Since 2009, when it was first built from five steel cargo containers, Debbie Glassberg’s home in Kansas City’s Brookside area has been featured in national design magazines and websites, including Apartment Therapy, Elle Decor, Inhabitat and Core 77.
They gushed over its colorful, modern interior and extolled its eco-friendly features, which include sugar-beet foam insulation. In 2015, Curbed.com went so far as to state in its headline that it “May Be the Country’s Prettiest Shipping Container Home.” It’s thought to be Kansas City’s first container home.
But comments from local residents recently turned a bit disparaging when the 2,600-square-foot home went on the market for $849,000. Franny Knight, creator of the website Urban Cool KC, posted the listing on Facebook, where more than 500 people commented on it. While most acknowledged that they liked the looks of it, many ruthlessly knocked the price tag.
“Unbelievable!!” stated one commenter. “Totally expected high but more like $350k not $900k!! It’s literally made out of recycled goods! Makes no sense … The whole point … of making a home out of a shipping container is to make it more affordable.”
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“Considering I’ve seen news stories of giant 3D printers making concrete small homes for 15 grand this is a joke,” chimed in another.
Some worried it would drive up real estate prices in the neighborhood, thereby raising property taxes.
Whether the criticism is warranted is debatable, though it raises long-standing questions about how much location factors into the price of a home and the value of high design.
Homes in that area of the city, 59th and Charlotte streets, are mostly bungalows that typically sell for $200,000 to $300,000. For tax purposes, Jackson County estimates the home’s market value at $354,000. And container homes can be built for less than $100 a square foot. Glassberg’s is priced at $327 a square foot.
Glassberg’s container home was designed by local firm BNIM, which focuses on sustainable architecture. It’s also finished with custom features and the artistic eye of its owner, an industrial designer who is moving to Los Angeles to lead a team that designs and develops Disney princess dolls.
Glassberg says that, including sweat equity, she has close to $849,000 invested in the home.
“It’s a big house, and it has a lot of glass and high-end everything,” she says. “And I paid for an architect and a structural engineer, which is what you have to do when you want a modern home. I thought this house was going to cost half this much, but it didn’t.”
The cargo containers that make up the home are 40 feet long and 8 feet wide, with heights ranging from 9 1/2 feet to 12 feet to allow for bigger windows and a lighter, airier feeling. Standard containers are 8 feet tall.
The home contains a large two-person office, a loft bedroom, a large master suite with two walk-in closets, a laundry area and a bathroom, two additional full bathrooms and a TV room with space for guests to sleep. A living/dining room is just off the galley kitchen.
The house uses eco-friendly technologies, including geothermal heating and cooling, LED lighting and tankless water heaters. A south-facing glass wall is passive solar and saves on winter heating bills. Courtney Kraus, the listing agent with Brookside Real Estate Co., estimates the features cut utility costs in half.
Knight, who is also a Realtor with Chartwell Realty, says she was befuddled by the initial response to the listing and even more by responses to her comments on Urban Cool KC’s Facebook explaining the possible reasons for the price.
“I should know by now that not everyone understands special houses,” Knight says over the phone. “I personally just listed one in Columbus Park — a little more expensive than this one, for $1.2 million — and heard the same kind of stuff from people about how we’re never going to get that. It’s under contract!
“There are people who will buy a house like (Glassberg’s) because it’s a statement piece, because of what it says from an arts perspective, that it says more than that it’s a container house. People buy log cabins for the same (budgetary, eco-friendly) reasons, but you can buy million-dollar cabins now because of the aesthetic.”
As for increasing property values and hence taxes of neighboring homes, Knight doesn’t think so.
“This isn’t going to raise anyone’s value, because it’s not in the same comps,” she says, adding that no appraiser would use the container home as a comparable property for a bungalow.
Though Glassberg is sad to leave her home, she plans to build another, smaller container home in Los Angeles, similar to the ones she has partnered with BNIM to build as part of their Home Contained development in the Washington Wheatley neighborhood in east Kansas City.
A prototype at 3008 E. 20th St. is 930 square feet and features two bedrooms, two bathrooms and 260 square feet of deck space. Buyers can have similar but personalized ones built for $250,000, by picking from an assortment of high-end appliances and materials that the group has curated.
The goal is to get six buyers on board before building starts, to keep costs low. There are no buyers yet.
“Our main idea is that we sell them as small homes, fully furnished and finished,” Glassberg says. “They have all appliances, they’re solar ready, have internet hook-ups and decks.”
The community will include a garden.
Glassberg says Home Contained’s homes are more expensive because they’re high design.
“There are a lot of home builders who get low prices, but they’re basic with brown cabinets from who knows where, and they’re not beautiful. Ours are beautiful,” she says. “And they’re custom. The kitchens are not Ikea, they’re custom. We designed them. When we worked on the prototype it was a mini-version of this home. The kitchen is just as beautiful, if not more so.”
Meanwhile, her Charlotte Street home has had a few showings, but not as many as you’d expect for what some might call an iconic home. Kraus stipulated that she be present during all showings by other agents.
“That gets rid of looky loos,” she said. “We’re trying to avoid that.”