If A Googler Lives In A Mobile Home, Why Complain About Living Costs?

Only 10% of the population makes more than ~$113,000 a year, but if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, it seems as if everybody is making six figures or more due to sky high housing prices. Let's hear from my friend Chris, who so happens to make a healthy income working at one of the world's most valuable companies. He also owns a mobile home!

Sam recently dropped by for a visit to Google, where I’ve been working for the past 4½ years, and we got to talking about the cost of living in Silicon Valley. All of my friends who live in other parts of the country are buying their first starter homes, and I earn good money at Google.

My wife and I really wanted to buy a house, a nice place with room for our growing family, but the thought of putting everything we’d saved into a million dollar fixer upper just didn’t make much sense to either of us.

Ownership Economics Of A Mobile Home

dropping off mobile home
Half a mobile home being delivered

When we found out that we were expecting our second child in 2013, our 1100 sq ft apartment ($2400 per month) in Mountain View started to feel too small. But 3 bedroom apartments in Silicon Valley were $3500 or more per month ($42K+ per year after tax) and that would require us to save less while building no equity.

The choice was more space, but a significant hit to our finances or less space with an infant and toddler. Or, maybe we should move farther away from the office so that we could get something cheaper, but my commute time would go up, which would mean less time with the kids.

We started doing research and arrived at a non-traditional solution to the problem, which got us a bigger single family house with a yard, saved us money, and allowed us to build equity while not increasing my commute time. How?

We bought a trailer, AKA a mobile home, AKA a double wide.

Our house was delivered to a little plot of land in a mobile home park in North San Jose, direct from the factory in Sacramento, on the back of two semi-trucks. Each half was put on stilts, pushed together, and then the seams covered up and patched.

Are we nuts? Maybe, but here is the logic behind our non-traditional decision.

Why We Bought A Mobile Home

First Day In Mobile Home
Chris and family in their new home

1) Our home is brand new, no one else has ever lived in it, and it came with an 18 month new home warranty. It’s also bigger, 1604 sq ft, with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.

2) We spent $225,000, which seems like a lot when compared with the home values across the country, but in Silicon Valley, $225,000 is cheap. It's hard to even find a studio for $500,000 these days. And we don’t need to do anything to it beyond the normal maintenance that any home requires.

3) We still have to rent the land, which at around $1000 per month is not cheap. But, when you combine our mortgage and rent payments (including utilities), we are still paying less than we were in Mountain View for a two bedroom rental for $2,400. And we are earning equity. Oh, and because we live in San Jose, we have rent control so we know how much our rent will increase each year.

4) Rising home values in Silicon Valley are also raising the values of mobile homes. We didn’t buy the home as an investment, but our realtor tells me that our home would list at $325,000 now, a gain of $100,000 in just 18 months.

Living room in a mobile home

5) When you walk into the house, you don’t know you are in a trailer. We have flat 9 ft ceilings, modern appliances, granite counters in the kitchen and both bathrooms, and the same plumbing, insulation, and windows that you find in a normal modern home. And, for the first time in our married life, we have laundry in our house which makes a huge difference when you have little kids.

6) We aren’t going to be here forever. Both my wife and I don’t want to permanently settle in California. If we were going to be here for another 10+ years it would probably make more sense to establish more permanent roots. But we don’t expect to be here longer than another 5 years, and probably even less than that. We plan to move to a cheaper part of America where we grew up.

Yard in a mobile home

7) And finally, we get to do whatever we want to our home. Want a different color paint on the walls? How about running some wires for surround sound up through the floor? Can we have a gas or charcoal BBQ grill on the patio?

We don’t need to ask anyone for permission to do these things anymore and we don’t have to worry about the kids making too much noise for the neighbors. Freedom is a great feeling.

Sam wasn’t convinced until I walked him through the logic. Most people I talk to about it still think I am crazy, but we are happy with our non-conventional solution. And we are spending a lot less per square foot than anyone I know.

RECALIBRATE YOUR EXPECTATIONS (Sam)

Double Wide mobile home
Connecting two halves of the double wide together

I first started this article with the approach that if a Google employee can only afford a mobile home, then everybody else is kind of SOL. But what I realize now is that life is about choices.

