“I am Willow Tufano. I am 14, and I own a MacBook Air, a paddleboard, a long board, a PlayStation 3, four ferrets, and I own a house.”
Willow Tufano, a homeschooled 8th-grader who lives with her parents and two sisters in Port Charlotte, Florida, has already accomplished something that many adults dream of. While most teenagers are saving up for a used car or blowing their cash on clothing, movies, and electronics, this young lady made a more mature investment. She’s a proud homeowner thanks to some hard work and a little help from mom.
NPR first did a radio story about Willow on March 9, 2012. Since then, Willow has been interviewed on ABC News, CBS, CNN, Good Morning America, and she even appeared on the Ellen Show which aired on March 19, 2012. Willow told Ellen DeGeneres that she started out gathering items dumped on curbs in the area and reselling them for a profit.
“People throw things at the curb for garbage day,” the teen said. “It’s amazing the things they throw away. And I would buy things from garage sales and go to auctions. A lot of things were for free and I sort of look for good deals. I’m best at like selling electronics, video games, appliances, baby things.” (“Baby things sell really well,” she noted.)
Willow does her schoolwork online, and she also sells her found items on the internet, where she lists them on Craigslist and eBay. “And I don’t just resell them,” Willow stated. “If I have things for a while, I do curb alerts on Craigslist and give things away for free.” It’s a lot of work, but it’s great that she is taking stuff that would end up in the landfill, cleaning it up, and finding a use for it.
The 14-year-old entrepreneur says that she would not be able to thrive in the resale business without the support of her parents and grandparents, who drive her around town and help her haul larger items. Willow’s flexible schedule is an advantage in that it allows her to pounce on good deals right away. Moreover, it enabled her to cash into the housing market at an opportune time.
Willow’s mother, Shannon Moore, is a real estate broker who owns several rental properties with her husband. Willow’s grandmother, Roxanne Moore, is also in the real estate business together with her daughter. Though once a booming real estate market, Florida was severely affected by the housing collapse, and vacancies swept through the area. With a glut of repossessed property keeping house prices down, the two Moores began working with investors who wanted to bid on cheap, foreclosed homes.
When scouting out properties, Shannon often “brings along two of her three daughters, who are home-schooled.” Shannon says that Willow, the middle of her three girls, is always thinking of some creative plan or how to do things differently. One day when Willow was tagging along with her mom, she went to a house that an investor wanted to flip. “It was filled with all kinds of stuff!” Willow exclaimed. “I was like, I can sell this stuff if he’d want to let me have it.” That was fine with the investor, so Willow sold the appliances, furniture, and other possessions on Craigslist.
Realizing this was a good entrepreneurial opportunity, the business-savvy teen did the same thing with several other houses. She told the buyers that she would remove the household furnishings that were left behind if they’d let her keep the proceeds. Most buyers agreed to her plan. Willow was soon making about $500 a month. In a year and a half, she worked her way up to $6,000 in savings. At first Willow didn’t know what she was saving for, but she wanted to put her money into something that would help it grow. Before long, an investment opportunity came up that seemed too good to resist.
Willow’s mom, Shannon, had seen a two-bedroom concrete-block home on auction for $12,000. Zillow estimates that it would have been worth $100,000 at the peak of the housing market. Shannon was telling her husband about the house, when Willow piped up. “I was like, ‘What if I bought a house?’” she told NPR News. “I’d be able to make money every month. I’d get rent. I wouldn’t have to worry… That’d be really cool.”
Florida requires a minimum age of 18 to own property, so Willow asked her mom if she’d be willing to team up with her to purchase the house. “I was taken aback,” Shannon admitted about her daughter’s sudden interest in buying a home. “It’s a little bit crazy, she’s only 14,” Moore said, “but we didn’t really see it as outrageous as everyone else does.” Willow’s dad wasn’t too keen on the idea at first, but Willow explained why she wanted to do it and that she had a plan. “She convinced us it was a good idea,” her mom said. “It’s neat to see Willow come up with different strategies and ideas.”
So mother and daughter bought the house together (technically it’s 50% Willow’s), with the teen planning on buying her mother out and putting her name on the title as soon as she turns 18. Built in 1959, the 669-square-foot structure may have been a good deal, but it was definitely a fixer-upper. The place looked “like there was a riot or something,” Willow told NPR. “There was a roof on it, which was surprising. But there wasn’t really any floor, there was glass everywhere, there was a dirty couch that had been flipped over, a dirty mattress, and a crib.”
Willow and her family set to work cleaning the home, and ended up spending $15,000 on renovations. They fixed up the interior, including updating the kitchen. They painted the house inside and out, and replaced broken windows. A neighborhood family with a window business offered half off new windows for the house, and Willow repaid the favor by giving their daughter a longboard she had acquired in one of her transactions.
