Tiny House Going Up in Berkeley: Proof You Can Live in the Bay Area on a Budget

You've heard the nightmare stories of the high cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even this falling-down San Francisco shack for $350,000 was snapped up for well above asking price. But we found at least one Berkeley, CA, couple who opted out of the high-priced game, going instead the DIY route to build a tiny home -- for a tiny price tag.

Eliana Chinea, a 28-year-old yoga instructor from Indiana, moved to the Bay Area three years ago with her cyclist boyfriend, Mark Alford. The two had to juggle multiple jobs just to cover the basics.

"We couldn't afford the rent," Chinea says. Inspired by the hOMe Plans they discovered online, the two set a micro budget of $7,000 and a bold goal: build the home on wheels themselves, and find a place to park it once they were finished.

With a few thousand dollars raised from family and friends, they began their big adventure in February. Through Craigslist, the duo secured a lot and a gated, open-air warehouse for their construction zone. Chinea documented their progress on her blog.

"We've created it completely for ourselves," Chinea says. "We didn't buy any floor plans. It's completely custom-fit." The tiny house is being built on a flatbed trailer and made from mostly recycled, salvaged, and sustainable materials.

The roof and walls are up, plus a lofted sleeping area and a bathroom (with compostable toilet), at a cost of $4,500 to $5,000. The couple still need an additional $3,000 to $4,000 to finish the kitchen and add solar panels and built-in furniture. To save money, they've already moved in -- along with their three dogs and two foster puppies.

The two are planning an open house of their work in progress to raise funds and awareness of the tiny-home lifestyle. "You can live inexpensively and comfortably," Chinea says. "We're not homeless, we're not poor, but we don't have a lot of money."

They also don't have a lot of space -- 8.5 feet by 19 feet with a 13.5-foot-high ceiling. Most of the built-in furniture will do double duty as hidden storage. But that still meant paring down their possessions.

Chinea downsized from 15 pairs of shoes to six and gave away more than half her wardrobe, she estimates. The former makeup artist also passed along bags of cosmetics to thrilled friends. "I don't miss all that baggage," she says bravely.

Living small means giving up certain things, but not the important stuff. "You can live a really good life and in a really nice home. You just need to think outside the box," she says. Just as long as it's a really, really small box.