A Missouri family that almost lost their cave-home because of the recession has gotten a reprieve.
After hearing about the family's plight, the owner of a New Jersey archiving and medical records company -- who was first looking to buy the cave as a vacation home -- decided to offer them a private mortgage instead.
"I lost my mom last November," Jon Demarest, owner of Logical Source Inc. in Fairfield, N.J., said. "I know what it's like to lose something. After I heard what he put into it, I said, 'I don't need another home.'"
For nearly five years, Curt Sleeper and his family have lived in a cave. His mortgage is about to come due and, like millions of other Americans, he can't refinance.
So he put the 17,000-square-foot subterranean home on eBay.
Demarest considered buying the cave but then started talking to Sleeper.
"He's an incredible human being, from talking with him," Demarest said. "I don't know him personally. I was just fascinated by him."
Sleeper today said he was "elated."
"We've thrilled. I feel comfortable, I feel a lot more secure. I feel 3,000 pounds lighter," he said. "It has certainly has released some of the stress of the last 30 days."
Sleeper and his wife Deborah bought the cave outside St. Louis in May of 2004 for $160,000. To pay for it, they sold their old home, TV and even the DVD collection. They made a 50 percent down payment and borrowed the other $80,000 from the seller. It was a five-year loan with a balloon payment at the end.
The Sleepers now have until May 1 to pay off the remaining $83,000 or sell the property. They weren't yet in foreclosure but, without the help of Demarest, it was a likely possibility.
Now, they plan to borrow the remaining money from Demarest at a rate he called "competitive."
Besides the initial $80,000 payment, Sleeper said he spent another $150,000 on renovations to the cave and the surrounding 2.8 acres he owns.
The original plan was to refinance. But Sleeper is a self-employed computer consultant and banks struggle to appraise the cave because there aren't any comparable properties nearby or, well, any comparable properties. So while he might have received a loan two, three years ago, today he is in a bind.
"Right now, banks are not interested in anything odd," Sleeper said.
He also acknowledges that he's not perfect. His credit score is 650 to 710, thanks to a few blemishes, including a dispute with a cell phone company.
So enter eBay.
Sleeper was asking $300,000 for the home but was also looking, preferably, for somebody to refinance his mortgage. After all, he and his family did put five years of their lives into building the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house into the cave. (During construction, Sleeper, his wife and their two kids lived in tents in the back of the cave and washed dishes and laundry in buckets. Their third child, a son, was born last week in the cave.)
The front of the cave is a finished house but there is plenty of room for expansion in the back.
"You're never done on a project like this," Sleeper said.
The house sits at the front of the cave opening, getting natural light. Behind it is a middle chamber holding the laundry room, storage and a spare bath. Behind that is another chamber. The home gets city power, water a sewer.