Mortgage-free, tiny home on a housekeeper’s salary

Johnny Sanphillippo has never made more than $20,000 per year (he works as a housekeeper, as well as, a gardener and house painter), but he knew like “any other American” that he wanted to own his own home.

When he talked to bankers about qualifying for a home loan, “they look at you and their eyes glaze over and you realize, they’re going to give me a lollipop and send me home, which is pretty much what happened”. So he decided that if he went far enough away from his hometown of San Francisco he could find something he could afford to buy with cash.

He finally heard about a deal in Hawaii (back when oil was cheap and airline tickets were $99 from SFO) and for $3000 he bought himself an empty lot in a failed subdivision on the Big Island.

Without a loan, he knew he couldn’t afford to build a conventional home. He’d always loved tiny houses, but the permitting office wasn’t as enthusiastic about allowing him to build small. So he had plans drawn up for a conventionally-sized home, plus a 400 square foot garage. He just built the garage.

Once the inspectors signed off on his fully-equipped garage (which included a bathroom, utility sink, electricity, septic system and rainwater capture), he let them know he wasn’t planning on building the house. Then he set about swapping the garage door for glass and the utility sink for a regular kitchen.

of relying on a loan to buy a house up-front, he had to do it the slow way, in stops and starts as he worked to off he step of the process. First, he saved up for a foundation, then the shell, then septic, etcetera and today, 13 years later, the home is complete.

Johnny Sanphillippo’s blog:


  1. Give me a lollipop and send me home …. exactly! So now what. Where us this place is it doable anymore. Do you want a neighbor. I have some saved.

  2. I’m just wondering how come the license was not taken away once the authorities realized it wasn’t a garage but rather a home. After all, that was not what they approved.

  3. This is what I’ve been teaching my children. Don’t get in huge debt for stuff from an early age, or you’ll likely do it your entire life. There’s a reason banks have the largest buildings in any major city, you borrow 100k from them and 10 years of payments you still owe 98K. Most people pay 2 1/2 times the loan amount in 30 yrs with NO refinancing. That means you pay roughly 250 back for a 100k loan for instant gratification. As Albert Einstein once said, “the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.” I suggest reading, or listening to the book on YT called The Creature From Jekyll Island. It explains how some of the wealthiest people in the world came up with the banking system we now have. It’s meant to enslave you, not liberate you.

  4. So clever but he is still lucky they don’t bother him living inside his garage. I wonder if that would work in Massachusetts.?

  5. Well done looks amazing ; you should write a book as the amount of people I see getting into trouble ( building large homes : that they can’t afford; good luck ; your home is beautiful

  6. You can also buy house on tax sales. I have seen homes selling for $3k. Fixed it as you go, and make do with the place you want to retire.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.