San Francisco is the most expensive rental market in the US.
To take advantage of it, Bob Allen, an entreprenurial 68-year-old, has started targeting Bay Area residents who don’t want to pay for expensive apartments to rent the five vans that he outfitted with beds and kitchenettes.
Although his original idea was to cater to vacationers who want to travel to nearby national parks, he has started offering seperate prices for people who just want to park the vehicle in one place.
Like a tech campus parking lot.
“Eat Google food, use their gym, and sleep in the van (CHEAP),” he wrote in a recent Craigslist ad.
A van without driving privileges — where Allen drops off the car at a designated location — costs $30 per day for 2 weeks or more, versus $89 per day for driving.
Allen tells Business Insider that he got the idea to target to tech workers and other Bay Area residents instead of simply vacationers after talking to many of his passengers while driving for ride-hailing startups Lyft and Uber. He’d ask them whether they’d consider living in a van to save money. He got enough yesses to make him realise that “stationary users” could be a big market.
At this point, the inquiries for stationary vans are five times higher than those for travellers. He lists his vans on his own website, Go-Tel, as well as AirBnb, and Turo.
“Some of these tech kids want to save money,” he says. “They feel like they’re in a bubble and they feel like the bubble is going to burst and they want to be able to go back to wherever they came from with a little money in their pockets, so they’re starting to look for alternative ways of living.”
Allen says that an SFGate article caused a rush of interest, which has made him cautious about calling out specific tech campuses like he did with Google in his Craigslist ad. Although Business Insider has heard several stories of Googlers living on campus, the practice seems to exist in one of those grey areas where people do it, but it’s not officially sanctioned.
“We’re gonna have to change the name from Go-tel to ‘Dont-tel,'” he jokes. “Not everybody wants to be outed.”
Allen says that it’s a much bigger business than he expected — he says that he’s made, on average, about $1 million in revenue per van. If he was younger, he’d invest in more vans, but, at 68, he’d have to hire outside help to grow the business.
“It’s not for everybody, but it’s a solution for more people than I ever dreamt of,” he says. “The Bay Area is out of control — the rent is so outrageous. If I had 100 vans I could rent them all.”
Here’s what the outside of the van looks like:
And here’s a look at the kitchenette in the back. It has a cooler and a camp stove: