Frank Lloyd Wright Fixer-Upper Is for Sale, but the Repairs? Scary!

Midcentury modern architecture fanatics, here’s your chance to snatch a Frank Lloyd Wright home that just popped up on the market! The Frank J. Baker house is 4,800 square feet and has five bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms, and three fireplaces. The Prairie-style structure is located in Wilmette, IL, just 20 miles north of downtown Chicago and two blocks from Lake Michigan.

The catch? Priced at $899,900, this old house ain’t cheap—and it needs a lot of work.

Wright first built the place in 1909, then added a second story with more bedrooms in 1922. Architect Walter Sobel bought the house in 1957, and lived there until his death at the age of 101 in 2014. Family members have lived there since, but it’s now vacant and awaiting the right buyer.

But before you indulge in your Wright daydream, let’s rumble with the reality of what it would take to fix this place up.

Frank Lloyd Wright house

This Frank Lloyd Wright house is now for sale.

The realities of restoring a Frank Lloyd Wright fixer-upper

This home’s listing agent, Kyle Pane, makes it clear that the house needs a whole lot of updating—which means a major cash outlay. For starters, the roof is leaky, requiring repairs amounting to around $63,000. What’s more, these leaks have damaged the floor. Plus, the kitchen and bathrooms could use some updating, and landscaping is needed.

Did we mention the charmingly forested property? It might be more accurate to say it’s a jungle out there.

“Heaven help the person who buys a wet Frank Lloyd Wright house under a ton of mature shade trees,” says California-based developer Tyler Drew. “The mold remediation bill will be a sight to see.”

All in all, “I personally find most of Wright’s homes fascinating, but I would never in a million years want to own such a custom-built monstrosity,” concludes Drew. “Frank Lloyd Wright was a brilliant architect, but he wasn’t a home builder. Like any custom-built home, they are beautiful on the outside, but once you start demoing the walls and tearing up floorboards, it can be madness.”

“Frank Lloyd Wright is arguably the most famous architect and one of my personal favorites,” says Los Angeles real estate broker Beatrice de Jong, who admits she’s toured Wright homes on the market just to be able to step into a work of art. But buying one—or selling it—is a tough road.

Frank Lloyd Wright house

The living area

“While [Wright’s] designs were extremely modern at the time the homes were built, compared to today’s standards the homes can feel very old-fashioned to actually live in,” de Jong says. For starters, there are low ceilings and small kitchens that would never pass muster on any HGTV show. She also points out the lack of air conditioning as well as other potential issues like structure and termite work, especially if an owner lets maintenance slide.

“A lapse in regular upkeep quickly turns into a big and expensive problem to bring the home back to life,” she says.

Frank Lloyd Wright house

The kitchen

Making matters worse, historic homes come with dated utilities. Drew estimates that the cost of updating the plumbing and electrical could run into the mid to upper five figures. On top of that, like other Wright homes, the Baker house has radiant heating, which may not be in great shape. If you want air conditioning, that’s another costly project—if it’s allowed.

The cost for repairs and updating would vary depending on what materials you use, but Drew estimates that fixing up this fixer-upper would run well over $300,000.

When you own a literal piece of history

The Baker house is on the National Register of Historic Places and a protected Wilmette Historic Home. That means any repairs are subject to federal and local zoning laws.

“The historical status of the home prevents owners from tearing the iconic home apart and ensures the original designs are preserved,” de Jong says. This means owners are limited in the changes they can make.

“FLW was notorious for experimenting with materials, making precise restorations very complicated,” Drew adds, pointing out that the windows alone could pose a major challenge. Many of them have beautiful diamond-patterned, leaded glass, which was probably locally crafted. Finding replacements or having them made could be nearly impossible.

In addition to getting held up by the multistep approval process for a protected historic home (which would likely cause delays in other aspects of your repair work), you would have to find craftspeople who specialize in restorative work. They charge a premium—and are much harder to find than someone from Craigslist, de Jong adds.

After all, buying and restoring a Wright house isn’t like buying and renovating any old house. It’s like owning your own miniature museum. The house never completely belongs to you. It belongs to history, and to future generations, and to all the other Wright fans who’ll have an opinion about your restoration. It’s an honor, a privilege, and hoo-boy, one hell of a commitment.

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Source: Housing Trends Feed