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 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:

Original story & more info:

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

  1. Tress Braga

    Thank you so much for this video. It has opened my eyes to what I want and need to do with my life. There's so much pressure from society telling us what defines success even if this means we have to enslave ourselves to a way of life that we hate in order to just attain this "goal". The real objective is (and I believe this is what God intended) to pursue whatever that is which makes us happy (without harming others, of course). And that work, for the most part, is a necessary evil. The trick is to find a type of work that suits our qualities and personalities, and along to way to save up for one's home, if that is indeed what one wants anyway. But life ought to be a stress-free as possible. Long live the small home! (And remember that a house is not necessarily a home.)

  2. Penelope Cruise

    My first year teaching I made 19,000 (1993). I bought a house that year for 50,000. 1100 square feet, three bedroom, large fenced in yard . You could live large in Georgia on that 20k.

  3. harveythepooka

    I love the idea of the garage door! It would have been nice if it faced the back so you could go out in the back yard though.

    I wonder how much he put in in the end? I think building a garage is about 20k, but then with the plumbing, septic, kitchen etc, maybe another 20 or 30k?

  4. michelle kearsey

    also the problem is that you live in California, which in my opinion would not be the best place to live in, yes there are nice places but California is hard to afford anything in, it is basically a shithole

  5. michelle kearsey

    and this is amazing and to be honest you are doing a hell of a lot better than my friends parents who are rich and live in a gated community, yes their house may be paid off BUT they live in a private neighborhood and still pay utility bills and their neighborhood is on a golf course so they have stupid HOA fees and they are only two people! they really don't need a huge house and they are the types of people who throw their money around, and what angers me is that they don't care about the environment and you know what? having a high paying job will not lead to happiness you have proved that you can be happy with something simple like housekeeping even if it doesn't make a lot of money and you can still own your home and have everything be totally free, you sir are my hero.

  6. Camille Michiko Gica

    I SOOOOOO love his story! It's very inpiring! There IS another way. People like him are showing us. Thank you so much for being an inspiration! You look like a person who has so much freedom living a simple life. :-)

  7. Courtney Polk Jones

    i think this man has a lovely home and it s beautiful and i like this way of life even though my family has a 3200 square foot house I love this is way way of life and his house is very nice and clean I love the way he put things together

  8. Katie Leak

    Johnny, you are a true inspiration, living life under your terms despite all the opposition. You have the patience of a saint & such persistence. And what a reward, a beautiful home in an amazing location. So very well deserved. Enjoy!!


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