Consider the house that Robert Fenimore has built -- or, more accurately, half-built.
The unique, European-style home in Darnstown, Md., has special, imported features, including tip-turn windows from Germany and a Swiss furnace.
But on the second floor, it has only an empty wooden frame.
Fenimore has run out of money to finish the house and says he can't secure a loan because no bank or savings and loan wants a half-finished house as collateral.
"It is a vicious cycle," said Fenimore recently. "I need money to finish the house; they say finish the house and we'll give you money."
Fenimore says loan officers have told him they are unwilling to finance the single-home builder because they do not want to risk foreclosing on a half-finished and, therefore, unsalable house.
"They would rather stick with the big guns like Ryan" Homes Inc., he said.
"It is true savings and loans are being very cautious these days," said Anton Bestebreurtje, a mortgage loan officer with Citizens Bank and Trust Co. of Maryland. "But that does not mean an individual builder cannot get a loan. They may have to make some concessions, is all."
Where once savings and loans were willing to let a homeowner be his own contractor, most now insist the home be built by a licensed contrator before agreeing to the loan, Bestebreurtje said.
"Your average savings and loan wants to be very careful dealing out construction loans with the market as poor as it has been," he said.
Fenimore, however, has insisted that he act as his own contractor.
"I can do the job much better because I care about what sort of work is done," he said.
Fenimore said that, when he first started to build the house on the two-acre lot in 1980, he applied for construction loans and was rejected because he did not have a licensed contractor. He went ahead and built most of the house with his own money and a $35,000 loan from Household Finance at 16 percent interest.
He estimates that he needs $80,000 to finish the home, which he now lives in with his wife and three children.
"I can't get an $80,000 construction loan because I am the contractor, even though I've proven I can construct a house which is much better and more solid than anything in the neighborhood," he said. "No one wants to give me a permanent loan because the house isn't finished."
Mortgage officers for several banks and savings and loans said they are reluctant to lend money to people who are acting as their own contractors, although they do make exceptions.
"There is always the fear that the owner/contractor is not building a house but a personal project," said one mortgage officer who asked not to be named. "They get so wrapped up in it, they can't make good business decisions. They get stubborn, and the S&L would rather go with a professional builder they can work with."
For Fenimore, though, those words have a bitter taste.
"This country was built by people like me with ideas and determination," he said. "You would think that is what they would look for."