Saturday, August 28, 2010


Another interesting roadblock has arisen, this time from the bank. The problem is that my house is impossible to appraise. The bank consulted with four different appraisers with the same response: "impossible to give value."

At 1380 square feet, this house is relatively small, but because of all the custom detailing and quality materials, the cost of construction was estimated by my builder at almost $200 per square foot. This was my strategy: limit the square footage in order to be able to afford good design. Apparently there is no house in the neighborhood where I plan to build that comes anywhere close to this cost per foot. It’s not that there aren’t bigger houses in the area that have the same overall cost as mine; it’s that the smaller area of my house doesn’t seem to support it’s cost.

I learned that appraisals are only about what the “market” has been paying recently, locally, and typically for a certain size of house. Appraisers don’t care about the design or materials, or what builders have said it will cost to construct. “Cost does not create value,” one appraiser wrote to me.

I made the point that the value of this house will be much higher than other houses of similar square footage precisely because of the unique design, the special features (skylights, courtyard, etc.), and environmentally friendly materials throughout. How often have we witnessed some product selling for way more than anyone would expect from its size—because of some unique, desirable features? I made use of Frank Lloyd Wright again, pointing out that every one of his houses is worth far more than anyone would expect by looking only at square footage—because of the special design. Good design has value! Aren’t unique houses exactly what banks should be focusing on in this financial climate? The bloated, cookie-cutter, suburban MacMansions make up the great majority of houses sitting empty right now. Why not try investing in something different?

Of course all this fell on deaf ears. The mighty “market” is all that matters. Their question is: How will the bank sell this loan on the secondary market if the house’s value is so much less than its cost? The market hasn’t been paying this much for houses of this size.

Then I tried to argue: “I am the market for this house.” I qualified for the loan; I will pay what it costs; I plan to live in the house as my primary residence; I have no plans to sell it.

Also spoken into the void. What if I lose my job? they asked. What if I die? they implied.

It seems like the entire mortgage loan machine allows people to only do what has been done before. Creativity is not recognized. Good design is worthless. Want to pay us tons of interest on a loan to build your dream home? Design a house that's just like all the others.

I have to admit I was a tad flattered by the response of the appraisers. Especially when they wrote, “no comps… impossible to give value,” I thought: Yeah, that’s the way I designed it: incomparable, unique, high quality, with no equal, like no other—like my God.

So, my bank referred me to another bank that apparently can keep the loan in house rather than having to sell it later—meaning the lack of an appraisal may not matter. I left a message with a contact at that bank a few days ago and have received no response. A banker friend of mine was skeptical that any bank in these times would process a loan without an appraisal.

What if no bank will give me a loan? Will I be the father of a stillborn child? Have I already learned all that God wanted to teach me through this process? Or does God want me pursue funding from a different source?

From the beginning of my quest for financing lots of options crossed my mind, from opening an account for receiving donations to applying for some sort of grant. None of them seemed viable for a project that basically looks like a house for myself. Could I convince anyone that it’s not really for me? And that it’s not really just a house? It’s also a church—for the world. The merging of these apparently disparate functions is part of what makes this place special. If I knew I was never going to live there, I would still build it. I echo the desire of Solomon: “Here is what I want to do: build a temple in honor of God.” (1 Kings 5:5) Now if only I could find a fraction of his resources.