Inside a sold $2.3 million once-tiny home in San Francisco built out of desperation after the 1906 earthquake for $50

Courtesy of Redfin; Wikimedia Commons; Business InsiderDisplaced residents shelled out $US2 a month toward the $US50 price of these earthquake cottages in 1906.
  • A quaint home in San Francisco that was originally 800 square feet is one of the remaining “earthquake shacks” built as temporary housing units after the 1906 earthquake and fire.
  • The now 2,155 square-foot home sold for $US2.3 million in April 2019, a smidge less than its asking price of $US2.5 million.
  • The house had an extensive restoration before it was listed for sale, but even if it wasn’t restored, it likely wouldn’t have struggled to sell.
  • In the city’s crowded real-estate market, square footage and required renovation usually aren’t dealbreakers for home hunters.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The 2,155-square-foot home at 31 Romain St. in San Francisco, California, is one of the city’s remaining “earthquake shacks” built as temporary housing units after the 1906 earthquake and fires that left 250,000 residents homeless.

There are several of these once-tiny homes now spread across the city. And with housing sorely being needed in San Francisco, they have become real-estate gems in the market, usually selling in the $US1 million range.

In a hot real-estate market like San Francisco’s, it’s also not unusual for homebuyers to cough up the price for historically relevant (see: older) homes before shelling out potentially hundreds of thousands more for repairs and renovations. But this one had already undergone a complete renovation before being listed for sale in February 2019, rendering the original $US2.5 million price tag more reasonable. It ended up selling for a smidge less, for $US2.3 million, in April 2019, according to public records.

The home’s listing agent, Joanna Rose with Redfin, told Business Insider in early 2019 that when the previous owner first bought the home, it lived up to its “earthquake shack” name. Now it’s a contemporary masterpiece.

Take a look inside.


The peach-coloured home at 31 Romain St. in San Francisco looks more than quaint.

Courtesy of Redfin

Source: Redfin


It sits in the city’s Eureka Valley neighbourhood, where the median real-estate value is $US1.59 million.

Google Maps/Business Insider

Source: Redfin


That’s just slightly above San Francisco’s overall median real-estate value of $US1,378,000.

Courtesy of RedfinThe earthquake cottage at 31 Romain St. sits on this street in San Francisco’s Eureka Valley neighbourhood.

Source: Zillow


The home is also what’s known as an “earthquake cottage,” or shack.

Courtesy of Redfin

In 1906, an earthquake and a series of fires leveled 500 city blocks in San Francisco and left about 250,000 people homeless.

Source: Business Insider


One of the city’s temporary housing solutions was building 5,000 wooden cottages at designated camps for displaced residents. Each cottage cost $US50 to build, which tenants paid $US2 a month toward.

Source: Business Insider and National Park Service


Over 16,000 people found refuge in them.

Courtesy of Redfin

Source: Business Insider


Eventually, the homes were moved from the camps and are now scattered throughout the city.

Courtesy of Redfin

Source: National Park Service


They blend into residential streets fairly seamlessly.

Courtesy of Redfin

Source: National Park Service


And as chance would have it, another of the once-tiny cottages sits next to the home at 31 Romain St.

Google Street View; Business Insider

Rose said both of them, including the earthquake cottage at 31 Romain St., are completely renovated.

Courtesy of Redfin

All that remains of what was once a makeshift disaster shelter is the home’s facade.

Courtesy of Redfin

You’d never think you’re stepping into a century-old tiny home upon entering the foyer.

Courtesy of Redfin

In 2015, the home’s owner nearly tripled the size of the home, expanding the original 800-square-foot shack into a 2,155-square-foot modern abode with city permits.

Courtesy of Redfin

He had the ceilings raised, skylights installed, an open-concept floor plan established, and modern appliances brought in.

Courtesy of Redfin

Three bedrooms and three bathrooms are found in the home.

Courtesy of RedfinThe master suite in the earthquake cottage at 31 Romain St.

And most notably, he had a new foundation laid in 2015, which Rose said is a huge selling point in an earthquake-prone place like San Francisco.

Courtesy of Redfin

“It was pretty much an entire new home besides the fact that the exterior was kept in the front up to how it was supposed to look originally,” Rose said.

