Ugly House, Chapter 1: Finding an Affordable Home in the Bay Area is Nearly Impossible


Finding an affordable home in the Bay Area is a nearly impossible task. We need to be close to public transportation for an easier commute, and we desire restaurants and shopping centers nearby to increase quality time with our families. I am excited that my family has found one of these homes with a walkability score of 87. As my husband says, this is my birthday and Christmas present for the rest of my life. 

This was only possible by the help of our “fairy godmother” and significant sacrifices. As a Designer, I usually recommend that our Clients move into their home and plan to remodel simultaneously to avoid paying rent and a mortgage. Often, these homes are in good working condition, looking tired, worn and out of date but can be lived in with relative ease. Moving in gives an opportunity to fully understand how the space is and is not working so that remodeling will be more than a beauty makeover.  We want the investment of remodeling to be a long-term, functional solution for our clients of every generation. The largest sacrifice we made in this decision-making process was to find a major fixer upper in “as-is” condition.  

Front view of the Ugly House

With preliminary research, we discovered that the 1913 duplex (2 bed, 2 bath each unit) was illegal. Upon measuring, I discovered that the lower floor to ceiling height is only 6’-6”, and current code requires it to be 7’-0” at the minimum. When looking at its bathtubs I can tell that this situation was created around the 1930s. A visit to the planning department indicates that this lot is zoned for a single-family residence and that they had been writing letters to previous home-owners since the 1960s to cease renting it out with a homeowner’s response that the ceiling height wasn’t a problem as the renter was “short”. This news was a drastic blow to us as we can only afford to purchase this home if we have renter’s income to supplement our own personal payments.  

  Kitchen in the rental unit

Kitchen in the rental unit

Thankfully, we have hope for future rental income. Recently the state of California has made restrictions easier to achieve multifamily dwellings out of single family homes. ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) (LINK: ) are most commonly known as “in-law units” and “granny flats”. As the code states, “ADUs are a unique opportunity to address a variety of housing needs and provide affordable housing options for family members, friends, students, the elderly, in-home health care providers, the disabled, and others. Further, ADUs offer an opportunity to maximize and integrate housing choices within existing neighborhoods.”  

While we won’t be able to move into our new home as early as we thought, we have begun the planning process. In my personal time, I am developing plans to reorganize the floors to meet current codes and meet our lifestyle now and for years to come. As Bay Area housing market costs continue to rise in our current economy and tread water in a recession, it's likely that this will be our forever home. My family will experience the highs and lows of remodeling and share them to reveal the truth of what a remodel entails.

Photo in subway by Corey Agopian on