Why it’s not completely ridiculous to live in a $400 box in San Francisco

Peter Berkowitz pays $400 a month to live in a box on his friend’s floor in San Francisco. And it’s brilliant.

When his story hit the Internet, people around the world were alarmed. Why would anyone voluntarily live in a self-made box and pay to sleep in someone else’s living room? Because in San Francisco, rent prices have gone through the roof. As someone who just went through the insanity of the housing hunt in San Francisco — Berkowitz’s box (or pod) idea sounds only slightly short of completely reasonable.

Here’s why: It’s impossible to find affordable housing in San Francisco. If you’re single, petless and in a place where you can live in a box, why waste your money on space that is increasingly expensive and not increasingly better?

Inside the pod. Peter Berkowitz ‎@Peteberk

My requirements were simple, I thought: The apartment had to allow a cat (Phoebe Louise is not negotiable). Have one bedroom. Have a bathroom. Have a roof. Be inside the city.

We started the search for a cat-friendly, one-bedroom apartment with the max price set to $2,500. It would be more than we spent in Washington, D.C., but split between the two of us, my boyfriend Brent and I could make that work. Zero results came up. We paid for an AirBnB for one full month to help us get settled and, ideally, not be forced into the first available apartment we found, so we took the next week to search online for apartments.

I could pay $1,400 for a private bedroom in a house with other roommates — but I’d have to leave Brent behind. I could live in the “PENTHOUSE DELUXX FULLY FURNISHED” scam that had a price tag of $99 a month. Or we could commute from San Jose. We gulped and bumped our search window up to $3,300. Finally, there were a number of options. I emailed all of them. Every single one. Photos or no photos. Regardless of neighborhood, distance from work or square footage, I emailed with my friendliest compliments about their “absolutely beautiful” properties that I was sure would “feel just like home!”

Out of 20 places I reached out to on Craigslist, only seven were still available — they’d all been taken since the postings went up the day before, or even that morning. By the time I emailed back to schedule a tour, only two remained. We showed up on the doorstep of the first available open house 20 minutes early and we were first in the door — by about a minute and ten seconds. As soon as the couple behind us started oohing and ahhing over the micro kitchen, I realized I was already in a competition for an expensive, tiny apartment I didn’t even know if I wanted.

Three more couples came in while we were still there and the man showing the apartment explained the apartment would go to whomever applied first. I took out my phone and started filling out our application before I’d even seen the bedroom. I vigorously tapped my reference information on the screen while Brent asked some questions about utilities.

Less than an hour later, all of our forms and documents were in. The next morning, the landlord called and told us that seven other applications had been filed since ours, but since we snuck in just before them the apartment was ours if we wanted it — $3,195 for less than 700-square-foot apartment. The only apartment we’d been able to find, see and apply for where Brent, Phoebe Louise and I could live together without other roommates. There was a bathroom. There was a roof. We had 48 hours to make a decision.

I frantically moved our price cap to $3,350 to see if there was anything else, and I applied to the few new listings that popped up since the previous night. They were all either taken, or waiting on confirmation from someone who had already applied. If we wanted, we could join the waiting list without seeing the place‚ but it was six people long. I hit refresh more times that day than when I was a high school senior, waiting to see if I was accepted into my top-choice college.

We got in to see the second apartment, which was bigger and brighter, but also more expensive. As our 48-hour mark approached, we’d had no luck finding any other listings in our price range. So we did it. The lease came, with $3,195 written right on it. I signed. I anxiously blocked out the fact that I was signing a year lease for an apartment that was almost $1,000 more a month than I planned. As expensive as it was, it would be cheaper than the studio Airbnb we were in. Even now, three months later, I poke around Craigslist to see if we missed a hidden deal. We didn’t. The median cost for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $3,590, according to Zumper’s apartment rental data. We got, by someone’s standards, a steal.

On moving day, we walked into our new, small empty apartment with nothing but suitcases. At least there wasn’t much to furnish. We won’t be buying much anytime soon. Unless we can find someone who wants to rent a box in our living room.

Peter, let us know if you’re in the pod-relocation market. We all have to be a little crazy to make it in this city.

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