daughter. It's because the work is hard and long hours," Lisa said. "You get frustrated with each other not because of the person but because of the task."
But overall, Megan said they balance each other out well and hold honest discussions because they're family.
Connecting with excited travelers and creating relationships is one of the highlights of Live Simply Buses.
According to Megan, one of her favorite aspects of the job is creating relationships with the people who purchase their tiny homes. She described some buyers becoming overwhelmed with emotions when they finally secure their dream home.
"It's a kind of happiness that I wish could be experienced by everybody," she said. "Even if they're adults, they're giddy and hugging. They don't even know what to do with themselves."
Megan added that they often stay in touch with customers. Megan chats with the owners of Tobius every month, and Lisa is still in contact with the people who bought Agnus.
Lisa and Megan hope Michael's legacy and Live Simply Buses encourage people to live life to the fullest.
Megan said many of the people who purchased Live Simply Buses want to keep Michael's spirit alive.
"They're like, 'can I get a picture of him? Can I put it here so that when people tour our bus, we can say these are people who did it and this is why they did it?'" Megan said. "We want people to understand the depth of what they're driving."
"It's not just a bus. This is what we see as our family member," Megan added.
Lisa said their main goal was to encourage people to seize the day.
"Especially after what's happened to us, we want people to know that you don't always have tomorrow," Lisa said. "Make time for people who are in your life."
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