Come late spring, the tropical pink bougainvillea will bloom profusely in the stunning glass atrium of the Columbia contemporary house. The setting -- on the shores of two man-made lakes surrounded by maples, oaks and sycamores -- is a veritable sanctuary for wildlife and the lakes are well stocked with bass. Yet the property is just minutes from Columbia's center.
This is the custom-built house enjoyed for a decade by Luanna and Keith Mitzner, senior employees of the National Security Agency. The Mitzners are reluctantly letting go of the property -- due to their plans to retire soon and move to another waterside place at Ocean Pines on the Eastern Shore.
"It's hard to move because the house has been wonderful," Mrs. Mitzner said. "It's a very comfortable place that strips away stress and makes you realize the world is a good place."
The Mitzners recently put their house -- with its five bedrooms, four decks and 15 sets of sliding glass doors -- on the market. Now their Coldwell Banker agent, Elaine Northrup, faces the challenge of finding the right buyer for the unusual home, which has a 64-square-foot skylight above the atrium, a passive solar heating system and a view of the water from nearly every room.
"Most buyers are very conventional -- the four-bedroom colonial is still our best seller. But this is not a conformist's house," Ms. Northrup said of the property, in the village of Clemens Crossing.
Such an unusual house calls for creative marketing. "It takes special exposure to find the right type of buyer for this type of home," said Ms. Northrup, who pictures the property being purchased by an artist, an author or anyone who loves nature.
When it comes to marketing homes, Ms. Northrup is no slouch. Last year the Ellicott City-based agent sold more than $21 million in property, making her the No. 1 Coldwell Banker agent in the United States. Heavy advertising is the secret, she said, noting that she spends $15,000 a month on newspaper ads.
Advertising is especially important in marketing a home that is off the beaten track, Ms. Northrup said. The Mitzner home, which faces the lakes, doesn't present the kind of roadside facade that sometimes attracts drive-by buyers.
Another reason to rely on advertising: Relatively little information about special features can be conveyed through the standard Multiple Listing form. Photographs in ads give buyers a better feel for the property, Ms. Northrup said.
If you're selling an unusual home, consider these pointers:
* Present the unusual as a positive.
"The moral of the story is to look at your home with a special eye and emphasize the unique because somebody, somewhere should like the unique qualities of your home. It's your job to find that somebody," said Peter G. Miller, the Silver Spring-based author of several books on real estate.
Suppose your home has a large swimming pool in the backyard. Many buyers might view a pool as a negative because of the upkeep or fears about accidents. An occasional buyer, however, will see the pool as an attractive feature. To lure that buyer,
emphasize the pool rather than downplaying it
"In your advertising, stress the idea of having family pool-side parties and teaching the kids to swim," Mr. Miller said.
* Turn a troublesome feature around.
Take a home that sits next to a cemetery, for example. You might be tempted to play down the cemetery because of what it represents.
But if you think of it in a different way, the cemetery becomes a positive. Cemeteries usually can't be developed. So you can point out to prospective buyers that the area's greenery is a given.
* Demonstrate special features of your home during an open house.
If you have a built-in sauna, make certain it's heated and operating when visitors come by. Show off a greenhouse by placing home-grown orchids around the house. and leaving a sign that asks: "How would you like fresh orchids each morning?"
Show off a wine cellar by setting up a wine bottle and two glasses on a table outside the cellar. Or demonstrate the fun of having your own tennis court by inviting the local high school tennis team over to play during your open house.