Sweet Little House in Richmond, California

Tiny homes are the rage now. Tons of media on the subject. From which we, of course, benefit with our book Tiny Homes (50,000+ copies sold in last year.)

But you know what? Much more realistic for someone who can’t fit into 3-400 sq.ft. of living space, or who doesn’t have a piece of land, and who has a full-time job, are the small fixer-uppers in not-so-stylish towns. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, forget SF, Berkeley, Alameda, Mill Valley, Sausalito, Palo Alto or even San Mateo, but check out Richmond, Hayward, El Cerrito, San Leandro—towns that are either rundown, but improving, or towns that are not hip and don’t have B&Bs listed in Lonely Planet books.

There are 1000s and 1000s of little houses in towns that are not of the hip- or destination-persuasion , with backyards and neighborhoods that may be on an uptick. The crack houses have gone. The meth dealers have moved elsewhere. Home prices are WAY lower than the sought-after areas.

Just sayin…

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

10 Responses to Sweet Little House in Richmond, California

  1. Great idea! It just takes work to find the right house. Many of the houses in the $50k to $90k range have mold, foundation cracks, or other issues that make getting a mortgage impossible. Rehab loans may be available, but again, take effort to get.

    I found a wonderful little house in Vallejo, CA, and had great neighbors who even accepted the tiny house parked in my backyard. Towns that are struggling financially are less likely to fret about people having a tiny house on wheels in addition to a home on a foundation.

  2. I am thinking along these lines! Thanks for the encouragement. I now have a 999 s.f. house in Tucson, but soon I'll try to find something a bit smaller in the Napa Valley area. So far (on line) not many possibilities pop up. Since I'm 75 y.o. and female, I doubt I can do much rehab myself…

  3. I inherited a "sweet little house" in Sacramento, which was hit hard by the recession and real estate crash. It was originally a two-bedroom cottage built in the 1920s, with no heating—it may have had a wood burning stove, but that was torn out years ago, and my aunt, who was mentally ill, had only an electric space heater. She died in a nursing home, so her house has been vacant for almost ten years: I spent three days just cleaning the rat feces, dust, spider webs, and junk that had accumulated inside during that period. It still isn't livable, however. As the first commenter noted of old houses, my house is ridden with mold and dry rot; I also found a small hole in the roof, which apparently has been leaking water into the ceiling for years. The interior plaster finally cracked, and there is a gaping hole now over the hallway. I had a house inspector come in to give me an estimate of the damage and what I would have to spend in repairs. The news was not good: he said that in order to make the place meet modern city building code, I'd have to spend close to what a one-bedroom condo costs here. His suggestion was to knock it down and build a new house from scratch, as it'd actually be cheaper and easier, or sell the property as is to someone who was willing to put in the money and work to fix the place. Meanwhile, I still pay $1200 a year in property taxes on the place. My sweet little house has become an albatross! I don't suggest anyone buy a fixer-upper unless they have significant skills in carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work.

    1. You aunt left you something great, so the house is crappy, you got a nice city lot with services in place. So think new build or kit house,or duplex, live in one let the other pay the mortgage, and take to a lender about FHA's new rehab new build program, one loan start to finnish. Best of luck.

  4. damn lloyd that is a hell of an idea. i have been preaching that for umpteen years. i live in fulton, in just so everybody knows. there are several older homes that are for sale in the 20k range. they aren't fancy but are safe habitual homes. people live in them. they are renters.

    as for the mold comments well i'm a master plumber. whoppee. but i have never been in a home that was mold free. i started at 4 years of age, i'm now 68.


  5. I wonder if those Meth dealers might've left traces of their occupation behind in one of those small houses. Is there a way to find out and how costly might that be? And about mold, don't people die from too much mold in a house? A little mold I suppose is understandable but major mold would seem to be a major issue.


  6. Not all mold is equal; while some are toxic, mildew (which is common)& many others are not (generally-but if you have allergies/sensitivities they may be)…and how difficult it is to deal with mold depends on the type, how long it's been growing and what sort of renovations you need to do anyway.

    Renovating a fixer-upper can be an affordable, ecological and empowering route to one's dream home, but yes, it is easy to get in over you head. Always try to get a good idea of what sort of work will be needed BEFORE you buy, and be sure that you (and your partner, if applicable) are up for it. Generally, renovating is only affordable if you can do most of the work yourself (but isn't that the point of alot of tiny houses as well?).

    Big project, alot of time & work, much stress, some risk…and potential for huge reward, but only if this path is right for you…

  7. There is a lot of difference between an older house that needs cosmetic rehab (tear out carpets and paint or change finishes) and one that needs bones of a house replaced (wiring, roof, asbestos, lead paint. And there are not a lot of people who can look at a house and know the difference. A good home inspector will only go over a set amount of issues the state local or county says he/she has too, unless asked to do a more thorough inspection and payed for it.

    Houses with cosmetic needs can take a while to rehab also. Unless you have dedicated a set time to rehab the house ex take a week off to tear out carpet and refinish the floors. You will also need to hire a baby sitter off site if you have small/med sized kids.

    It is doable. It can be worth it. However don't think a house someone neglected is going to be a walk in move in ready house in the time frame you estimate. Double or triple the time if you have never done it. And be prepared to hire a professional for the big jobs.

    Another big hint I wish folks knew before rehab. Hire the skip/dumpster and have it placed prior to the tear out/rehab. Also make sure ALL of the tools and materials for the job are on hand and for each person on site have duplicates. Hammers, pry bars, paint rollers ect. A project will shut down for an hr up to indefinitely if a something is missing. The more specialty the tool/material the more you want on site double the nails and screws you think you need and over buy wood by 20/30 percent or know it is in stock (measure twice and cut once is not something we say it should be something we do.).

  8. Kate: Great! It CAN be done.

    Note on September Lieder's comment above: SL's house was inherited — from a relative "…who was mentally ill." Way different from going out and looking to buy an old house, where you wouldn't buy something like this.

  9. My girlfriend and I just got a wonderful, cheap, 1910 craftsman home in Vallejo. Neighbors are excellent and the weather is sunny. Hooray for previously bankrupt bay area towns!

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