Hello everyone, my name is Jody Rhines. I and my family (Marcus Romano, Mateo Romano) are recently members of the Greater World Community (GW) in Taos, New Mexico, USA.
We recently purchased an Earthship... the Sol Ship, in the GW. What an adventure! Buying an earthship has it's challenges, trials and tribulations. The cost is often foreboding, there are difficulties finding a bank to finance, and locating an insurance company to insure an earthship is tricky and then expensive. Dealing with bureaucratic agencies, the red tape, the rules, regulations and people who will not move outside of the rut they have been traveling in for decades, is a tremendous obstacle to doing anything new. Adding another mass of red tape, that being the Veterans Administration (VA), to the mix felt like insanity to us. But we like that sort of thing, so we did it anyway.
Being a veteran, I have plenty of experience with bureaucracies; I have been dealing with the Veterans Administration for many long years. I cannot tell you how many times I have stood on the other side of the desk listening to words like:
'But, we've never done that before'
' I don't have a form for that'
'It has never been done like that'
'We can't do that'
'I'm sorry, it's against our policy'
'You'll have to file a complaint.'
My favorite of all time is:
'I know you've waited six months for this, but we're really backed up.If you call me every day, I may be able to respond to your request.That's how we're handling these forms now, based on who is calling to complain the most.'
The usual response to the number called for complaints is:
'Please leave a message after the tone.'
When we embarked on our journey to buy an earthship, we decided we wanted to use my VA home loan guaranty because I?should be able to use it.Idealistic, I know... but it makes life interesting.
The VA home loan is not actually loan given by the VA, but a guaranty the VA gives to the bank providing the loan.If I default on the loan, the VA guarantees a certain portion of it to the bank.Using this type of loan is beneficial to the veteran because there is no down payment necessary, the VA requires certain limits on fees (which protects the veteran) and the interest rates are very competitive.
The VA also has their own inspector/appraiser for the loan.They have a special guideline for the inspection which tends to protect (or restrict, based on how you look at it) the veteran a bit, while comforting the loan guaranty that the home will be appropriate for the veteran.And as always, there is a lovely regulation governing the inspection itself.I have made myself quite familiar with the Code of Federal Regulations (or CFR) in the last few years, as I have been in intimate relationship with the VA in various ways.But that is another story.
One part of the Code describing the requirements for homes receiving the VA home loan guaranty states that the home must have a mechanical heating source (not just a wood stove) and yet anotherstates that the home must be connected to a centralized water source (not a cistern). (See below citation CFR 1.)?These felt like major stumbling blocks, because the earthship we were dreaming of calling our home had no such things... besides of course, the awesome power of the sun, earth biomass, rain, and snow melt.
Those things, however, are not regulated, governed or under the control of any agency.As of today, to the best of my knowledge, here in Taos, NM, they are free... and being such makes those things hard to control.In order for the sun, earth biomass and rain to be considered 'real' (as in real utilities) they must be controlled, there must be regulations written regarding them, and they must have a fee.Free things are hard to control.Control makes the system and people propagating the system feel safe.When things are safe and predictable, people feel comfortable and perhaps sedate.
I would like at least to have the freedom to choose whether to be bound by regulations or to be wild and free... ~dangerously~ on my own.Anyway, back to the story.
There is, fortunately, also a part of the Code which states:
'Springs or cisterns are permitted where such facilities are customary and the only feasible means of water supply, provided they are installed in accordance with the recommendations of the local health authority, and the veteran purchase acknowledges in writing his/her awareness of the situation.'
If our potential earthship were not located in the GW this clause may have been more difficult to use, (however, one could argue that in the outskirts of Taos, it is also customary for folks to live off-grid).
The VA was not the only deterrent to us achieving our goal.? A year or so ago, when interest rates dropped, we were looking into refinancing our home loan on the home we own in West Virginia.? I was one of those folks who initially financed on an adjustable rate mortgage back in the day and when my rate went up 2 points, my payment went up as well.? It was a particularly dark and difficult financial time for us. ? I tried to refinance, but my bank told me that because I had filed bankruptcy less than 3 years ago, it was not possible.? It was hard for me to believe that I could get a $250k dollar loan on an earthship if my own bank was denying refinancing $60k.
There were financial institutions who said they would 'look into it' but never did.One woman told me that when she saw the disaster in the Gulf she felt sickened but didn't know what she could do about it.?When I suggested she could do something, at her job by helping veterans like me to work within the system to get funding for earthships or other sustainable housing... she stopped talking to me.I was not too surprised.It seems that many people want to 'do something about it' as long as it doesn't take any time, energy or money.
I was mostly steered away from earthships by realtors who said the VA would not give a home loan guaranty on them.? John Kejr, Dreamcatcher Real Estate was also initially skeptical, but with just a tiny bit of optimistic urging, he came along.? During the process, he was open minded, patient, believing and responsive.? Thanks, John.
In the end, it must have been the Tao, the 'way' or maybe it was just finally time for this dog pack to have their day because, against all odds, it happened.? I wake up every morning amazed because I have no 'real' heating system in my home and it is 70 degrees, I'm in my underwear and it is in the 'teens outside.? We love our home more every day.
Getting a VA home loan for an earthship is sort of a big deal.? Because when the VA does something, it sets a precedent for other regulation-bound agencies to follow.? My vision from the beginning was that this would change the words being said on the other side of the desk for everyone.? No more, 'but, we haven't done that before,' and more, 'hmm, well, I'll be darned.? Yep, I guess we can do that.'
If you are a veteran, or know a veteran who wants to buy an earthship using their VA home loan guaranty, the answer is, yes.? Yes, you can.
Feel free to contact me via email if you need any help or advice in seeking a VA home loan for your earthship...firstname.lastname@example.org.
1)? Code of Federal Regulations,? VA Pamphlet 26-7 Revised Chapter 11: Appraisal Requirements and? Chapter 12 Minimum Property Requirements