Perhaps the real reason why people can't afford to buy real estate in expensive areas is because people are shooting way too high. After only 5 – 10 years of work, some think they deserve the 2,300 square foot, 4 bedroom, three bathroom home on a quarter acre lot. Unfortunately, if you don't have at least $400,000 for the downpayment, you just can't afford a $2 million+ home in Palo Alto, CA. Shoot lower!

I admire Chris and his wife for choosing to keep lifestyle inflation under control. They bought a mobile home they could comfortably afford while shunning the trappings of a richer lifestyle. Surely, many of his colleagues are multi-millionaires living in multi-million dollar homes driving Teslas into the office every day. It's hard not to get influenced by others.

Related: Why The Housing Market Won't Crash Any Time Soon

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About The Author

74 thoughts on “If A Googler Lives In A Mobile Home, Why Complain About Living Costs?”

  1. I’m 65 and retired with more or less 12 million dollars (the market gos up and down). I did this with only a high school education. Before I bought my first house, I lived in the cheapest rentals to save money for a down payment. Live cheap and save for that first house! Then I did the move up to a nicer house (the American dream), over the years. Then about 30 years ago I realized that every house I had sold in the past to move up, was now worth much more. So I never sold another house and just used reasonable financing on my current home to buy more homes without ever selling. I bought 4 separate properties after the 2008 melt down! the I bought things and traveled with my money, but I always separated my money into a fun money pile and and an investment pile. You need both ! I hit it big buying Nividia stock 15 years ago. I have about 6 million in stocks and 6 million in real estate. It’s not that hard to make money in America, but it does take time and effort.

  2. Q 1. Voted OTHER. First off in a HIGH COL areal I would believe I am a ‘temporary worker only’ and would not settle there. As such, I would rent the cheapest hovel I could find, bank the rest until such time as I could accumulate enough o’FU’ money to leave, and relocate, or retire to do as I see fit. When I worked in Chicago (a high COL area to me) that is exactly what I did. L:after on, circumstances changed, a relocation 1st to Detroit, then Buffalo, and finally to Madison, WI. There, enough cash allowed for purchase of a nice ranch home until we moved further north but what we wanted worked from the home until retirement.
    Certainly, everybody’s mileage will vary as their aspirations and expectations may not be in line with mine.
    No question CASH power gives one more choices that is all, but often that is all one needs!

  3. I never considered a trailer. In my mind, mobile homes and trailer parks are still associated with low-lifes and crime. We have a trailer community in my middle-class Long Island town and it’s not even marked with a sign from the main road that feeds it; it’s as if they don’t want people from the outside to know it exists. Obviously from the article and comments, there is a wide diversity of mobile home communities and some may be highly desirable. I chose instead to buy a condo in what’s called a converted garden apartment complex; I live alone and bought 800 sq. ft. for under $100K some 27 years ago. It’s fine for my needs, it’s kept its value, and while others are busting their humps trying to making $3K mortgage payments or more each month, I am paying just a few hundred a month plus maintenance and could retire my adjustable mortgage in a month or two if I were so minded. But why bother when interest rates are so low?

  4. 12 yrs ago we were really restless for a different house and went shopping. We found buying that buying a new home would double our mortgage with a proportional property tax increase. While thinking it through we realized we could spend 20% of our current home’s value on a full remodel (roof, exterior paint and every surface and fixture in the house) and be 80% satisfied. In twelve years the property tax savings offset the the total remodel cost and the windfall savings was not having twice the mortgage. Bottom line–retiring in December with our home paid off and housing is less than 5% of our net worth.

  5. “We bought a trailer, AKA a mobile home, AKA a double wide.”

    I think what they bought is called a pre-fabricated home. My Dad bought 950 sq. ft. pre-fab and put it on a quarter acre in southwest FL in 1995 for a total of $80K including the land. He turned down an offer of $250K in ’05 and ended up selling it in 2010 for $125K.

  6. I make enough money that I make more than 95% of the people in my town. The only way i see fit to go into a 1.2 million dollar home is to put down at least 700k cash.. i wouldnt be happy knowing i have a million dollar mortgage. One slip and the fall is a hard one. My mortgage is about 3k and i want to lower it down to 1800 if not less. If you make 20k a month but have a mortgage of 8k or more you are house poor.

  7. I have talked many times with my significant other about how much space we need. We have both come back that 1200-1500 sqft is all we need. The area we live in is somewhat affordable with a starter home in the $350-$400k. For us though we are in no rush and we have been talking about moving into a tiny a house for a while or even a mobile home like Sam did.

    It is all about choices. I can live 20 minutes from work and spend $1200 a month for a 1 bedroom apartment or 5 minutes from work and spend $1800. One sacrifices time but sometimes that is okay. So many other friends I have complain about the cost of living and how expensive the area is, but they are also out every night for happy hour and every weekend going to concerts. It all comes down to trade offs.

  8. Todd Guthrie

    Now I know how much it costs to buy a trailer in San Jose.
    I wonder how much someone would pay to rent one.

    I think renters are typically much less snobbish about construction type than owners, and they would probably assign a smaller discount to the trailer lifestyle.

    What sort of investment return could one achieve buying trailers in high-cost metro areas and then renting them out to people?

    Maybe if I become the President of the HOA, and also consult a Structural Engineer, then I could even stack the trailers and create a low-cost modular apartment building for exceptional ROI?

    1. Chris Johnson

      You aren’t the first to think this, but unfortunately this is not allowed, at least in California. The people living in the home must be on the lease (and on the title) with the mobile home park directly.

  9. Jessica @ Too Many Lattes

    This is totally insane but, as a fellow Bay Area resident (San Francisco) I get it. We had to make some big concessions when buying our condo in the city as well.

    Also, I think one of the most important points was at the end: “After only 5 – 10 years of work, some think they deserve the 2,300 square foot, 4 bedroom, three bathroom home on a quarter acre lot.”

    You are so right about this. Feeling entitled to nicer stuff is a recipe for financial disaster. Whenever I find myself wanting something because I feel I deserve it, it’s usually a sign that I need to check my ego and revisit my long term goals.

  10. Hi Chris,

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. As someone who has very recently started to become financially conscious, I’m excited to read about other people who are choosing to spend below their means so that they can plan and save for the future and/or use their money for other things that are more important to them than living a luxurious lifestyle. It’s very encouraging to me to know that keeping lifestyle inflation under control is possible and realistic. I’m currently working towards getting rid of quite a bit of student debt, so I can use all the encouragement I can get!

    Best,
    Sarah

    1. Chris Johnson

      I remember when we finally paid off our student loans. That is a great feeling, and we had to sacrifice to do it but I don’t regret it at all. Keep up the good work!

  11. Chris,
    The home itself is good and from the interior pictures I would not have been able to guess a mobile home. I would have never thought of this so great job thinking outside the box.

    Curious did you consider buying may be a duplex. I think you could have bought a duplex for 1 million range in 2013 and that would have appreciated 200K+ by now. I know hindsight is 20/20 but curious. I think a duplex would have kept your payment to same as what you have. I know you have to share a wall but if you choose carefully you should be good.

  12. I totally vote on the side of adjust your expectations people. I worked in NYC for 8 years. I had co-workers who lived in Bethlehem, PA and commuted 90 miles each way to work so that they could keep their 2,000+ sq ft house on 1/2 and acre. I though they were nuts. I’ll take my queens co-op that might only have been 650 sq ft but each inch was used and it was next to a 4,000 acre park thank you very much.

    I like to say most places are affordable even to an average income. You just need to decide where you are willing to sacrifice be it space or distance.

    1. 90 miles each way counts as a “super commuter”! I think I’d die 3 years early due to the traffic stress if so.

      But yes.. what’s wrong w/ 650sqft and a nice big park close by?!

  13. Not buying the 100K in appreciation in 18 months without land as part of the deal. Someone is blowing smoke to this nice man/family. If he is planning on moving in 5 years to a lower cost location then he is missing on a huge opportunity to make significant dollars buying a house (fixer) where he is if he can pull it off. The big killing in primary residence is when you sell and move to cheaper part of country (or state) and reap the 500k tax free exclusion. Sorry Chris but the mobile home stigma is real and you likely won’t lose money but you will miss some big appreciation IMHO (5 year horizon). Not saying mobile homes are bad, especially one this nice, but a Googler?, whose salary will likely grow significantly over 5 years?. I say stretch and by that fixer.

      1. it sounds more like a choice than an alternative, he didn’t say he couldn’t qualify. It is the rare googler that can’t afford to buy at least a fixer in that part of town. I still say with a 5 year horizon and a plan to move to a cheaper locale he is missing on a big opportunity to cash in tax free (using exclusion) IMHO.