Courtesy of Redfin

Typically, the city’s remaining earthquake shacks sell in the $US1 million range, with the most expensive on record selling for $US1.4 million in 2016.

Courtesy of Redfin

Source: Business Insider


The owner himself shelled out only $US820,000 for the home in 2013.

Courtesy of Redfin

Source: Redfin


But those sales usually will necessitate hundreds of thousands more for renovations, which were already included in this home’s $US2,290,000 price tag.

Courtesy of Redfin

Source: Redfin


“Usually if they are original, they’re going to require a lot of work to get it up to where it should be in terms of plumbing, foundation, electrical — all of that,” Rose said.

Courtesy of Redfin

The owner also wanted to optimise the property’s space …

Courtesy of Redfin

… which included turning the unused attic loft into a yoga studio. Though of course, the home’s current owners didn’t have to utilise any of these spaces the same way, so some of these features could now look a lot different.

Courtesy of Redfin

You did have to climb up a ladder to access it, and Rose said it can’t be counted as a bedroom since there isn’t a door or a closet, but it’s a versatile space and adds a few extra square feet to the overall property.

Courtesy of Redfin

“People in San Francisco — all they want is as much space as possible because we’re always so limited on square footage and size here,” Rose said.

Courtesy of Redfin

Below the loft is a bedroom that faces the street.

Courtesy of Redfin

When it was listed on the market, the space was set up as a kids’ room.

Courtesy of Redfin

In addition to the yoga studio, there’s another personal touch the previous owner made to the home at one point.

Courtesy of Redfin

The closet space in the master suite was being used to store his two bicycles.

Courtesy of Redfin

An avid cyclist, he even had a stained-glass window of a bicycle installed in one of the vaulted walls, a feature that Rose said was a hit with visiting house hunters before it finally sold.

Courtesy of Redfin

The master suite comes with a spa-inspired bathroom complete with a rainfall shower.

Courtesy of Redfin

There’s also a separate bathtub next to it.

Courtesy of Redfin

Another bedroom comes with private access via a side entrance.

Courtesy of Redfin

There’s also an en-suite bathroom.

Courtesy of Redfin

Both the master bedroom and the main level where the kitchen is located have terrace access to the backyard.

Courtesy of Redfin

A spa hot tub sits feet from the balcony doors.

Courtesy of Redfin

Rose said the listing had been an attraction for people, some merely out of curiosity — a home listing stamped with an “earthquake cottage” label will likely grab attention.

Courtesy of Redfin

But Rose said she doesn’t think that that label specifically makes the home, or other existing earthquake shacks like it, a hot commodity in the city’s real-estate market.

Courtesy of Redfin

“There are a lot of people who look for certain architectural details, but the thing with this one is it’s been all renovated, so it doesn’t really have much of the original look to it,” Rose said.

Courtesy of Redfin

Rose said in general, people will seek out properties that have a more “classic San Francisco look,” like those from the Edwardian or Victorian design eras, more often than they will hunt down newly-constructed buildings.

Courtesy of Redfin

But what buyers find unattractive about those kinds of listings are the outdated features, like electrical and plumbing systems, that are more indicative of the early 1900s rather than the new millennium.

Courtesy of RedfinA third bathroom in the home at 31 Romain St.

“Overall, in the city, people look for the Victorian, the Edwardian, the historical kind of buildings, but they do like to see a more clean look inside — updated kitchen and baths,” Rose said.

Courtesy of Redfin

“They like that original charm, they just don’t want to have things that aren’t functioning and want things that are operable,” Rose said.

Courtesy of Redfin

Rose said that when the owner bought the home in 2013, the state of the home fit that description.

Courtesy of Redfin

“It was just an open, tiny little 800-square-foot home,” Rose said.

Courtesy of Redfin

“It was much more true to the sense of an ‘earthquake shack’ when he bought it, and then it turned into this large, updated open floor plan,” Rose said.

Courtesy of Redfin

Now the property merges historical relevance with updated, modern finishes.

Courtesy of Redfin

“The easiest sales for me in San Francisco are things that have somewhat of an original look, but they’ve been updated on the inside and are livable but hold those period details, the charm, the architectural finishes, maybe some original, built in,” Rose said.

Courtesy of Redfin

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