Not long after Kevin Schwarz listed a geodesic dome home in Penn Hills for sale, a real estate agent for a woman in California called to express her interest.
“They don’t come up very often. It’s a unique property,” says Schwarz, a Keller Williams agent who became a quick study on dome homes when Stephen and Christina Burns asked him to list their Penn Hills property at 520 Crocus Ave. for $180,000. They’re relocating to Cleveland, where they’ll try to find another unique house.
“People who love it, really love it and people who don’t love it, really don’t love it,” says Schwarz. “It’s not for everyone; that was a big factor in the pricing. But it’s in great shape. They’ve done an incredible job taking care of the home. They added air conditioning throughout, split-unit ACs, and it’s amazing how well it stays cool.”
Built in 1987, the home has three bedrooms and one bath, new flooring, new appliances and a spiral staircase that leads to a second floor. A patio wraps around the home, and the backyard has eight varieties of fruit trees, including fig, pear, peach and elderberry.
The home is under contract with the California woman, who bought it sight unseen after her agent attended an open house and she did a virtual tour. The sale is expected to close at the end of August.
“She had been looking for a long time, trying to find a unique property in the Pittsburgh area,” says Schwarz. “Her agent reached out almost immediately and said, ‘This is a perfect fit for my client.’ … I think her biggest thing was finding a property that didn’t need a lot of maintenance. The nice thing about it is, you have a lot of space. The dome has two bedrooms and a large loft that operates as a bedroom but could be a big studio up there.”
Geodesic domes are spherical structures developed by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller as practical buildings that offer both strength and efficiency. In researching them, Schwarz found at least 10 dome homes in Western Pennsylvania, including another that’s currently for sale in Stahlstown.
That Westmoreland County home located at 160 Ambrose Rd. has three bedrooms and two baths and comes with a 6-acre lot. Built in 1979 and recently renovated, it features an upper level, a basement and a four-car garage. It’s listed for $455,000.
It’s difficult to price a dome home because there really aren’t comparable home sales in a neighborhood, says Schwarz. It also can be harder to get financing for unique properties such as domes or subterranean homes, he says, so buyers often need to find a bank offering a portfolio loan, a mortgage that the lender won’t sell on the secondary mortgage market. Those can have a higher interest rate.
“From what I’ve read, from a building standpoint, the amount of materials that you use in a dome is less than what is required for a standard single-family home,” Schwarz says. “I’ve found that building a dome is cheaper and it’s more fuel-efficient, so I think there are a lot of pros, especially in this time when we have a lot of necessity for housing. There’s a lot of utility in domes.”
Another dome, at 173 Harvey Road in Sarver, just sold for $400,000. Built in 1992, it has five bedrooms, 3.5 baths and a nearly 4-acre lot. The property also has two gas fireplaces, a new deck and an outbuilding with heat and air conditioning.
A second dome in Sarver, at 149 Woodbury Dr., sold in 2017 for $170,000. In Mercer, a double-dome home at 2347 Leesburg Grove City Rd. situated on more than 6 acres sold for $250,000 last year.
Schwarz also found three dome home neighbors in McCandless Township — 8516 Wittmer Rd., 8518 Wittmer and 8519 Wittmer — all of which changed owners during the past five years.
Allegheny County property records show a dome in Green Tree at the corner of Elmhurst and Greentree roads. Built in 1987, it has four bedrooms and two baths. And one at 2933 Trafford Road in Murrysville attracted the attention of passers-by and news media when Robert Thompson was building it in 2005.
A unique dome — owned by developer Azhar “Lee” Leeton — is located in Lincoln-Lemington and offered by the couple as an Airbnb. They advertise this home as the original “Yaca-Dome,” built in 1969 by the late landscape designer Joseph Yacoboni.
Yacoboni patented his construction method in 1975, according to the Airbnb listing, and built 26 of his domes around the country. The home, which the owner calls “The Igloo,” has vintage furnishings but many updates, such as Wi-Fi.
Schwarz suspects that many people, like him, are fascinated by dome homes but might never consider buying one.
“A lot of people who came through the open house [in Penn Hills] had no intention of buying a dome,” he says. “We had a lot of designers who came through, who were absolutely entranced with the home. I don’t know if you have to have an artistic style to live in a dome, but the individuals that lived there had a Mid-century modern eclectic style and the designers who came through loved every inch of that property, from the décor to the house itself.”
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