There are certain spaces home buyers crave, such as giant kitchens and expansive walk-in closets. And then there are the spaces that turn up unexpectedly, especially in some older homes: bomb shelters, smokehouses, outhouses.
Quite often, homeowners find, these oddball spaces can be put to new use.
Tom Johnson of Liberty 100 Realty in Waldwick, N.J., recalls selling a house that had a secret staircase connecting a closet on the first floor with a closet on the second. The owner lined up her shoes on the steps.
A Ridgewood, N.J., Tudor listed by Beth Freed of Prominent Properties Sotheby's International Realty included an elevator. The homeowners use as a linen closet.
Old bomb shelters are sometimes converted into wine cellars. But Ruby and Bobby Kaplan of Teaneck store old clothes, toys, and household items in theirs. In Bobby Kaplan's words, it's "a nice, cool place for junk."
The shelter is a surprise in the Kaplans' large stucco house, which has been so extensively renovated it looks nearly new. (The seven-bedroom home is on the market for just under $1.5 million.)
The Cold War hideout has thick concrete walls and a 21/2-foot-diameter corrugated-metal tunnel, which leads beneath the lawn to the outside. Bobby Kaplan recalls that when the couple first moved into the house, he was in the yard with the dog when the dog suddenly vanished. He had fallen into the bomb shelter's tunnel, which the family later closed up.
Nickie Lisella's Allendale, N.J., house also came with a bomb shelter.
"I thought it was cool when we first saw it," said Lisella, a manager with Terrie O'Connor Realtors in Allendale. "I figured if anyone dropped a bomb, we could save our family."
Buyers often are drawn to extra spaces, especially if they are big enough for a variety of uses. Ann Matri, a Coldwell Banker agent in Saddle River, N.J., recently listed an 1890 two-bedroom house in Midland Park that sold almost immediately and over asking price, largely because it included a small backyard stone building with a potbellied stove.
It was originally a summer kitchen, used when it was too hot to cook indoors. The buyer plans to use the space, roughly 12 feet by 14 feet, as an art studio.
"I advertised it for hobbyists, artists, musicians," Matri said. "I can't tell you how many people came. A lot of people like to have some sort of studio or a little privacy."
Wanda and Larry Finch's 200-year-old, six-bedroom Dutch Colonial in Maywood, N.J., has several unusual spaces, including a walk-in hearth in the kitchen.
The hearth was once a traditional fireplace, but when people began cooking with wood-burning stoves instead of open fires, the homeowners removed the top of the fireplace to fit in a stove, said Larry Finch, an engineer who has studied the dwelling's construction.
The house, known as the Romaine-Oldis-Brinkerhoff house for three early families who lived there, also is decorated with tiles left by a 20th-century owner, Ernest Bilhuber, who founded the Maywood Tile Works. Outside, there is a stone smokehouse formerly used to preserve pork, now used as a garden shed. The Finches' house is on the market for $439,000.
An 1880s farmhouse in Old Tappan, N.J., has an outhouse, half-hidden behind shrubs, with a door and walls that lean at angles. The house, on the market for five months, has an asking price of $694,900 and offers pocket doors, a wraparound porch, and original pine floors.
Properties with this kind of history do not appeal to the typical buyer, said listing agent Antoinette Gangi of Re/Max in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. Instead, they attract a smaller, but passionate, pool of people who love living with a piece of the past.