Retrofitted van is one woman's 80-square-foot answer to Bay Area housing woes

Byby Amanda del Castillo via KGO logo
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
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Tracey Kaplan's future is parked outside of her landlords' San Jose home.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Tracey Kaplan's future is parked outside of her landlords' San Jose home. She calls her new van, "Loaf." It's a white, fully retrofitted 2018 Ford Transit, equipped with a three-burner stove, an oven, dinette and other necessities important to Kaplan.

She says "Loaf" is her 80-square-foot answer to affordable housing in the Bay Area. Eventually, the van will be Kaplan's only home.

Like many, the 61-year-old reporter for the Bay Area News Group based at The Mercury News was priced out of one of the most expensive housing markets in the United States.

"I mean, I can pay the rent and I can buy the food, and that would be it," Kaplan told ABC7 News.

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She started a written series for the Mercury News titled, "Van Life" where she's documented the steps a team of van converters have taken to perfect her future home, atop six wheels.

Through her series, Kaplan details the lives of others already living the #VanLife in various parts of the country. The series explains what type of vehicle each person owns, how they've ended up on the road, where they park and what advice they have for a future home-van owner.

In Kaplan's case, she's close to retirement and no longer wants to be at the mercy of the housing market. She currently pays less than $1,500 a month, including utilities, to rent a San Jose pool house.

"Things can change when you're a renter, overnight," she told ABC7 News.

Kaplan recently made the decision to drain her retirement fund, and to put a little more than $90,000 into her new dream home.

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She reached out to custom van-builders Kyle and Josh Volkman of Volkman Brothers.

She explained the two recommended all the equipment and successfully built Kaplan's van.

"I see it as having one, two, three, four rooms," Kaplan said as she counted the different living spaces inside of her Ford Transit. "The living room, the kitchen, the bathroom/shower and the bedroom."

She's details reasons behind her choices, here.

While Kaplan will need to get familiar with all the new gadgets inside of her van, she admits her dry-composting toilet will be a unique lesson for her. The toilet will turn waste into dirt, and create fertilizer that she can use on any plant she doesn't intend to eat.

Kaplan says she invested in top quality equipment and appliances that are meant to last. Besides the obvious need for fuel, Kaplan says she would also need water to fill her 36-gallon tank.

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She says her van is solar powered, eliminating the need for Kaplan to plug into someone else's energy source. This will also allow Kaplan to go completely off the grid.

Kaplan plans to park overnight in places around the Bay Area considered safe by a network of other van dwellers, or spots she's discovered on her own.

Kaplan details the challenge in finding proper places to park, here.

"Experiences count so much more," she told ABC7 News. "I feel like I have like 20 years left in my life, maybe 30- and I have been inside an office for 31 years. I'm ready to get out and I don't care if I'm wearing casual clothes."

Kaplan says once she has the money to retire, she'll be ready to hit the road.

Find more stories, photos, and videos on Bay Area housing here.