    1. I totally agree re claim of $100K appreciation in under 2 years- even in Silicon Vally – where I lived for 30 years and just left this past month, May 2019. I see mobile homes selling in the under $300K range. The space rental fees have skyrocketed. They typically start at $1000/month and are not listed on the realty sites such as Trulia and Redfin. Such come-ons

  14. Nothing wrong with a mobile home. Modular homes are all the rage now anyways for logical reasons!

    1. Those bastards scooped me!

      But I think living in a big truck as a new college graduate isn’t as interesting. As a college graduate with no dependents, looking to get ahead, he shoulda lived in a car. A truck is living large!

      1. I almost choked laughing while eating and reading your comment on this one! haha! If a person making 6-figures already living in a vehicle, I must be wasting it big time and have no future having bought my 4000+ sqft house 1 year after college graduation. hahah!! Man, what people have to do to make it on your list?

  15. Unless there’s something unique about mobile homes in CA, that was a very BAD investment. Mobile homes go down in value. They are like cars. He doesn’t even own the land which would hold value. That 225k mobile home went to 50% value as soon as he bought it.

    Someone previously commented about buying a 10k mobile home and putting in $2500 of fixes. That MIGHT work as a good buy, but buying a brand new is very bad advice.

    Never buy a mobile home.

    1. Chris Johnson

      As I said, I don’t view this as an investment. It is simply a way to mitigate loss and keep our costs manageable so that we can save.

      But, I can tell you for a fact that our home has not lost 50% of its value. Given the market for trailer parks, the price people are willing to pay per square foot for a home that is less than 10 years old is going up. How long this will last, I have no idea. But right now, the value of our home is increasing.

  16. It often comes down to schools for most people, especially if you have kids older than 5. North San Jose has terrible schools (we just moved after living there for 3 years). Sending two kids to private schools in the bay area is approximately $4,000 a month. Add your mobile home mortgage and land rent and the total goes up to approximately $6,000.

    I would rather buy a home in a neighborhood with better schools. You can still find 1600 sq ft town-homes in Santa Clara and Sunnyvale between 1 and 1.2 million. That’s way less than $6,000 a month even if you include property taxes. Of course you need the downpayment but if you can afford the downpayment, you build equity, get tax deduction, reach the ideal mortgage limit.

    Now you could say North San Jose public schools are just fine, and I’ll say its subjective.

    1. Chris Johnson

      Schools are a huge concern, as are being close to our family so our kids can grow up with aunts and uncles. Right now, we don’t send our kids to any schools (the preschool at our church costs $12,000 per year) and once kindergarten gets close, that is going to be the time when we are going to need to make the call about leaving or staying.

  17. I used to live in the Midwest, so all I learnt was never to buy a mobile home as it loses value over time, and you have to pay rent on the land, a lot of hassles. Someone explained to me a mobile home is like a car, it loses value. A house will increase value. They gave me an example of a brand new mobile home costs $40K, when it time to resell it, they can only recoup $10K.

    Anyhow, from your writing, and the situation in SF and San Jose, it makes sense to live in a mobile home.

    From the previous article regarding the Twitter lay off employees getting $40-60K, if those guys got stucked in $1M mortgage, and child care, private tutors and lessons. I’m sure they’d be more happier having a paid off mobile home and only having to worried about the $1K land rental. The $60K suddendly last longer than the 0.4-1.4m Sam has predicted. LOL :)

    Sam, after these two articles, suddenly, SF doesn’t seem like the place to be anymore!! :)

  18. That’s really neat, I think that’s a fabulous idea. Loving this non-conventional idea. I’m surprised that we don’t see more mobile homes here in Vancouver. Vancouver’s housing price is crazy too.

  19. It makes a lot of sense especially since you don’t plan to settle in the area. I wouldn’t mind living in a mobile home as long as it is in a relative safe area. Renting the land is a pain, though. I don’t like that idea, but it sounds better than the alternative of paying sky high price for a studio.
    Enjoy the CA sunshine!

  20. SavvyFinancialLatina

    I lived in a mobile home when I was growing up. My parents then upgraded to a house. But I think the mobile home was nicer. We each had a separate room. My parents probably should have bought some rural land, moved their mobile home, and then they could have built a house from scratch. But knowledge is power. They didn’t know about their options.

