Earthships and yurts—they’re not ancient archaeological oddities. They’re just two examples of nontraditional (or, depending on your POV, downright weird) homes you can buy right now. That is, if you have cash.
If not, you’ll need to get the right kind of financing to step through your atypical front door. We looked at four types of unusual properties to see what kind of financing challenges to expect if you’re looking to go the route of yurts, log cabins, Earthships, and extremely remote locations.
Originally developed by nomadic tribes, these circular tents were made to function as movable homes so the tribes would have shelter when they needed to set up camp. Modern yurts can be affixed to a foundation, or they can be more of “a glorified tent or big camper,” according to Beasie Whaley, listing agent for this yurt in Montrose, CO.
Financing options: If your yurt is portable, your lender probably won’t recognize it as a traditional home. If that’s the case, you’ll be taking out a loan for the land. Some yurts, like Whaley’s property, offer seller financing.
Home insurance will be a pain, if not impossible. Whaley says you can’t get home insurance on her yurt, and probably other yurts, too.
Some places sell the materials and instructions for building your own yurt. For example, Yurts of America sells a 30-foot yurt for $13,596, which you may be able to finance through a personal loan. Of course, you’ll have to supply the labor and the land.
Earthships are eco-friendly homes typically made from rammed or “bermed” earth, car tires, and other recycled material. They’re usually off the grid, supplying power through solar panels and on-site sewage systems. They’re often found in desert climates, where their thick walls allow for passive heating and cooling.
Financing options: Even if your Earthship is a hybrid, it will prove difficult to get financing. You can’t use a 203(k) rehab loan, because the construction materials aren’t on the HUD-approved materials list.
If you can’t buy it in cash, your best bet is to work with a local bank that knows you, understands Earthships, and is in an area where other Earthships have sold (for comparison appraisals).
Yes, that’s quite the list to fulfill. But it’s how Melina Winterton and Larry Peck received a loan for their Earthship in Suffolk, VA.
“Getting funding for a house with no well is next to impossible,” Winterton said.
But the couple were able to receive a loan through a local bank, because they “personally knew” the bank’s president and had a good relationship with the lender.
The couple, who told us they no longer live in the Earthship, eventually were able to refinance with a national bank after making enough improvements to fit standard assessment requirements, including adding a well instead of harvesting rainwater.
Perfect for hunters and nature enthusiasts alike, log cabins are fairly common seasonal retreats in northern areas.
FHA 203(k) rehab loans can be used for buyers who look for conventional financing, Jaramillo said. Most cabins will need to add a heat source (a fireplace isn’t enough).
“A good way to remedy that issue is to use electric baseboard or Rinnai propane heaters,” Jaramillo says. “You can also find oil-filled baseboard heaters, which are more efficient than electric.”
A place in the mountains or set deep in the forest, worlds away from the big city or even a small town, is ideal for some, but rural homes are no financial getaway.
“You need to have some cash to dabble in these remote properties,” said Mark Richter of Scenic Mountain Properties in Colorado.
Homeowner insurance will be an issue if you’re far away from public services such as fire stations, and legal access issues can be a challenge as well, he said.
“Many people don’t realize you can’t just build a road on public lands to get to your house,” Richter said. “You need to be sure that you have an established access before investing.”
Properties that can be built in remote locations are usually entirely self-sustaining and use graywater systems (or even just streamwater), solar power, and natural heating. These can include properties such as off-the-grid geodesic domes and teepees.
That’s why seller financing can be the way to go, Richter said. Just don’t expect to get market rates or choose your loan type. Seller financers can (and will) charge higher rates, set specific terms, and require a substantial down payment to make sure you have enough skin in the game.
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