Erica and Aaron Garner always knew they wanted to live on a big property with a lot of land and very few neighbors. “We wanted to get out of the concrete jungle,” laughs Erica. “We didn’t want to smell our neighbors’ smells, hear their arguments, or be told how we can live.”
So after purchasing a foreclosed home in an upscale gated community outside San Diego, CA, and selling it for double the price years later, the couple actively sought out a property that was not only located in a rural area with few neighbors, but also one that the family of four could work on as farmers so that their kids “could experience country life and to really work for what you have,” as Erica describes it. It took only one visit to the two-bedroom home on a 6.5-acre avocado farm for the Garners to know they’d found the perfect match. “At first, I wasn’t sure about the size of the home,” says Erica. “But when we drove up, the orange blossoms were blossoming, and the smell was heavenly. The views literally made me well up. I knew we could make it work.” And they did. The family maintains their avocado groves and, one day, plans to open a winery on the property. “If the soil is good enough to grow avocados, we hope it’s good enough to grow grapes!” says Erica.
Unlike a traditional residence such as an apartment, townhome, or single-family home, unique properties such as horse farms, apple orchards, wineries, historic castles, and more can all come with great advantages. Here are five reasons to buy a unique property of your own.
1. You could discover a new passion
What’s not to love about having unlimited access to a food that’s the staple of something as awesome as guacamole? While the Garners didn’t set out to become avocado farmers, the simple act of purchasing a home surrounded by hundreds of avocado trees left them with tons of the good-for-you fruit. “One advantage of owning a unique property such as this is personal enjoyment with the potential for market value increases,” explains Michael Kelczewski, a real estate agent with Brandywine Fine Properties Sotheby’s International Realty. But he cautions against assuming there will be hordes of buyers out there when you’re ready to sell. “Perhaps an individual has dreamed of owning a farm or rising in the morning to a verdant vineyard. But personal residences are best considered a luxury item — and outside of major metropolitan or resort areas, the luxury market is challenging.”
2. You could be your own boss
Daydreams of handing in a resignation letter can become a reality when you own a unique property. For Bill and Eleanor Seavy, opening up a bed-and-breakfast put them in a position where they own a business and answer to only themselves (and their guests, naturally). “Being 69, I’m starting to slow down and would like to work less,” explains Bill. In between guests, the couple enjoy the rural setting of Her Castle Homestay Bed & Breakfast Inn, located on a picturesque property with rolling hills in Cambria, CA. While being self-employed comes with its own set of challenges, the Seavys value the freedom to be in charge of their own destiny.
3. You’ll have a great story to tell
Dinner party fodder aside, it’s pretty cool to live in a home where people like Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller, and Kurt Vonnegut once stayed. Such is the case with the windmill-turned-home on Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, NY, where those celebrities (and a handful of others) purportedly stayed back in the 1950s. “Back when I was 10 years old, my cousin and I rode our horses up to Quail Hill because we’d heard Marilyn Monroe was staying there,” says homeowner Bill Schweg. “So my cousin climbed up the top of the hill and watched as Marilyn Monroe played tennis.” The property includes a large main house, but it’s the adjacent guesthouse that’s the pièce de résistance. Originally a working windmill, it was converted into a two-bedroom, one-bath guesthouse in the ’50s for Samuel Rubin, creator of the Fabergè cosmetics company. “I went to dinner last night and my friends were asking me about all of the celebrities who have stayed on [the] property,” laughs Schweg. “It’s always an ongoing topic!” Homes like this can reap big rewards when it comes time to sell too. “The benefit of a unique home is its differentiation from the market,” explains Justin Udy, a real estate agent with Century 21 Everest Realty Group in Midvale, UT. “It can be perceived as high class, select, and even environmentally friendly. These types of homes receive a premium when you can create an exclusive and distinct feel.”
4. You could be on TV
DIY, renovation, and history shows love a unique property. After all, it’s the exact reason shows about houseboats, log cabins, and tiny dwellings continue to air. Schweg’s Quail Hill was featured on Bravo’s Property Envy in August 2013. The boasting rights that go along with having a home featured on a major national home show are significant, especially when it comes time to sell: It gives the home a little “star power”— if producers thought it was fantastic enough to be featured on TV, it must be a great home.
5. You can design a (super) custom home
Sure, you can buy some land and have a builder create a custom home to fit your lifestyle. But with a unique property, you can retrofit a custom-designed interior into an existing, awesome exterior. Take Liz Blondy in Detroit, MI, who with her husband recently purchased an old church to renovate as their home. “The first thing we did was put a new roof on it. Now we need to tear out the plaster ceiling so the trusses are exposed, then see what we have to work with,” says Blondy. “Our hope is to build out a one-bedroom apartment in the back of the church — about 800 square feet — and then turn the entire 2,600-square-foot sanctuary into our living space.” The high ceilings and vast space of the nave are like a blank canvas, with the church’s beautiful architecture already in place to “frame” their customized interior. For those able to handle a renovation, custom-designing an existing unique building can be a great option. And Blondy is up to the challenge: She and her husband currently reside in another nontraditional space — an old storefront in Downtown Detroit.
6. You’re a part of history
For Raina and Marcus Simpson, who asked for their names to be changed for this story, it’s not uncommon to walk out the front door of their circa-1775 home in Colonial Williamsburg, VA, and be greeted by a Revolutionary War performer. The couple’s home is located in the city’s historic district, where the cobble-lined street does not allow cars, and is a frequent stop for visitors looking to glean a bit of history from the well-versed performers who roam the town. “We literally have horses and carriages driving by our house all day long,” says Raina.
The hip-roofed, early Georgian home with a 60-foot facade — the first property John D. Rockefeller ever restored during the Williamsburg restoration project of the 1920s — is also home to a friendly ghost, Lucy Ludwell Paradise, who reportedly makes an appearance now and again. Unfortunately, when it comes time to sell, all that living history can make the process a bit challenging. “Though you may love living in a 19th-century renovated chapel, it may not appeal to the broader market,” explains Ross Anthony, a real estate agent with Willis Allen Real Estate in San Diego, CA. “However, buyers that are open to the option tend to be passionate about the idea of occupying a unique space.”