  21. I have very divided feelings about this post. I admire this guy for thinking outside the box and not getting beholden to dumb expectations about what a home should be. He’s right that life is about choices and this family seems to be making good ones. My family is trying to live the same way in an expensive east coast city (2 high incomes, 1 tiny apartment, staying positive and focusing on what we prefer about it to a far-out place with more space…the usual). That said, as frugality becomes increasingly necessary for people making above average salaries, I am getting more and more frustrated with the choices rhetoric. I am concerned for people who make average or below average salaries as the choices they have must be rapidly shrinking. I have always been frugal and have simple needs, but it strikes me as a serious social problem that it’s becoming the only way to get by. Even for this family with a high income, the alternatives were clearly bad–to me this is not really an abundance of choices. I admire the author’s optimism and agree with his personal finance advice, but I wish circumstances were different.

      1. I have, but that doesn’t at all address what I was talking about. There are a lot of people and families (in fact, most) living off dramatically less than the incomes you write about. While I don’t expect every article to be written for everyone or apply to everyone, the situation the author describes is indicative of a growing social problem that I expect will effect all of us. Even as someone in a high-earning couple in an expensive city, I recognize that high housing prices cannot be solved by people making better choices. We cannot prop up housing values and work for housing affordability. As more and more people are part of the group that doesn’t have choices, I wouldn’t be surprised if the political will to make housing affordable wins out over the current status quo. That’s probably irrelevant, though, and I am just losing patience with trite lessons about all the choices we have. Perhaps I have just learned those lessons already and I am not the intended audience for this blog anymore.

  22. I would give my left arm to live in one of the mobile home parks in Malibu (Paradise Cove or Point Dume). Ocean views, surfing and cool community – yes!

    1. Donna Ching

      Hi, great article “If A Googler Lives In A Mobile Home, Why Complain About Living Costs?” Will you provide the name of this mobile home park and the pre-fab manufacturer from Sacramento? If you cannot disclose publicly, please email me directly. Thank you!

  23. I think it’s a fine solution, so long as the neighborhood is safe and the math works out.

    I sincerely doubt, though, that they’ve seen $100,000 appreciation. Unlike houses, mobile homes generally /depreciate/. The mobile home sales experience is like time shares. Very slick, lots of numbers thrown at you, etc.. Best to step away from the reality distortion field before you buy. Drive around and look at used mobile homes; how much would you pay for them? Not $325K. The land may appreciate, but the home doesn’t. And they don’t own the land. Also keep in mind that realtors who deal with mobile homes often charge higher fees, so he’s probably paying at least 10% of that supposed $325K value in a sale.

    My wife and I looked into a mobile home when we bought our first piece of property (5 rural acres). Our budget was low and a new mobile home seemed like a good way to get temporary lodging for a low cost (we were looking at ~$100K for a double-wide). But then you start to add in the extra costs. Delivery. A pad. etc… And then you realize that when you’re ready to build, you’re going to get a fraction of what you paid back. And you’ll probably have to help pay to have the home taken away. etc… Maybe some of that is less of an issue in a mobile home park.

    But anyway, if it works out for your buddy, more power to him. I’m just not sure the numbers are quite as good as he’s thinking.

    1. Nobody ever knows what they can finally get until they sell. But, I wouldn’t doubt the mobile home appreciated in value over the past two years the way the market is.

      Price increases cascade out. The risk is what happens during a downturn. The fortress in the center (prime properties) gets defended the best, and the outskirts get hit worst.

      The good thing is, $225K was spent… not $2.25M if there is a downturn.

  24. SF prices are just ludicrous (and I live in the Washington DC area) but I like that Chris made smart choices based on his needs, not the demands of the area. It seems to be about choice and not societal pressure and I like that. There are negative connotations with “mobile homes” but I’d rather take that than the absurd prices in SF and losing sight of what’s important.

  25. Wow, trailer parks sound like an excellent investment! Especially when other people purchase the trailers!!

    1. It’s a mixed bag. My family has been in the mobile home park business since the 1950s in California. To a certain extent, yes, you can maintain a parking lot with utility lines and collect steady rent from tenants who are supposed to maintain their own mobile homes. But there are downsides, too. The rules for evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent or for breaking the community rules are a lot more difficult than evicting someone from an apartment, and you tend to have to put up with non-payers/rule-violators for a significant amount of time before they’re actually out. And then, if they don’t take their run-down mobile home with them, you need to decide whether to try to clean it up and sell it (remember that you have to pay the departed homeowner for any value you receive above and beyond the past-due rent owed) or pay to demolish it and have it removed.

