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8 Things To Know Before Buying A Unique Home

gingerbread house
That unusual home may be just what you were looking for, but it could become a challenge down the line.

Homeowners become smitten with their homes for many reasons. It may be located on a kid-friendly cul-de-sac, have nearby walking trails, or have a private backyard with a pool. But sometimes the things we fall in love with the most are the details, and that it’s just different.

Maybe it’s the deep-rooted history of that home for sale in Charleston, SC, its proximity to water (or, if it’s a houseboat, it’s actually on the water). Or if you’re GingerFred, perhaps you’re looking for sweet gingerbread trim. Whatever it may be, those same things that left you googly-eyed may also present some serious speed bumps down the road.

“Unique homes can be very cool,” says Josh Altman, a Los Angeles–based real estate agent and author of It’s Your Move. “That being said, it is important to know what your unique home really entails other than just the ‘cool factor.’ With any home, knowing its problems before they become your problems is key.”

Read up on these eight things you should know before purchasing a unique home, and then enter to win $2K a day to put down on your unique house in GingerFred’s Daily Dough sweepstakes!

1. There could be lots of red tape

Purchasing a historic home, one located in a historic district, or one with a strict homeowners’ association (HOA) could mean that any changes you want to make to the exterior — and sometimes even the interior — have to be approved by a historic commission, society, or other board. “If a home has historical significance, doing any renovation could prove to be a permitting process far beyond anything you are interested in doing,” explains Altman. “Homes in certain gated communities or with an HOA could also put limitations on what changes can be made to your space.”

So before purchasing that quaint Victorian gingerbread home, make a list of the potential projects and renovations you may want to do (even things as simple as painting the front door or adding a fence). Find out if these things are allowed by asking neighbors, the HOA, or the historic commission. Before closing, you should ask about and receive a list of the codes, covenants, and restrictions for the area or home.

2. Zoning can be an issue

Zoning isn’t just a potential problem for commercial real estate. Real estate agent Ross Anthony, with Willis Allen Real Estate in San Diego, shares a perfect example from a home sale earlier this year: “The property was actually two separate parcels being sold together, and they were each zoned differently,” he explains. “The lot the home sat on was zoned residential, but the adjoining land, which was the major appeal for these buyers, was zoned for ‘light agriculture’ as the previous owners maintained a small avocado grove on the property.” Not only was insurance affected, but also the loan type for each zone was different. In the end, the buyers were able to close, but it cost them significantly more than they anticipated.

3. The right inspector is priceless

The rule of thumb is to always have your home inspected before you buy. But when it comes to a unique home, finding the right inspector is key. “Unique homes require more skilled crafts,” says Justin Udy, a real estate agent with Century 21 Everest Realty Group in Midvale, UT. “I have hired and paid draftsmen, engineers, and specialized contractors familiar with these types of projects to get pricing, examples, and layouts before ever purchasing a property. The most important item is to know with complete clarity what you’re getting into and how much it will cost.”

4. Geology can pose problems

A breathtaking view can be a huge selling point of a home — who wouldn’t want a view from atop a cliff overlooking Malibu? But that same vantage point can also pose serious issues for you in years to come. “Hillsides provide unique properties with great views,” says Peter Hernandez, co-president of Teles Properties in Marina del Ray, CA. “But hillsides also come with geology issues that must be resolved, often creating huge expenses for the owner in foundational and structural integrities.”

5. They may be harder to sell

Life happens, and sometimes the home you planned as your forever home isn’t meant to be. “Of course most buyers like to think that they’ll live in a home for a very long time, but sometimes life’s circumstances change, and one needs to sell their home,” says Wendy Flynn, a real estate agent with Keller Williams College Station in College Station, TX. “Unique homes can sit on the market for much, much longer than a more traditional home and limit the ability of the owner to sell a property quickly.”

6. Celebrity homes are not always a selling point

“We’ve had customers buy homes that were at one time owned by celebrities, criminals, or other people of history,” says Stacey Alcorn, co-owner of LAER Realty Partners in Massachusetts. “The buyer moves in and soon finds out that a celebrity bus tour comes by the house three times a day. There’s not much you can do if they aren’t on your property other than kindly ask the tour company not to come anymore.”

7. Appraisals can be difficult

This may be a minor point, but it’s still one you need to keep in mind before purchasing a unique home. “Unique homes usually don’t have many or any comps, and it makes identifying the value very tricky,” explains Travis Saling, a home loans specialist with Team Home Loans in San Diego. “I have seen appraisals come in super low just because there was nothing to help support the value.”

8. Securing insurance can be tricky

Insurance companies insure what they know is a safe bet. But when it comes to unique properties such as houseboats, their liability is at stake, which means they may be less likely to insure your new home. Before purchasing, ask the sellers if they’re willing to share what their home insurance costs are and what exactly is included in the policy.

Have you bought a unique home? Share your experiences in the comments below!