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Owning a unique home – is it worth it?
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Owning a unique home – is it worth it?

Your home is a place to call your own, so why not make it as unique as you are? With skilled builders and a creative design, you can live in a property that's both beautiful and customized to fit your lifestyle.

But unique properties can come with challenges. For example, you may face everything from increased costs when you sell the property to legal battles while living in your home. Before beginning a project that may be as time-consuming and expensive as it is rewarding, it's wise to anticipate some of the potential hurdles.

The next buyer

Your rare home may be the perfect fit for you, but it's worth evaluating what happens when you decide to sell. Whether you move across the country or it's time to downsize, a quick sale makes life transitions easier and provides funding for your next home.

Part of your home's value may be the unusual touches you add to it. Certainly, there are others out there who will appreciate what you've done. But how many of them will be looking for homes in your neighborhood at the same time you're selling?

As an extreme example, take the Mushroom House in Pittsford, NY. The home consists of multiple “pods" that resemble mushrooms, and it features textured walls and other whimsical touches. The project undoubtedly took more effort and skill than a traditional home. To recoup the costs of building or acquiring an extraordinary property, you need to find somebody else who values the same thing.

If your home, like the Mushroom House, is particularly unique, you may need to wait longer or accept less than you think the home is worth when you want to sell — possibly while making two mortgage payments. Buyers who don't fully appreciate your design may be tempted to spend the same amount of money on what they view as “more home" (more space in a standard home, for example)

Creative selling tactics

With a unique home, you may need to keep the creative juices flowing long after completing your project. Selling the house probably isn't as easy as putting up a For Sale sign because you need to find a specific type of buyer

Most buyers just want a place to create a home, and finances may prevent them from buying unique dwellings. As a result, expect to put more effort into selling a unique home. You may need to create high-quality video, develop a website that generates traffic, and stage the home with furnishings that highlight your work and generate excitement.

If you're not equipped to handle all of that yourself, you'll have to hire a marketing consultant or a team of professionals to do it for you — at extra expense.

Appraisal challenges

Even with interested buyers, financing can be difficult. Lenders typically verify that borrowers are buying a property worth more than their prospective loan balance. To do so, lenders usually require that an appraiser examine the property and compare the value to similar properties in the area.

With unique homes, there are no similar (or “comparable") properties. As a result, the appraisal process can be slower and more expensive than buyers prefer. For example, homes built with straw bale are relatively rare in certain areas, but some builders view straw as an energy-efficient building material that can work anywhere.

An appraiser in suburban Sacramento recently described challenges with appraising a rare straw bale home in that area. He noted difficulties finding comparable properties, which extended the timeline and, understandably, resulted in higher appraisal fees.

If you're sold on the benefits of straw and other green building techniques (or you're determined to create a home that stands out), you may need to tolerate some challenges when it's time to sell.

Trouble with the neighbors

You don't necessarily have to wait until you sell to experience troubles with a unique home. The Flintstones House in Hillsborough, CA embodies several of the issues above — and more. The property, with a unique monolithic dome construction, sat on the market for two years until owners reduced the price and found a buyer.

The Flintstones House, named for bright colors, design, and sculptures that resemble the stone-age cartoon, is also facing legal battles. Neighbors who disapprove of the owner's expressive improvements enlisted the town's officials to reign in the Flintstones vibe and sue the owner.

If neighbors believe your home threatens their property value, they may be able to bring legal action against you. Whether they decide your home is a nuisance or it brings too many curious people to the neighborhood, it may become hard to enjoy your home after the contractors leave.

Local codes

Depending on where you live, your ideal home design might not even be allowed. Before you get your heart set on a particular design, research requirements with local officials. There's no guarantee that your neighbors will be welcoming, but you can at least observe local building requirements.

For homes with unusual dimensions, it's especially important to learn about height restrictions, setbacks, and other requirements. Local governments may have numerous restrictions on the types of materials you can use, drainage criteria, and more. Those rules attempt to protect your neighbors' property value and quality of life, ensure the safety of people inside the property, and prevent structural problems down the road.

Continuing with the themes above, the more unusual your project, the more time-consuming and expensive it is to implement. Codes are straightforward when you use standard building materials in conventional ways, but deviating from the norm requires a more thorough review.

Is it worth It?

Hopefully, you have more perspective on the challenges of building a unique home. Whether or not you should proceed is a personal decision, and it depends on your goals and circumstances. When money is no object, it's easier to absorb the surprises that come up with unusual homes. But if you're mostly interested in a place to live, there may be easier ways to express your creativity.

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