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Downturn hits cave dwellers

A LOT of people are struggling to keep their homes in these tough economic times, but one American family is trying to keep its cave.

That is, a cave that's also a home. Curt and Deborah Sleeper bought 1.2 hectares of property and a cave in Festus, Missouri, in 2004, after they spotted it online. They fell in love with the geography of the old mining cave and figured out how to build a house inside it.

But they've got a big payment coming due on the property and don't think they can afford it. If they can't secure new financing, they've got a backup plan -- auctioning their cave home on eBay. Bidding starts at US$300,000.

"I get the financing, or I sell the property, or I lose everything," Curt Sleeper, a self-employed Web designer and small business consultant, said on Thursday while giving reporters a tour of the home.

Missouri has its share of homes built into the geography - houses built into the ground or in a hillside. The Sleepers' home is unique even among them.

In the late 1800s, limestone mining created their bowl-shaped yard at the base of a hill. The 1,580-square-meter cave where they live was hollowed out by sandstone mining through the 1930s.

The Sleepers enlisted friends to help build the unique structure. A gray timber frame exterior was constructed in the 11-meter mouth of the cave. Thirty-seven sliding glass doors also are used as windows throughout the three-story, three-bedroom home, allowing natural light throughout the home.

Inside, the walls and ceiling are comprised of the natural cave stone. A huge umbrella is positioned above the living room furniture to catch grit that falls from the rock. Three large dehumidifiers keep the interior from getting too damp or musty. The home has electricity, water and a sewer, a decked-out kitchen and a whirlpool tub. It also has a goldfish pond.


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