Buying a unique (or just plain weird) house

Houses have come a long way in the decades since the days of little boxes made of ticky-tacky that all look just the same. If you can think of something to turn into a home, chances are it's already been done.

Ships and airplanes have been retired and converted to residences. People have built homes in caves, missile silos, and churches. A shoe salesmen in Pennsylvania even constructed a giant shoe home, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, to serve as a guest house for elderly couples. So yes, there was actually a time when old women lived in a shoe.

These quirky properties are appealing to plenty of buyers, whether you're buying one on the market or building one yourself. If you're considering one of these properties as a new home, however, you should also be aware of the expenses and risks that might come with it.

Consider your future plans and whether a strange home will meet them. Anne Miller, writing for the National Association of Realtors, says some oddball properties will be perfectly capable of meeting your everyday needs, but others might not be the best suited for raising children or retiring.

A unique home can also come with extra maintenance tasks. Exceptionally high ceilings, non-rectangular rooms, and other features can present a challenge for both cleaning and laying out furniture. Some homes may also be located in remote areas, making it more difficult and costly to commute to work or run errands.

Due to these factors, it can sometimes be hard to determine the resale value of such a home. Gina Pogol, writing for the mortgage information site HSH, says lenders have to consider how easily they'll be able to sell a home in the event of a foreclosure when approving a loan. Miller says this is a more difficult proposition with strange homes. It's also much harder to settle on a value due to the absence of comparable properties.

The home doesn't have to be too outlandish to fall into the category of a unique house. In some neighborhoods, properties such as log cabins or self-sufficient green homes might not have any nearby comparable properties. Homes situated on large lots can also have a dearth of comparable properties if they are surrounded by houses on small lots.

Houses with unusual floor plans can also lose some value as a result. With a demand for more functional homes, it may be be harder to sell a property that provides too much separation between certain rooms, such as homes that locate bedrooms on a floor with no bathrooms.

Buyers who are looking at a previously customized home can also run into both benefits and difficulties. Patricia-Anne Tom, also writing for the National Association of Realtors, says these modifications often add value to the home by adding useful features such as skylights, built-in shelves, and custom floors.

Some custom touches, such as wallpaper and paint colors, can easily be modified. Others, including the removal or modification of electronic systems and unusual features, can result in costly remodeling jobs.

Similarly, Tom says most exterior custom touches like gazebos and landscaping will add value to a home. But it can be expensive to remove any features you don't need or want, such as outbuildings or pools.

Tom says that when you apply for a loan for a custom home, you might have to make a list of the customized features. Some lenders will be unwilling to loan a sum that includes the value of the customizations or will require you to make a larger down payment. An appraisal will give you a better sense of how much the home is worth and how much value the customized features add.

If you're interested in getting a unique or custom home, you should consider all of the features and determine whether you'll keep them or remove them. If you're planning on removing any features, include these remodeling costs in your budget alongside the purchase price.

Miller says mid-sized banks are more willing to provide loans for unique homes than larger institutions. Pogol says some lenders will specialize in certain types of unique residences, such as log homes, to provide more access to financing. She says finding a lender with an intimate knowledge of the local area will also make it more likely that you'll be able to get financing for an unusual property.


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