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Houses Designed By Famous Architects Are Tough To Sell In Modern Market

You architect has won awards—Too bad your house isn’t selling. A reality check confronts owners of architectural masterpieces.

By Jeff Vasishta December 12, 2016
Photo courtesy of François, Michèle - © Monuments historiques

In architecture, just like in fashion, there comes a time when you have to move on. This is easy when you are dealing with platform heels from the 70’s—but not so much when houses are concerned. Home owners are finding that their fabulous, hip, architectural masterpieces of yesteryear don’t mean much decades later, when they are put on the market. In fact, buyers may run away in alarm.

In 1960, owning a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house was a pronouncement of your coolness. Now it could be a testament to your kookiness. His glassy, 2,600-square-foot designed home on less than four acres of suburban Minneapolis has the sweeping roof and vaulted main room associated with the great man. This is the kind of place home owners could play their Miles Davis records in, while discussing the great issues of the day. Now, from the outside, it looks like a dated physics department of a university. The fact that the home owners have lived there for 50 years is the main hurdle. They’ve put it on the market for a not immodest $1.395 million, a number that may be colored by their half century of good times in the property.

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“Works by Wright are like living sculptures,” Barry Berg, the broker who’s co-listing the property told Bloomberg Pursuits.  “What was ahead of the curve back then is inevitably—think kitchens or baths—not going to be as expansive or generously appointed as your typical suburban tract home or a mansion that gets built today.”

Of course, if you’re buying a turn of the century brownstone in Brooklyn, original architecture logs firmly in the plus column. If it’s anything from the ’60’s, ’70’s, or ’80’s, chances are, a teardown and rebuild is in order. When the property in question—an elite equestrian compound in Mexico City—is the 1969 commissioned work of famed architect Luis Barragán (Later a winner of the coveted Pritzker Prize,) bringing in the bulldozers may be a tougher proposition.

Though the exclusive equestrian French Club is no more the hot pink home and surrounding structures still remain. It was put on the market four years ago in a meticulously maintained state, by the family who commissioned it. There were no takers. Today it is listed for $13 million. Compounding the family’s problems is the fact the neighborhood is not as upmarket as it used to be. So in effect, they have an ugly house in a so-so neighborhood, for which they are asking $13 million. If they find a buyer, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn they may also be interested in.

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“Many of the lots have been fractionated,” said Federica Zanco, the director of the Swiss-based Barragán Foundation. “There are many small-scale houses that are not particularly elegant, and not particularly well kept.”

Let’s not even get into truly massive, historic homes built when heating and plumbing were serviced with buckets and shovels. Simply keeping them warm has been the downfall of many a house rich but cash poor aristocrat. Selling them is even more of a headache. It’s not as if there’s a going rate. Buyers’ and sellers’ estimations of deal making numbers may be wider than a castle’s moat.

Château d’Aubiry, a 16,000-square-foot, 22-room castle in the south of France has an greenhouse built by Gustave Eiffel (designer of the Eiffel tower.)

“Every meter you’ll find a new painting, or sculpture, or design,” said Anthony Diaz, the broker representing the home. “It’s not just a castle; it’s an historic monument.” And it is listed as such by the French government. As a film set, it could be perfect, but its day-to-day practical uses are up there with the chocolate teapot.

On the market for $13.6 million, the castle has its own theater, formal dining room, billiard room, and library, and the grounds include a chapel, formal gardens, and a swimming pool. “Everyone is interested,” said Diaz in broker speak “But who can buy it? Only someone who’s very, very rich.”

And someone who is open to the idea of a lot of upkeep.

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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