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How to live mortgage-free in a garage converted studio

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With today’s building codes how can you get away with building a garage so that you can convert it into a studio to live in instead of having to construct an entire 1500 square foot plus house on your land?

Is that even possible? Here’s the story of how one guy did it in Hawaii.

Johnny purchased a plot of land with $3000 cash about ten years ago.

He had always wanted a tiny house, but couldn’t get that passed by the city.

So Johnny came up with a great idea. He presented plans for a large house with a separated 400 square foot two car garage and got it approved.

Then he went ahead and built the garage first and got it all inspected and approved legally.

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How to live mortgage-free in a garage converted studio

Photo Credit Faircompanies on YouTube

How to live legally mortgage-free in a garage converted studio

Video length: 10:40

Once he was done, Johnny sent a letter explaining that he’s done and will only be building the garage.

He sort of tricked them, didn’t he? But so far, it’s worked. And I wonder… Can this method be used in more areas?

Johnny collects all of his water from the roof and has his own garden because of the great year round weather.

He’s been able to build his own house mortgage-free and has never made more than $20,000 a year.

It did take him around ten years to do it, but hey, that’s better than 20-40 years with a mortgage.

Read the original article over at Faircompanies: Mortgage-free tiny home on a housekeeper’s salary.

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Elina
    February 27, 2012, 12:37 pm

    This guy is my hero! This is giving me hope that someday I can have a little house of my own too. Thank you for posting this story.

    • February 27, 2012, 2:04 pm

      Glad you found it inspiring Elina, thanks for your comment, too!

  • sesameB
    March 7, 2012, 1:58 pm

    Nice story. Very Nice. I have just finished reading again this book — (pg. 300-303), the authors Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner writes “ Under the direction of James A. Johnson, Fannie Mae’s calculating and politically connected chief executive, the company capitalized on its government ties, building itself into the largest and most powerful financial institution in the world. Under the terms of his exit from Fannie Mae, Johnson had also secured a high-paying consulting gig with an annual pay of almost $400,000 in 2002. He also got a car and a driver for himself and his wife, office space, and two employees at the expense of the company. In addition to beggaring the American people, the twin rescues of Fannie and Freddie made liars out of many people. First among them was Johnson, who claimed that Fannie would never cost the taxpayers a dime. Barney Frank, Fannie’s ardent support, was also proven wrong in his assessment that the company posed no threat to the public. In August, Frank conceded that not every American should be a homeowner. The government should abolish Fannie and Freddie, he said.” (pg.7) “This was a reckless endangerment of the entire nation by people at the highest levels of Washington and corporate America.” (pg. 304), “Will a debacle like the credit crisis of 2008 ever happen again? Most certainly, because congress decided against fixing the problem of too-big-to-fail institutions when it had its chance.”
    Reckless Endangerment by Gretchen Morgenson (2011)
    (This book is based on interviews and conversations conducted by Josh and me over more than a decade. Josh’s conversations took place to inform his ongoing analysis of the GSE’s, the structured finance market, the subprime mortgage industry, and national housing policy which he provided to institutional clients and policymakers. My interviews occurred over the same period, when I was a reporter a Forbes magazine and then the New York Times. Most of Reckless Endangerment relies upon original reporting conducted by Josh and me on parallel paths beginning in the 1990s and continuing into 2010. Josh’s notes from meetings and conversations with participants in Washington, Basel, and Wall Street and my own files, which I created in January 2007 and kept adding to, now consist of well over a thousand pages of interviews on the subject. Missing from our mountain of notes, alas, is any commentary from James A. Johnson, the former chief of Fannie Mae. We requested interviews with Johnson in e-mails and phone calls over a period of fine months; we never received a response. We have identified as many of our sources as we could whenever we could. But some sources with firsthand knowledge of these events were fearful of being named, given that many of the participants remain in positions of power. We granted these individuals anonymity but were careful to verify their comments and recollections with others who were also on hand. (pg. 310)

  • sesameB
    March 7, 2012, 2:17 pm

    I watched this video three times, and just loved it. Loved it. This man is so slow in life!!! Johnny is right on the money!!!!!!

  • Glendon
    March 8, 2012, 10:07 am

    Sweet! Another garage conversion!! I love these. Kudos to this guy, he pulled the mortgage-free as a “poor” guy, and did it in Hawaii. Thanks!