The house is now being rented by a young couple for $700 a month, and Willow helped them out by giving them a free mattress and bed for their new living space. Willow will split the rental income with her mom, and she will use that along with the proceeds from her resale business to buy out her mom’s share and to pay her parents back for the renovations. Then Willow will keep the house as a source of income.
“It was definitely a lot of inspiration from my mom and my grandma,” Willow said about her home-buying decision. Since they are realtors and property investors, Willow had an existing knowledge of the Florida housing market. And because her mother is a mortgage broker, Willow had an inside track to be able to navigate all the ins and outs of home ownership. Finally, she was able to see the big picture – the real estate market as a whole, and how her risk and hard work could turn into something very valuable.
Willow says her favorite subject is American history, but dislikes algebra because she is “really, really bad at math.” However, her real estate venture “was a lesson in economics… and improving her math skills,” her mother asserted. Willow is now considering saving for a second house – but she also has her sights set on going to college, getting a degree in business and marketing, and starting a career in investing. “I’m not so sure about real estate,” Willow told ABC News. “But investing is really cool. You get to see a property that was a mess before and afterward see that it’s beautiful.”
Willow has received a lot of positive attention, but she and her mom also have to deal with angry comments about a young girl profiting from families losing their homes. While Willow’s opportunities have come about as a result of tough economic times, and the thought of purchasing an evictee’s home may be unpleasant, it wasn’t her fault that the homeowners couldn’t afford their mortgages or that they left their stuff behind. Likewise, Willow didn’t turn from high school student to landlord without putting in a lot of hard work. As Willow told ABC News, “If you really work for it and put your mind to it you can do what you want to do.”
Willow is not afraid to get her hands dirty – plus she is showing independence, ingenuity, and an entrepreneurial spirit. “In the area that I’m in,” Willow observes, “people my age pretty much do drugs, smoke, and drink. I don’t really support that.” Her responsible ways of thinking and practical business sense provide hope that younger generations still have a chance to create a better future. But Willow argues that age is ultimately irrelevant: “…it’s just a number. If you can work towards a goal, whether buying house or a car, age doesn’t matter. And if I inspire someone else my age or even older, it would be so cool.”
Tony Tufano Thanks Granddaughter for Saving His Life
PORT CHARLOTTE, FL — Willow Tufano, 14, the homeschooler who recently made national headlines for purchasing her own house, encouraged her grandfather to wear a helmet while riding his motorcycle because she was worried about his safety. “If you ride a motorcycle, you need a full face helmet no matter what. There are so many drunk drivers,” she said.
Willow and her mother, Shannon Moore, are still in a state of shock after 72-year-old Anthony Tufano was run down by a drunk driver on March 22, 2012. Tufano was babysitting his youngest granddaughter, Iris, 7, that afternoon so Willow and her mom could go do an interview for a local FOX television affiliate. Tufano was returning home when he was hit by Matt Bush, a minor league pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Bush hit the back of Tufano’s motorcycle, causing Tufano to be thrown from the bike. Witnesses say the SUV then ran over Tufano before taking off. “Literally, the tire on the SUV ran over the driver’s head. Without the helmet, the gentleman would have died instantly,” said witness Scott Sugden. Willow’s mom said when she spoke to Tufano, “The first thing he said to me is, ‘Give Willow a hug and a kiss and tell her Grandpa thanks her.’” That was before he was placed in a medically induced coma.
The impact left Tufano in critical condition with numerous injuries including a fractured wrist, broken ribs, broken back, brain hemorrhaging, and a collapsed lung. Moore said, “He’s definitely not out of the woods yet.” The family wants everyone to know that Tufano is a very loving and caring man. Last year he lost his wife, but they say that hasn’t stopped him from being a pivotal part of their lives every day. Tufano is an athlete, having run the Boston Marathon twice. “He’s a real strong guy… so I’m hoping he’ll pull through this,” said Moore. Tufano’s son Bernard added, “but it will be a long hard road to recovery.”
Matt Bush was arrested on seven charges including driving under the influence and fleeing the scene of an accident. The FHP report said that Bush’s blood alcohol level was .180, more than twice the legal limit. Bush, who has had multiple DUI-related charges and was driving with a suspended license, is being held on a $1.015 million bond because he is a “danger to the community” and a “flight risk.” Bush told police he didn’t remember seeing – or hitting – a motorcycle.
The family says they’re still trying to make sense of it all. Tufano’s son said he’s angry with the Tampa Bay Rays “for inviting Matt Bush into my community” when they were aware of his problematic history. Willow Tufano, who wants her grandfather home soon, shakes her head in disbelief. “He ran, literally ran my grandpa over and ran his head over.” She has a message for people like Bush: “If you make that much money, millions of dollars as a baseball player, just pay for a driver. Pay for a taxi if you’re drunk.” Let’s pray that Willow’s grandfather will be okay.