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For some, buying a home calls for changing expectations

By Bill LaHay
Universal Uclick

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  • Housing market history

    During America’s early years, homes were more often modest in size, fashioned from natural and local materials and built by the owners and occupants. People tended to have personal ties to these homes, which didn’t require decades of financial obligation.

    • The Industrial Revolution brought efficiency and specialization. Manufacturing and marketing eventually led to housing that was larger, more standardized and more expensive. Building was done by specialized tradesmen, and financing the purchase involved large down payments and risk of foreclosure.

    • Builders and lenders also shaped the housing market, with home prices and square footage growing for decades until 2008. Several major financial institutions failed that year. Home values deflated, leaving many owners struggling with mortgages that were higher than their home’s value. That crash was a wake-up call we should answer, says Jessica Kellner, author of “Housing Reclaimed: Sustainable Homes for Next to Nothing.”



As the size and price of America’s homes has multiplied over the decades, too many of us have become outsiders.

Some now see homeownership as a distant if not impossible dream, says Jessica Kellner, author of “Housing Reclaimed: Sustainable Homes for Next to Nothing” ($24.95, New Society Publishers, 194 pages.)

The toughest path to getting a mortgage might be the conventional one – paved by loan brokers and sanctioned builders.

In her book, Kellner urges us to look for less obvious roads to ownership.

She also offers a template for tackling a “home-built house” and encourages us by showing results other intrepid owner/builders have achieved.

“It’s time we begin thinking differently about housing, in terms of what our shelters are and should be made of, and of how we create and inhabit them,” Kellner writes in the book.

For starters, she recommends that we simplify our wish lists, embrace smaller homes that are environmentally sustainable, and participate more in building them.

Here are more excerpts from Kellner’s tip sheet:

Salvage: Buildings slated for demolition can provide materials for new projects. Do the demolition work yourself, and you might pick up materials for little or no cost. This approach leads to designing around materials you find, but those materials can create a one-of-a-kind home.

Revitalize: Unkempt older homes in blighted neighborhoods are too easily put under by a bulldozer, but more of them should be viewed as opportunities for affordable housing. The sweat equity required to save them can be substantial, but re-use or repurposing of these structures can be an environmental win.

Make it personal: Building or rebuilding with salvaged materials already makes your property unconventional, so don’t be shy about designing around your priorities. Don’t worry about the norms a real estate agent would recommend.

It will take a village: Help from family and friends is an essential part of projects featured in Kellner’s book. Hands-on involvement in the design and building process can save money, but it also helps ensure the home will be part of you and your community.

Less really is more: Excess space will always be a drain on environmental resources. The best designs use a smaller footprint and a simpler structure whenever possible while still meeting or exceeding the residents’ needs. Done right, you might save time and have money for enriching other aspects of your life.

Create financial freedom: Borrowing as little money as possible, or none at all, means you will own your home sooner.

Avoiding a burdensome mortgage and worrying less about resale value are among the key goals in Kellner’s guide.

Books about residential design often focus on the goodies you can build into your home, but this one is more about following your bliss.

The sample homes show it can be done, and Kellner makes a good case for why others might want to try it.

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