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 cash 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 sliding glass and the utility sink for a regular kitchen.
Instead 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 pay 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: http://granolashotgun.com/