      Rent control is frequently applied to mobile home parks, even in cities that don’t have rent control for apartments. You have to pass annual HCD inspections related to lot lines, utilities, and a host of other things, and if you don’t pass they can prevent you from collecting any rent until you do pass. If you want to convert the park to apartments later on, good luck. It’s basically impossible.

      Since mobile home park residents are frequently lower income, and often they have poor credit, too, it’s virtually impossible to fill a park with tenants who are able to purchase their own mobiles brand-new and move them into a park. For decades, as old mobiles have gotten so run down that they needed to be removed, mobile home park owners have helped fill empty spaces by buying a new mobile, paying to have it installed in the vacant space, and then selling the mobile to a tenant via a mortgage, so the tenant is paying space rent plus an additional monthly payment to buy the mobile home. Unfortunately, the legislature has made it far more difficult now, requiring park owners to be mortgage brokers in order to provide that for their tenants. I guess they thought that park owners were taking advantage of park residents by acting as the middlemen, when the truth is that the tenants can’t qualify for traditional bank loans, and banks are reluctant to loan on mobile homes anyway. So by throwing that additional hurdle in there, vacancy rates have gone up at most mobile home parks.

      All in all, it can be a very good investment, and has worked well for my family over the years. But it’s not an easy turnkey investment at all. It requires a lot of work, and a lot of learning about the wholly different subset of rules that apply to mobilehome parks versus traditional apartment landlord/tenant law.

  26. I think initially I would be averse to a mobile home, if for no other reason than a negative connotation in my own psyche. However, I think we are all (mostly) rational, and would be willing to make tradeoffs if at the very least the financial case made some sense.

    In this case, I’d probably avoid buying, or would only buy something I felt I could easily sell or rent if I had to leave in a pinch.

    If a high-tech or finance worker can barely take home and keep an above average amount into savings after paying for living expenses, then the Bay probably won’t be for me… at least in the long term. Hopefully, the writer can at least gain some good experience and then find something more palatable in a few years. I’d be very frustrated if I planned to stay in the Bay and kept seeing rent/homes become increasingly expensive.

    Maybe eventually things will revert to the mean, and after a few more layoffs at big companies (like Twitter recently), people won’t be so starry-eyed when it comes to working in Silicon Valley, and see it for what it is. A chance to gain good experience, brand a resume, make good money but also pay a lot in living expenses, and hopefully find something they can be happy with elsewhere, or find tremendous success so that the living expenses become too small to matter.

    1. I’m sure Chris could afford more. He just chose not to. Almost 5 years at Google w/ all the benefits, and a huge increase in the share price assures this. Furthermore, he worked w/ me since 2009/2010, and read a lot of what I wrote about savings, negotiations, and investing, so he is doing better than if you didn’t! :)

  27. I rented a room in a mobile home once. It looked similar to the pictures in this post. Many people were there because prices in Boulder, CO were considered too high, but they wanted to be there. I agree with some of the comments, but not everything was rosy about living in a trailer park.

    I think this is a good option for some and should be considered by more people, but usually these homes do not appreciate, so it is not a good investment. Rather, this is a lifestyle.

  28. Absolutely fascinating! I never even considered buying a mobile home before reading this article. The area where his is setup looks really nice from what I can see – nice yard, privacy, neighbor’s houses seem to be in good shape.

    Having to rent the land isn’t the best, but with his situation and timeline, it’s a smart move. I’m impressed by the interior photos too. If I hadn’t read this article, I would have no idea it’s a mobile home.

    Great job Chris for thinking outside the box and being smart with your money! Your home looks wonderful!

    1. there is nothing wrong with trailers. Now, there are some bad neighborhoods for trailers and some are even better than expensive homes areas.
      Good trailer associations will have everything that other great associations have, gates, tennis or basketball courts, pools, relaxing areas, some even have small parks inside, playgrounds etc…

      Is good that there is a mentality that trailers are bad, but the one who win are the ones that live there and are ripping the benefits. I did think too that trailers were bad, as you see portrayed in movies or lower income documentaries. Not all are the same. I find out when I lived in one, where I lived it was 2/2 and I liked it because the rooms were far from each other, they are usually at the end corners of the trailer.

