I started out in Mountain View; was paying $2145/month to rent a house. The motorhome lifestyle isn't significantly cheaper, when travelling a lot, but it has a lot of other advantages. At least, for me, the advantages outweigh the negatives.
I am currently more interested in conversion buses (including some that are 60 years old). Even high quality modern rigs fall apart...and mine is not a particularly high quality rig. It was about $95k when new, and I bought it for ~$30k used. It was in decent shape when I got it, much less good shape now, though I'm in the midst of getting it back into shape for sale.
The things you mention, however, are mostly not the things that have been a problem on my rig. Cabinets are solid oak and holding up great. Plumbing has never had a problem.
Things that are problematic:
Ladder got smooshed by a tree when I backed into it. Got more smooshed by a light pole in Mexico with the roads were too small. A ladder is shockingly expensive to replace ($485 for an OEM replacement).
Windshield has been broken and replaced once, and now has new cracks in it. $500 deductible each replacement.
Day/night shades are nearly all a wreck. Restringing is cheap but time consuming. Replacing is very expensive.
Roof has sprung numerous leaks over the years. The slide out, in particular, has been a source of quite a bit of water damage inside the house. It's not terrible, but it's visible if you're looking for it. Water damage hurts resale value a lot, as it is difficult and expensive to repair. Roof needs new rubber. This is time consuming, and slightly expensive.
Air conditioner broke.
Leveling jacks are getting cranky.
Electric steps have broken three times in interesting ways (never the same breakage, but always makes them unusable or less usable).
Chassis battery broke loose and was on the verge of falling out of the bottom of the rig...I just happened to stop and check things at the right time. That would have probably been a bad day.
The carpets are wearing pretty poorly. Some of the upholstery is also looking a little bedraggled.
The exterior looks rough...the fiberglass itself is fine, but the decals are all peeling off and are cracked from sun exposure. I see why so many rigs this age are sold with decals removed...the rig would look a lot better that way, though it'd look kinda plain in all white.
So, yes, motorhomes are made to look good while new, and to fall apart over the next ten years. Some are built slightly better than others. But, none are made to last, as far as I can tell.
Sadly we weren't able to live in it as long as we'd hoped due to having to relocate back to Canada for a family illness during the winter but while we had it things worked fine.
One of the harder things I found though is the feeling of never really being clean. We had a shower in it and showered everyday, we cleaned the inside regularly but still you always felt a bit grungy compared to living in a house/apartment.
Do you know of any others who did this in other countries?
The big diesels tend to get about the same mileage. There are some little turbo diesels built on Sprinter chassis that get up to 17 MPG.
The old (ancient) diesel rigs I'm looking at to replace my current motorhome will get about 7-10 MPG, but can be converted to waste vegetable oil, or run biodiesel. So...maybe environmentally acceptable, as long as I don't put a lot of miles on it (I tend to like to travel for short distances at a stretch anyway, so I don't drive a huge amount of miles in any given month...much less than someone commuting 20-30 minutes to work every day would, for example).
I've talked to people doing it in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. I've met people from dozens of countries travelling the US this way. Germans, in particular, seem to be very interested in RVing in the US.
Costs when driving are high, because of the fuel expense. But once you're parked in a campground (or even in the street like in the story) the costs are pretty low -- $200-400 a month (or $20-50 for a daily rate) for a campground. $50-200 to refill the propane tank. And $20-40 to empty the black water tank at a dumping station. Some campgrounds charge for electricity (20, 30, or 50 amp connection). Internet can be had over a parks WiFi, satellite, or a MiFi device (factoid: a 50GB plan on AT&T is $300/month), or if you're monthly, a campground may allow TimeWarner or Comcast to run a line to your rig.
Not so much young people but Australia has "Grey Nomads" who tend to be retired people that spend their time travelling around the country living in their RVs full time.
Also, what's your internet configuration?
I have had four different Internet solutions since moving into the motorhome:
Millenicom 3G was first. I got hit with a $1400 bill while on the border of Canada and the US (they apparently don't protect against the modem using foreign towers, and will then bill you international roaming rates).
Then switched to a Clear 3G/4G unlimited plan. Worked OK in most places. When the modem died and my Cradlepoint proved unreliable as hell with 4G connections, I switched to..
Virgin Mobile and a tiny little hotspot with a 2GB 3G/unlimited 4G plan. It's the cheapest ($35/month), and shares Sprint's network (as does Clear). Works OK. The hotspot overheats sometimes, but it reliable enough and fast enough.
I currently also have a cable modem. I've been parking in Austin, TX enough that I keep a spot permanently, paid monthly. So, I have cable internet there, which is vastly faster than any 4G service I've used. If Google fiber makes it there, I'll buy that, too. Obviously, Internet is a priority. I'm not in Austin at the moment, and so using the Virgin hotspot out in the sticks in New Mexico, and it's working OK.
There have also been times when I used my phone as a hotspot. It's on T-Mobile. They made it impossible to do on my plan about a year ago...so, I'm annoyed with T-Mobile (I'd used it as Internet backup for years; my plan didn't change, but they imposed new rules). Haven't changed yet, but may eventually change to a service like Virgin Mobile, Cricket, etc., since I rarely make phone calls. When I'm due for a new phone, I'll look into it.
Service maps are available for all of the carriers and are reasonably accurate. Sprint/Clear claims better service than they provide, T-Mobile claims less good service than they provide (but still have less coverage than Sprint). AT&T outright lies, but has broader coverage than T-Mobile. Verizon I've never had or used, but is reportedly very good...it's just outrageously expensive.