  • Stephany
    March 9, 2012, 11:03 am

    This is how it should be. Keep the money for you to make you happy. For some it translate to spending all the money in the mall on the weekend so they have something to show for.
    I know that some people hate me because I do things like that…. and that was a time where I was a single mother…just to to it of.
    You can do anything if you really want to!

  • Liv
    October 14, 2012, 8:52 pm

    This guy reminds me so much of Derrick Jensen in his face and voice. I wonder if they’re related. Both intelligent men. 🙂

  • Kallee
    October 23, 2012, 9:12 am

    I love this, the whole simple living, small house idea. My husband and I even sold our house in town and moved to the country recently. But the problem I keep running into, is small houses designed with family in mind. We have two children under five and we want to build a small strawbale house. Finding plans is like pulling teeth! They’re either too small or huge! We will contine to search though and we will build our small house someday:)

  • Dominick Bundy
    January 8, 2014, 3:58 pm

    Love his little place and the way he did it . (to make it legal) and it’s nice to share this information. But I think it should be down played a little more. If anymore stories like this would appear. Until laws of zoning can be change to fit the needs of people like Johnny. Because if the powers to be get wind of too many stories like this. They just might finagle it around so in the future . No one will be able to do such..

    • Tonita
      January 14, 2014, 12:34 am

      I totally agree with your comment Dominick. There are most likely some type of zoning laws that make living in that garage illegal. IF the local officials find out about him dwelling there I do not think it would be long before he would not be allowed to do so any longer. It also appears that most tiny home dwellers are doing so under the radar. It is hard to get a direct answer from tiny house owners about their tiny home being parked in a place that is free from the worry of local authorities catching wind of their location. All it takes is one neighbor to call the city or county to complain. So, while you may build a tiny house, live in one and be mortgage free- can you actually sleep well at night knowing you may have to live a nomadic life and keep one step ahead of the law? One day in the near future I will write a post about this topic as someone who owns a tiny home, acreage and other property, pays 500.00 a month in property tax, yet can not live in it legally and the headache that comes along with that. Again, Dominick you make a great point. This guys next video may be a follow up when the local snoop dogs get wind of life behind the garage door.

  • mick
    May 30, 2014, 10:57 am

    I would love to pull this off on my 50 x 100ft lot in Florida, however, the building police would require a certificate of occupancy to be able to get permanent electric and they wouldn’t give it for just a garage. If anyone has any other suggestions about how to get around this, please email me [email protected]

  • Brian
    May 30, 2014, 3:43 pm

    What an inspiring man. He has managed to make a super home for himself by thinking outside the box. I keep this article and often refer to it as a resource.

  • di
    May 30, 2014, 4:02 pm

    This man has a lot of patience. He’s very practical and down-to-earth. I like that he takes the time to keep everything like new and that he seems very satisfied with what he has.

  • chris hatter
    May 5, 2015, 5:31 pm

    thats how they keep u down,rules,and reg.play the game,ask the right /? what is the smalles house I can build,in the zoning reg..not a garage ,but if your house is to small then ad the garage on to it .im a plumber and im working on the same thing,iv down sized to a small apt,but its not mine.i want a place of my own.put your money to work for u.i live in about 468 sq ft.3 windows and a door,and there glass blook windows,a 2 car garage 24×32 is about 5000.00 package.makes a nice home, or look in to rent to own sheeds,nice little thing to start out with,what im saying is that theres always someone going to stop u ,because they don’t want u off the sisteme.thats y u have to have ele.power city water things like that ,u stop they lose there money,its greed and cotroll.my ele bill this mo, was 12.00 that I used but toatal was 89.00 there fee s ,u don’t use but u still pay there not going to let u off the hook.just cut back ,don’t buy what u don’t need ,

  • Chris Dewey
    June 22, 2015, 2:41 am

    I love the concept of designing a studio home from a garage. I’m disabled and have literally had it with HUD housing so I’m looking at other options that are low cost since I don’t need a lot of space. I especially like the open concept of the home. Very unique idea and not real spendy, awesome. I’m already doing my homework to see if this would be feasible in Wisconsin. Thanks for your YouTube post & video.

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