      1. Maybe trailer parks in San Jose are different than Jersey, but I would continue to rent in a nice gated community before I moved my family into a trailer park. Almost every trailer park I’ve been to (or seen while driving by) is not somewhere I would want to live, let alone raise a family.

        Also, a $100K appreciation in the home’s value over 18 months seems a bit high, and I’m not so sure they can just “pick-up” and move the house at will. It’s not an RV, which is meant to be moved around. It’s delivered on a truck, but once it’s hooked up, I believe it’s meant to be stationary.

        1. Safety is definitely a concern, but in our case our neighbors are mostly retired people on fixed incomes and younger families who need more space and outgrew an apartment.

  29. Kids and good schools change everything which is why his timeline is good but also may move up depending on his district. Had the same property challenge with good school issues and recently left with three kids for east coast….

    1. solution: private school.

      even here in flyover country, my town-home would have cost at $100,000 more had I bought in the best public school district (neighbors are mostly retired senior citizens).

      my spouse teaches there for half-price tuition.

      btw, school re-districting can change a good school to a bad school, as happened to me between my junior & senior years when our city switched from two year (grades 11-12) to four year (grades 9-12) high schools, doubling the number of students, with my school redistricted to draw the majority of students from poorer, inner-city neighborhoods.

      it sounds quaint to say “beaten up for lunch money” until you see it happen to your 17 & 18 year old friends.

  30. I’m no expert in mobile home price growth rates, but I view this asset the same way I view housing in low-income communities. The asset appreciation in these communities are capped by design. They service people who can’t afford a house or condo. So while you may experience some growth, especially since you’re in Silicon Valley, you won’t get the price growth rates that you would in a house or condo. Forget about what your Realtor told you. They told you what you wanted to hear.

    I’m trying to convince my in-laws to sell their 1 bedroom condo in Florida that’s in a low-income, old age community. There just isn’t any upside asset appreciation potential. Nobody is going to buy that property unless they’re looking to retire. And this place isn’t anything great so rich seniors aren’t buying here, driving demand and prices. Only seniors on fixed income. Lose-lose scenario IMO. And they don’t rent it out, they tried but it wouldn’t even cover the cost of the monthly maintenance. But hey, at least they get to vacation in Florida for just the cost of airfare and a rental car. Who cares if it’s in an old age home, right? Wrong.

    1. Everything has a cap based on the demand of the demographics who purchase. The cap will be lower for this mobile home, but that is compensated by the lower entry cost.

      In many ways, a rare Ferrari is much cheaper than a Ford Escort b/c the Ferrari can get bid up and make money. While the Escort, cannot.

      1. Not so easy as you think. It’s very expensive, and as the home gets older, it gets less and less practical due to the greater likelihood for damage. A mobile home is not like a 5th wheel trailer that can just be hitched up to a pickup truck and moved, you know. It’s a big process, with big trucks, and two of them are required for a double-wide. The difficulty in moving a mobile home is one of the main reasons behind some cities’ justification of rent control in mobile home parks, even in areas where there is no rent control for apartment dwellers.

      2. This article might help shed some light on it:

        https://www.moving.com/tips/moving-mobile-home-expect-pay/

        In discussing the cost of moving a home within a 50 mile radius, it says: “For a single-wide move, handling the entire move—from transporting the home within 50 miles to acquiring the permits to hooking up the utilities—will run the customer somewhere around $8,000. For a double-wide home, the price usually falls between $10,000 and $13,000.” Moving longer distances will necessarily cost much more.

        When you’re talking about a mobile home in the SF bay area, maybe someone would be willing to pay the cost to move the mobile. But even in Orange County/Los Angeles County/San Diego County in California, where my family owns mobile home parks, nobody pays to move their mobile. They move in, and they either stay, or sell the mobile in place and buy a different mobile in the new place they want to live. It’s just not very cost-effective to move a mobile home, despite the name.

  31. Ali @ Anything You Want

    I really like the idea of living in an alternative type home. There are a ton of beautifully designed “modular homes” (read: upscale mobile homes) on the market now that offer great space at a fraction of the price. Of course the cost of land is still a challenge, which is why I would ultimately like to move to a lower cost of living area (Boston is pretty pricey, although not quite at SF levels). I think there still is something of a stigma associated with mobile homes, but I hope that as people continue to become more conscious of spending (as we started to see during/after the Great Recession) some of these taboos will dissipate.

