real estate

This couple lives in a vintage 940-square-foot trailer by the beach for $5,100 a month: It's ‘the California dream'

"We couldn't be happier here," says Jaclyn Westlake.

Tristan Pelletier for CNBC Make It

When my husband Brian first told me he's from Laguna Beach, it took everything in me to play it cool. "Oh, is that near Los Angeles?" I asked. 

Like most elder millennials, I knew exactly where Laguna Beach was. I'd seen every episode of the reality show (I was an LC with a Kristin haircut) and was a superfan of "The OC" to boot. (Seth and Summer forever!) 

I don't know why I pretended. Turns out, Brian's a Seth-and-Summer stan, too.

I never imagined we'd end up living in the land of beachside cottages and sun-drenched ocean coves I'd seen on TV. But in 2021, we decided to leave the Bay Area and spend a couple months in Brian's hometown. We both work remotely — I'm a writer and he's in tech sales — so why not? 

We've been here ever since. Today, we live in an old-school, 940-square-foot, aluminum-sided trailer across the street from the beach. 

Deciding we wanted to stay in Laguna Beach wasn't hard — I mean, it's beautiful, sunny, laid back, and has a thriving art scene. But figuring out a long-term living situation in such a pricey area required us to get creative. 

Finding a creative way to live in Laguna Beach

The median home price in Laguna Beach hovers around $3 million and the median monthly rent is over $8,000. Brian and I were paying $6,200 a month for our short-term rental, a steep price we could stomach for a couple of months but not something we could sustain.

Luckily, we discovered a quirky little neighborhood tucked away in a picturesque canyon across the street from the ritziest hotel in town. It's filled with mobile homes that sell for as little as $150,000.

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Brian and I are no strangers to alternative abodes — we'd previously lived aboard a 46-foot motor yacht for three years — so the concept of a house on wheels didn't intimidate us.

When you purchase a trailer in this mobile home community, the structure is yours but you rent the land it sits on. We decided to look at purchasing a mobile home as a hybrid solution — part owning, part renting — all for less than what either traditional option would cost. 

After living aboard a 46-foot motor yacht for three years, the 940-square-foot
After living aboard a 46-foot motor yacht for three years, the 940-square-foot "feels like a mansion to us," Brian says. "We've always loved an unconventional place."

We paid $212,500 for the trailer using money we'd saved up after negotiating a $5,000 credit from the sellers when the home inspection uncovered some necessary repairs.

After living on a boat, we didn't have much more than a TV and a mattress to start off with. In order to rebuild the unstable back deck, fence the yard, re-do the landscaping, renovate the kitchen, and furnish the home, we took out a $150,000 home equity loan against the trailer. 

All told, we're currently paying about $5,148 a month, including: 

  • Land lease: $3,424
  • Utilities: $394 (these fluctuate a bit every month, but this is what we paid in April 2024 for electricity, gas, water, sewer, and internet)
  • Loan repayment: $1,330 

We're eager to repay the home equity loan to bring our monthly cost of living down even more and hope to do so within the next two years.

Take a look inside our 'vintage' Laguna Beach trailer

Our two-bedroom, two-bathroom home was built in the 1960s. The exterior is original and we love the vintage look.

There's no garage, just a carport, so we built a storage shed in the side yard for camping gear and holiday decorations.

Jaclyn and Brian's old-school, 940-square-foot trailer has wheels (though they're not visible) and can be moved. You can see the carport on the right and the storage shed peeking over the fence on the left.
Jaclyn and Brian's old-school, 940-square-foot trailer has wheels (though they're not visible) and can be moved. You can see the carport on the right and the storage shed peeking over the fence on the left.

In our carport, you'll find a golf cart, which is our favorite way to get around the neighborhood, pick up groceries or zip across the street to the beach. When it's not practical to use the golf cart, we have a regular car and a van for transporting Brian's surfboards around town.

We put our own stamp on the kitchen, adding butcher block counters, a tiled backsplash, a dishwasher, and a wine fridge.

When they bought the trailer, Jaclyn and Brian knew they wanted to update the kitchen.
When they bought the trailer, Jaclyn and Brian knew they wanted to update the kitchen. "It was fine, but it didn't have a lot of warmth or character to it," Brian says. Jaclyn adds that it was "very white."

There are no closets — not one! — in this house, so we had to get creative with storage: My wardrobe is in the living room, our towels are stored in a buffet in my office area, and pots and pans go in the entertainment center.

It's unconventional, but we make it work.

Jaclyn and Brian didn't change anything structurally in the living room and dining area (to the left behind the couch), but they did have to figure out the right layout in what they call a
Jaclyn and Brian didn't change anything structurally in the living room and dining area (to the left behind the couch), but they did have to figure out the right layout in what they call a "weird space."

Though I have a real desk, I often write on the couch with our 15-year-old dachshund mix Indy (short for Indiana Jones).

Brian usually works in the second bedroom-turned-office so he can close the door while he's on calls. Sometimes he'll head outside.

Jaclyn is a recruiter turned career advice columnist turned novelist whose first book,
Jaclyn is a recruiter turned career advice columnist turned novelist whose first book, "Dear Dotty," was released in June. She has a second novel coming out next summer and is currently working on her third, usually at her desk or on the couch.

We went a little wild with our wallpaper (tropical everything!), including in the primary bedroom.

There's something so fun about knowing that this place is ours to decorate however we please.

Jaclyn and Brian have a king-sized bed, "which is important when you have a little dog that likes to take up a lot of space," Jaclyn says. Across from the bed is a dresser with a TV hidden behind it that rises up on a lift when they want to watch.

The yard is what sold us on this place. It has an outdoor shower and a dining area, and gets loads of sun. We added some tropical landscaping, a hot tub, Ping-Pong table, pizza oven, and a projector screen.

I love sitting outside and watching the hummingbirds dance around our plants. 

Jaclyn and Brian spend a lot of their time outside in the backyard, working, reading, relaxing, and hosting.
Jaclyn and Brian spend a lot of their time outside in the backyard, working, reading, relaxing, and hosting.

A 'less stressful' version of the California dream

Living in a house on wheels doesn't exempt us from the typical homeowner headaches. Since moving in, we've dealt with an ant infestation, tented for termites, and evicted a family of mice, and we're currently grappling with a gopher problem.

But keeping our monthly housing costs low (for the area) makes tackling these issues less stressful.

We often enjoy our morning coffee on the deck, take walks down to the beach, and unwind with an evening dip in the hot tub. 

The trailer is across the street from the beach and Jaclyn and Brian typically head over a couple days a week.
The trailer is across the street from the beach and Jaclyn and Brian typically head over a couple days a week.

We love watching Indy sunbathe on his favorite lounge chair, having friends over for outdoor pizza parties, taking the golf cart into town to grab dinner or hit up the annual Sawdust Art Festival, and turning on the fire pit while we watch a movie under the stars. 

In short, we couldn't be happier here. We've been in this home for two years now and we don't plan on moving anytime soon.

Jaclyn Westlake writes books about funny, flawed women trying to find their way in the world. Her debut novel, "Dear Dotty," is available wherever books are sold. A recruiter turned career advice columnist, her work has appeared on The Muse, Business Insider, and Inc. You can follow her adventures in writing, beach living, and beyond on Instagram @jaclyn_writing or at jaclynwestlake.com.

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