Feb. 24, 2009 -- You've heard plenty of stories about foreclosures, but the latest victims of this brutal recession are about to lose their cave.
That's right. 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 now, the 17,000-square-foot, subterranean home is being auctioned off on eBay.
Sleeper and his wife Deborah bought the cave outside St. Louis in May 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 single balloon payment at the end.
The Sleepers now have until May 1 to pay off the remaining $83,000 or sell the property. It's not a foreclosure sale yet, but if they can't come up with the money, they risk losing the house.
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, a self-employed computer consultant, said banks struggle to appraise the cave since there aren't any comparable properties nearby or, well any comparable properties at all. So while he might have received a loan two or 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.
Now he has turned to eBay.
Sleeper is asking $300,000 for the home but is 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.)
Cave Dwelling: Plenty of Room to Grow
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 and sewer.
The property has at least three groundwater springs, one accessible through a cistern in the middle chamber of the cave, one that yields an average of 100 gallons a day that drips into an indoor pond in the front chamber, and one near the woods that creates a shallow pond.
During heavy rain, Sleeper said, the property gets as many as 14 waterfalls from the cliffs.
Sleeper and his family are not the first to inhabit the cave. From 1958 to 1985 it was used as a roller-skating rink. It also doubled during those years as a concert venue that hosted Bob Seger, Ted Nugent and Tina Turner among others, Sleeper said.
The cave is not actually a cave but, in fact, a former mine. In the early 1900s, two brothers blasted it out of the hillside and sold the sandstone to a glassmaker.
"I personally would not support anybody living in a natural cave," Sleeper said.
Since posting the listing last week, Sleeper said the response has been "overwhelming." His personal Web site has crashed more than once.
On Thursday, "I spent 15 hours answering questions on eBay and I just couldn't keep up," he said. "Every time I would answer a question, three more would show up."
He said 10,000 people are watching the auction, which ends on March 11. Another 70 have pre-registered to bid.
At the same time, Sleeper said he is talking with some private investors about lending him the money to stay in his home. But he won't stop the auction until everything is finalized.
"The goal is not notoriety," he added. "The goal is either to finance or sell my house."