    1. I’m hoping the stigma fades with posts like this one. I had a different picture of a trailer park and mobile home in my mind when Chris first mentioned it to me. With the pictures and his reasons, it’s helped me realize new possibilities of living.

      It’s becoming cool to have a smaller footprint. The sharing economy is doing this.

    2. I toyed with the idea of a modular home for a while. I loved the idea of being able to customize a modern looking home. You can keep it small and splurge more on nice fixtures. There are soooo many options for the pre-fabricated homes. I love small spaces, but unfortunately where I live they only build large McMansions or apartments. There is a serious lack of small modern homes or condos. The biggest problem with the modular homes was finding a nice place to build that allowed for a ‘different’ looking home.

      For now I will continue to house-hack as much as possible: rent a room or have housemates. Having a couple good friends you don’t mind living with really helps to cut down rent. I can rent a studio for $1200 or a room for $400-500. In the near future I would not be opposed to buying a house and renting the rooms to a couple friends. I can always turn it into a rental when I want my own space to start a family.

  32. John Pearson

    I am confused about the math used regarding the trailer and renting the land. It sounds like the trailer cost $225k, plus they are paying another $1000/month for the land? How did the value go up to $325k if the land is not part of the deal? Couldn’t someone just buy the same trailer for $225k and put it on the lot or a similar one in the area? I don’t see how you really build any equity in a trailer, unless you also own the land.

    1. To me it sounds like this may be the case of realtors inflating values to try to attract a client.

    2. Chris owns the trailer ( which he can move it anywhere in the country as he pleases) from one trailer community to the other one. As associations go they will never sell the land because is pure profits for them. I remember in 2001 I live with my mother in a trailer she paid around $220 per month for the land. ( trailer was paid off) by the time we moved out around 2008 it was $300 I checked a few months ago and same land cost around $480 talk about profits! while their taxes only went up 5% but land prices went up over 100% .

      Now, Chris paid 225k and even if his trailer can be sold for $400k the land will never be his it could be $1000 a month still or 1200 next year and will continue to go up!

      trailer associations will never sell you the land ;0

    3. The math feels fishy, I don’t necessarily disagree with you. But the value of the trailer is dictated by the supply and demand in our area. You buy a trailer through a dealer and the dealer charges what he can get people to pay for a new home. There are lots of people in the valley who are looking for alternative homes and thus, their are raising their prices. There is a limited amount of trailer parks in the area, so the value increases as there is more demand than there is supply.

      An exact copy of our floorplan was recently installed in our park, only is is slightly smaller. That home sold for $325,000 and so that was the basis for the price. Would we get that? I have no idea, but no matter what, as prices go up we are going to make some money on the house which is more than I can say for renting an apartment for more money than we are paying now.

      @Andy, while it is technically possible to relocate the house, this is pretty difficult in California and so I wouldn’t suggest moving into a mobile home and expect it to be easily moved somewhere else.

  33. steve maxwell

    Nice article, Chris is making some stealth wealth and he is setting a good example for his family and peers. This also works for those ending their career and retiring. Do we really need expensive homes, multiple properties to manage and all of these toys to maintain? Should we downsize to create more time and funds to travel, spurge on grandkids and have fun? You can never make more time. Setting a goal for building wealth is great, but setting a goal for how you will use wealth is even better.

  34. My first house was a mobile home. I bought it 50/50 with a friend for $10,000. We put about $2500 into it and sold it a few years later for $15,000. It’s a great first house for a single or couple that doesn’t cost too much and lets you do some serious saving on a modest income.

  35. I think this is great. Not succumbing to keeping up with the joneses! The fact is your home is inexpensive because of peoples elitist attitudes. You took advantage of that. Bravo!

  36. Better a mobile house in SF than most of the high-end apartments in Honk Kong!
    People are setting their expectation too high. Late ’90 are gone.

  37. There’s an old expression: It’s not what you earn, it’s what you keep. Chris and his family will not only have a sane commute, a nice home, but he’ll be able to save for whatever the future brings (moving back to where they grew up, college for the kids). How can you not admire creative thinking?

    1. And the future is what’s more important — if you get a huge mortgage, you sacrifice today AND you handcuff yourself in the future.

    2. That’s why we live in a small townhouse in Silicon Valley. I could afford a single family home, but would be house poor with no financial wiggle room and a huge emergency fund requirement.

      A small home means more savings for other use.

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