Cave dwellers put home on eBay (© Tom Gannam/AP)Click to enlarge picture

Curt and Deborah Sleeper's cave dwelling in Festus, Mo. © Tom Gannam/AP

The housing crisis is now affecting cave dwellers.

At least, that’s the case for Curt and Deborah Sleeper of Festus, Mo. They have fewer than 90 days to pay off the $83,000 balance on their home, just outside of St. Louis in a former mine that once produced limestone and sandstone.

The family of five — a new baby was born in the cave just recently — has put their dwelling, at 215 Cave Drive, up for sale on eBay priced at $300,000.

The Sleepers bought the 15,000-square-foot cave through the auction site in 2004. They paid about half of the $160,000 purchase price in cash. The sellers loaned them the balance with a five-year interest-only loan. The initial idea was to build a regular home outside and use the cave as a place for the kids to play, Curt Sleeper says. Later, he decided to build the house inside the cave. Sleeper says that he intended to refinance his mortgage, using the new home as equity once it was completed.

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Then came the housing bust and the credit markets tightened up. Curt Sleeper says he has been unable to secure a new loan. “I’m self-employed, my credit score is somewhere between 600 and 710, depending on who you talk to. I live in a cave with no comparable homes in the area and I gave up credit cards 10 years ago,” he says.

Curt Sleeper says he is sorting through about 5,000 emails — sent to him through eBay and a message board at Caveland.us — from people who want to buy the property, those who want to loan the family money and those who “want to steal it from me” by buying it and renting it back to the family.

The family spent four years and about $150,000 in materials constructing the three-story home, adding another 2,000 square feet of living space. They funded the project using a combination of personal income and his wife's inheritance, he says. Friends in the construction industry helped the self-employed Web designer and small business consultant build the structure. Deborah Sleeper, a stay-at-home mother who is working on a degree in creative writing, washed laundry in buckets during construction, and the family lived in a tent inside the cave. The city required six different inspections on the cave, Curt Sleeper says, and it granted the family an occupancy permit last year.

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The family was planning to stay in the cave for life, and moving out is not an appealing option. “I frequently joke that there’s got to be some barge or corn silo screaming my name,” Curt Sleeper says of where he will go should he be forced to move. “I can’t imagine going back to a box.”

By Sushil Cheema, The Wall Street Journal