Many RV parks also have Internet, and I occasionally use lack of Internet as a motivator to get me to go out to coffee shops and be social.
It's been very rare that I couldn't get Internet somehow during my travels. I can count them on a couple of hands and I usually knew I was going off the grid for a while and could warn my company co-founder and our one employee.
Thanks for the great updates and detail!
It takes about ten minutes, if you're also filling up the fresh tank. My rig usually is running low on fresh water about the time my grey water tank is full, so it works out reasonably nicely. If I'm trying pretty hard to conserve water, I can go two weeks between visits to the dump station. Otherwise, I dump a little over once a week.
http://tynan.com/rv2012 (2012 Walkthrough)
His book about his RV-lifestyle:
Tynan Smith - How To Live In Luxury on the Side of the Road in an RV
A fairly safe sentence: This article cost less to write than it will make in ad revenue.
Another fairly safe sentence: What is the point of any arbitrary article you find in a newspaper?
The dangerous sentence follows that one.
I'm wondering why nobody does this in NYC (at least, that I know of.)
As a homeowner with occasional $400 heating bills in the frozen north I disagree with expensive to heat. RVs, especially conversion vans, are small vehicles. My parent's RV furnace literally physically could not burn $400 of propane in its furnace per month if it ran 24x7, which of course it doesn't.
This is a solved problem in the frozen north because of two hobbies probably not very popular amongst the most urban SF residents... deer hunting and snowmobiling. RVs get quite a bit of use indeed for those activities (I don't personally do either, but I do enjoy snow shoeing and there's nothing better than a RV at the end of the trail). Its much colder than NYC where the locals use RVs, its really no big deal.
Another interesting point is if rent costs $3000/mo in Manhattan, you need to calculate how much propane you can burn to meet $3000/mo... I think you'll rapidly determine you could live inside an operating (small) rocket engine for $100 of propane per night.
The primary insulation problem is sound insulation not so much heat insulation.
The police won't usually break into the vehicle but will bang the vehicle and shine light into them to force people out.
I suspect that the West Coast's mild weather makes it much easier to live in an RV here. On the other hand, people are probably doing in NYC. Most people who do this aren't young professionals and keep the lowest possible profile.
It seems like the housing crunch and the recession have made police a bit more tolerant of vehicle living too.
The funniest part of the whole situation, that I've observed, is the women see this guy spending like a drunken sailor on the boat, assuming that means 1) he's wealthy, I mean obviously he owns a 29.9999 foot yacht 2) he can spend money on me the same way as he spends on the boat. And usually it does not work out that way.
Question though: how do people living in RVs shower? Monthly membership at a gym? (Asking because a friend suggested that was likely the case.)
The article says one of the people interviewed had a subscription to a fancy spa, and showered there.
San Francisco has through the roof high rent? Well, why not innovate & live in an RV? An innovative way to overcome the problem of containing personal costs. Also, this is a way to actually own something that can open up some very cool travel possibilities as well.
I'm not saying that it's bad. As a kid I thought of traveling with friends to every ski resort in North America and living out of an RV. I knew a group that actually did just that and I still envy that opportunity. But I've settled down since then and I like having a foundation.
Compared to what you'd get for the same price in SF (e.g. a tiny bedroom in a shared 6 BR house - student-style), it looks like an interesting alternative.
(edit: very hipster / maker indeed - this is from Tynan, one of the guys mentioned in the article http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjiQFCunJqk )
I may have the option of moving to SF for work in the next 6 months and am trying to get a feel for what options are available.
Since the general consensus is that housing is ludicrously expensive I was tentatively thinking about RV or boat as a more frugal option.
You can't get away with that using a full size class A, or even a little pop-up trailer.
Real RVers know the real problem of RVs for road trips or urban live aboard is finding a dump station downtown. I suppose you can always use the local mega corp parking lot. Antics like that are what leads to attempts to ban RVs, of course.
Boat living definitely happens.
If you decide you prefer land, and your work is near BART, the East Bay (esp. Berkeley, Rockridge) offer much better value.
If you like the idea of taking a ferry to work every day, and work downtown, consider Marin County north of the GG Bridge.
I'm surprised no other comment mentioned Jacob of Early Retirement Extreme. He blogged about living in an RV at the Pacifica RV park to save money. Unlike Mr. Money Mustache who is often derided in these comments, Jacob was extreme, and recognized it. Instead of living in an RV to bootstrap a startup, he had a normal tech job and saved tons of money to invest and retire on the dividends (I'm simplifying).
You've probably seen a modern version without even noticing. Usually the give away is the side mounts for water. A modern new conversion van is like $75K so in a big enough city its cheaper than any real estate, not so much in the country.
They're pretty comfy if you're short. If you're living in a city, supposedly all those people live there because "theres so much to do 24x365", so other than sleep and sex you should be outside the vehicle at all times. Reminds me of my honeymoon cruise ship cabin, that was a dumpy broom closet but we were too busy to notice.
The mileage tends to be excellent. How many MPG would my wife's Prius get moving an entire house? 60 MPG divided by probably hundreds of trips = not so good. Rialtos get like 15 MPG, or so I hear, which isn't bad. I imagine it depends on the exact model and condition of mechanicals.
I always thought SF was on the ocean, and the obvious live aboard vehicle is a sailboat. Of course marina space is probably expensive and unavailable. Perhaps if you moored offshore in wifi range of work...
My initial scan says $2990 is a little low.