by Patricia Chambers, The Taos News
Chalk it up to global warming, fuel prices or the uncertainty that followed Hurricane Katrina, Whatever the cause, about 18 months ago Earthships became a hot commodity on the open market in Taos. Suddenly a self-sustaining home became important to home buyers, and the Earthship seems to fit the bill. The Earthship, a style of sustainable building closely identified with Taos, is the brainchild of archiect Michael Reynolds.
The off-the-grid houses, built into the earth with recycled materials such as used tires, cans and nottles, also incorporate Reynolds' systems to recycle waste water and harvest rain.
"Mike Reynolds really changed the technology and sustainable building is becoming more and more important. I don't think you can hold it back any more," said Ted Dimond of Dimond Mortgage.
The quirky looking Earthships had been a part of the Taos landscape for more than 20 years when actor Dennis Weaver met Reynold and built his own Earthship home in Colorado. As a result Earthships have been built across the country, but many of the original owners of the off-the-grid homes discovered that "For Sale by Owner" was the only way to market them.
John Kjer, an associate broker with Dreamcatcher Real Estate, specializes in Earthship sales, but the specialt came purely by accident.
"When I started selling real estate here about three years ago, I didnt know you couldnt sell Earthships, so I just did it," Kejr said.
One of the issues that held the Earthship properties out of the real estate market was resovlved in the late 1990s with clarification of titled deeds in the three Taos County Earthship communities and the owners were able to sell the properties on the open market, Kejy said.
"There were some 'boutique' leaders who offered mortgages on the 'green' building, but they were lending at pretty high interest rates," he said.
Offering the properties on the open real estate market brought its own success.
Lenders generally want three comparable sales to determine the value of a property, Dimond said. "So many Earthships are sold here in Taos that we have no trouble providing comparable saales," he said. "In the last year, I've sold a dozen or more. There is no difference anymore for the lending industry when it comes to Earthships. There is a history here."
Kejr has sold about 20 Earthships in the last year.
Earthships have been built in other parts of the country, but Taos is especially known for the sustainable home style.
Dreamcatcher's website lists five Earthships for sale, ranging from a $149,000 "handy-man's special" with no bedrooms and one bath on a half-acre to a $395,000 "massterpeice" with two bedrooms and one bath on 2 acres.
The current upheaval in the mortgage market created byt eh crash of the subprime lending market may have some effect on sales of Earethships, but both Kejr and Dimond agree Earthship buyers are more traditional buyers.
"It's hard to say, though, how tightening of the market from foreclosures in the sub-prime market will effect mortgages on a less-typical house," he added.
"It's an interesting time in the housing industry," Dimond said. "There are a lot of negative things, but there are positive things happening too. This is one of them."
The three Taos are Earthship communities are: Greater World, located about two miles west of the Gorge Bridge on US 64; STAR (Social Transformation Alternative Republic) on the back side of Tres Orejas, about four miles west of the Rim road; and the last is the small community called REACH (Rural Earthship Alternative Communty Habitat) high in the Valdez Mountains.