Highly-customized homes are a harder sell

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Back in real estate's heyday, when we took equity loans on our houses to finance our free-wheeling ways, one of the most self-indulgent means of besting the Joneses was to customize your home to your wildest dreams come true.

The problem now is that not everyone is in the market for a house with a guitar-shaped pool or a master suite ceiling that retracts, exposing you to the night stars and the occasional unexpected drizzle. Probably not even Bravo's "9 By Design" team could work its magic and give some of these unusual properties mass market appeal.

Highly-customized homes were designed for one person in mind, and trying to sell them to the general population at large can be a yeoman's task, agents say. In some cases, the seller just needs to be told that what worked for him isn't working for anyone else. Agents have advised sellers to pave over the moat-like water feature that required stepping stones to get from the car to the front door, paint over the murals appearing on every wall, and perhaps think about getting a blueprint drawn up in advance to show buyers how best to add some more sleeping room to your one-bedroom mansion.

The lesson: It may be best to stick with life's beigeness and forget the purple paint unless you are Prince.

Some unique features do work as conversation pieces and aren't so peculiar that living with them becomes an issue. Take the Bradenton Florida home with a pool shaped as a guitar. It was built for an insurance company owner and amateur musician who had visited a rock star's home in Bel-Air, California with a guitar-shaped pool. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, he went back to Florida and built his own. The 5,108 square-foot home sits on an acre next to the Manatee River with direct access to the Gulf and is listed at $1,250,000. Listing agent Jim Soda of Prudential Palms Realty says the pool has created a lot of buzz online and Guitar Magazine ran a story about it, but the driving force behind the interest in the home is its water view, not the pool.

But there are views, and then there are views. There is the Malta palace with the second-story floor made of clear glass. Can't people on the first floor just look up for a view of skivvies, we asked? Property representative Peter Rabitz says that so far, buyers haven't expressed any concerns about the flooring. Of course, if they can afford to pay 5 million Euros -- $6.6 million U.S. -- chances are they can afford to replace the flooring or do what the current owner does: Roll down a carpet on occasion. The home, located on the island of Malta, southwest of Italy, has 19 rooms and almost 11,000 square feet of living space. The island has recently gotten sizzling hot real-estate-wise with Hollywood and the yacht and aviation industries. It's host to the MTV music festival and known as the MTV Isle of Music.

"The glass floor is absolutely a very interesting gimmick," said Rabitz. "Actually, the designer has chosen the floor to bring sunlight to the basement which is used as an entertainment area. Of course you can see under skirts so maybe the future owner will have to put up a warning at the entry."

The property, called Il-Palazz tal-Kontessa (the palace of the countess), has a roofed courtyard that doubles as a mini-art gallery and dance-floor, sustaining the weight of some 60 people. The kitchen has every cutting edge gadget and appliance and the grounds are stunning -- especially the green mosaic swimming pool.

custom home with sod roof is a hard sellCloser to home in the California desert, there is a Joshua Tree home listed at $3.4 million with a sod roof. Yes, plants on the roof. It's a green thing. A 14-inch thick concrete floor and steel beams support the irrigated landscaped roof, designed by Beverly Hills landscaped architect W. Garett Carlson. Listing agent Wayne Longman of Tarbell Realtors says that the home is being marketed to appeal to people who "relish individuality of design" and who "want and can afford an upscale desert getaway." The property is being marketed internationally, hoping to appeal to foreign buyers who can take advantage of the low U.S. dollar.


In Chicago, a turn-of-the-century Gold Coast row home underwent a 10-year renovation. What was once five one-bedroom apartments is now a 4,200-square-foot mansion -- but it has just one bedroom, albeit a rather large one that takes up the entire third floor. It has a Mick De Giulio chef's kitchen with commercial grade appliances, marble and stone imported from Europe, seven fireplaces and a private elevator. And still just the one bedroom.

Agent Christopher Mundy was up front with the seller. "We knew our buyer base here would be much smaller because it is a one-bedroom home (although it does include a one-bedroom garden apartment as well) ."

But, said Mundy, his agency studied the market and targeted the most-likely buyers. "We identified baby-boomers looking to downsize from their current residence, the suburbs or out-of-state or who wanted to have a great in-town property (a property used on weekends or as a vacation property) or reinvent themselves all together via this luxurious property. We also identified professional athletes in Chicago and marketed directly to the Chicago Bears, some of the Chicago Bulls, as well as the Chicago Blackhawks players. We just missed the opportunity for NBA star (Miami Heat) and Chicago native Dwayne Wade, who ended up purchasing a $1 million (four-story, riverfront) town home in Kinzie Park. Our third target was the entertainment industry and actors that have ties to Chicago; marketing packets were sent directly to publicists and agents for the likes of Jennifer Hudson, David Schwimmer, Jeremy Piven and Vince Vaughn to name a few."

Mundy says they also reached out to the top 50 agent-brokers in Chicago and Northshore and thus far, "the response has tremendous." The property has been well received with more than 20 plus showings to prospective buyers since its list date."

The home, Mundy said, is most likely the most-publicized home for sale in Chicago in the past 12 months. And that's because of its uniqueness.

Mundy said they also have floor plans and architectural drawings ready to whip out to prospective buyers, showing how easily extra bedrooms could be added.
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