Buying Here: Larimer

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Of all the modernist styles of architecture the 1960s ushered in, perhaps none was more revolutionary, or peculiar looking, than the geodesic dome.

Popularized by architect/engineer/mathematician R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) in the late 1940s as a possible solution for the world's post-war housing shortages, domes embraced Fuller's theories of "energetic-synergetic geometry," a discipline that used geometry to create structural systems that provide maximum strength with minimum material.

Fuller famously predicted that a million domes would be built by the mid-1980s. But that dream never was realized. Despite glowing accolades for the ones he designed for the New York World's Fair in 1964 and Expo 67 three years later, the fad never caught on: only about 50,000 were ever constructed -- and many of those were built as greenhouses, storage sheds or tourist attractions, like the 165-foot diameter sphere at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center in Orlando.

That's why the two-bedroom geodesic dome at 736 Olivant Place (MLS No. 805310) in Pittsburgh's Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood is so unusual. Pittsburgh has just a handful of these ball-shaped houses, so you rarely see one on the market.

At a glance
  • Website:
  • Size: 1.81 square miles
  • Population: 5,550
  • School District: Pittsburgh Public,
  • Enrollment: about 28,000
  • Average SAT scores: (2008, Westinghouse High School) 354 verbal; 358 math; 359 writing
  • Taxes for 736 Olivant Place: $1,085.23
    County: $173.06 (4.69 mills)
  • City: $398.52 (10.8 mills)
  • School: $513.65 (13.92 mills)
  • Wage tax: 3 percent (1 percent to the city, and 2 percent to the school district)
  • Fun fact: Lincoln-Lemington is one of the steepest neighborhoods in the city of Pittsburgh.

The two-bedroom, one-bath dome is being offered by Keller Williams Realty's South office (; 412-571-3800) for the rock-bottom price of $36,900. But there's a catch: It's a foreclosure owned by the federal agency Fannie Mae ( Plus, it'll require more than a little elbow grease to get it into move-in condition.

"It's what I like to refer to as needing some good TLC," says Realtor Libby Sosinski.

Because the listing came to the company via Fannie Mae, Ms. Sosinski (; 412-722-8344) is sketchy on its history and condition. That includes how long it was vacant before it went on the market, and the extent of any repairs. A smart buyer, then, would hire a qualified professional to inspect the home before making an offer.

What is known is that the 1,257-square-foot house, which was built in 1965 and has round windows, has a mold problem. Geodesic domes are notoriously difficult to waterproof because of their curved surfaces.

On the plus side, the house is set back from the street on a private lot with lots of trees and shrubbery. It also has a cute, if compact, kitchen with bright-red walls, black wood cabinetry and a vintage black-and-white checkered linoleum floor.

"It's in its own private domain, for lack of a better word," says Ms. Sosinksi.

Fannie Mae, which has about four dozen properties for sale in the Pittsburgh area for prices ranging from $2,000 to $125,000 (, has already taken a financial hit in acquiring the property. So the price, according to an agency official, is aggressive. That is to say, non-negotiable.

"We're trying to minimize the losses and recoup as much as we can," he explains.

Some buyers, especially those purchasing for the first time, may be wary about buying a foreclosure. But many more are not. Fannie Mae acquired 98,428 properties in the first three quarters of 2009, and during the same time frame sold 89,691.

REO property (real estate owned by the government) is different from traditional real estate in that buyers must be pre-qualified before making an offer. In addition, all bids for 736 Olivant Place have to be submitted online through a Realtor through BidSelect, and buyers are responsible for fees the seller usually covers in a traditional sale, such as state and local realty transfer taxes and dye testing. However, special financing through HomePath Mortgage Financing may be available.

The sales price is less than the assessed full-market value of $46,000 ( For the unconventional buyer with a little imagination and big knowledge of home repair, 736 Olivant Place offers a great opportunity.

Or as Ms. Sosinski puts it, "It's definitely one of a kind, with a lot of potential."

Three homes have sold on Olivant Place and neighboring Olivant Street in the past four years for prices ranging from $10,000 in March 2008 to $31,000 in June 2007 (


20082009SALES7864MEDIAN PRICE$9,000$5,400HIGHEST PRICE$121,440$85,900

20082009SALES8289MEDIAN PRICE$8,666$7,500HIGHEST PRICE$358,000$128,000

20082009SALES513409MEDIAN PRICE$243,000$218,500HIGHEST PRICE$1,405,000$1,738,143

20082009SALES225206MEDIAN PRICE$71,720$76,000HIGHEST PRICE$250,000$300,000

20082009SALES3929MEDIAN PRICE$8,000$6,250HIGHEST PRICE$77,547$88,000

20082009SALES1814MEDIAN PRICE$64,000$76,000HIGHEST PRICE$95,000$97,500

20082009SALES4330MEDIAN PRICE$15,100$13,000HIGHEST PRICE$80,000$138,085

20082009SALES5263MEDIAN PRICE$146,390$170,000HIGHEST PRICE$448,850$410,000

20082009SALES8877MEDIAN PRICE$12,000$8,900HIGHEST PRICE$380,000$131,124

20082009SALES2415MEDIAN PRICE$21,500$9,000HIGHEST PRICE$132,015$128,234

20082009SALES162152MEDIAN PRICE$62,000$43,500HIGHEST PRICE$442,000$545,896

Gretchen McKay can be reached at or 412-263-1419. First Published January 16, 2010 5:00 AM


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