The Secret Curse of Owning a Frank Lloyd Wright House

Frank Lloyd Wright homes have more cachet than houses built by any other architect. It’s no wonder, then, that when Wright homes go up for sale, they get plenty of attention. And, with only 400-some Wright structures still standing, surely these listings must erupt in bidding wars from eager buyers as soon as they hit the market, right?

Wrong. On the contrary, Wright homes tend to sit on the market for years. Often with numerous price cuts!

Why would such a popular and adored architect’s homes be so hard to hand off to a new owner? Allow us to shed some light on the dark side of owning a Wright home.

Why Frank Lloyd Wright homes are often hard to sell

For starters, keep in mind that most Wright homes were built in the early to mid-1900s. So these homes are up in the years, and often in dire need of upkeep and repairs. All that stained glass, carved stone, and wood paneling Wright loved using require painstaking maintenance, and finding the appropriate artisans and materials can be a treasure hunt in its own right.

Repairing or restoring a Wright house is even more difficult if it has landmark status. That means any reno plans must be approved by the local landmarks commission, and are subject to restrictions meant to preserve the historical accuracy of the structure.

“Some prospective buyers may not like these restrictions and move on,” says Barbara Gordon, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy, a 30-year organization created to help Wright building stewards connect with one another and share best practices.

But Gordon notes that about half of the Wright single-family houses still standing do not have landmark protection. That means if you happen to find one (landmark status is usually stated in the listing), any alterations will be a bit easier.

Even among the designated landmark homes, many have protections for the exterior only. So the owners could update a bathroom or kitchen in a way that honors the historic fabric of the design but allows for newer amenities.

Why Wright styles may seem dated today

Another challenge of living in Wright houses is that the floor plans, styles, and even color schemes back in Wright’s heyday aren’t exactly what most contemporary homeowners want today. Wood paneling is common, which seems dark and dated in today’s all-white trends. Kitchen floor plans are often closed rather than open. The furnishings—beds, desks, seating banquettes—are often built into the design, and thus aren’t easy to remove.

“They’re really not like things you can pull out of the property,” says William Fastow, a Washington, DC–area broker for Sotheby’s. “They’re part of the architecture and part of what you’re buying.”

Sure, you might be able to dislodge the furniture with a hacksaw and give the house a fresh new coat of paint in a color of your choice. But then you’d be destroying the home’s essential DNA, the very stuff that makes it a Wright.

Wright home buyers: The few, the proud

As a result of these challenges, as popular as Wright’s work is, surprisingly few people are willing to actually own one.

“The houses appeal to very specific buyers,” says Fastow. These are people who place a high value on a Wright home because of its architectural provenance—but that value is highly subjective, and thus doesn’t always translate to other buyers.

As such, he says, “finding another buyer that attributes the same value to a home narrows the buyer pool.”

“It takes a special person to take on the stewardship of owning and maintaining a Wright home,” adds Gordon. “They really are works of art, and don’t fit many of the ideals of what new home construction can provide people today.”

Curious to get a gander of some of the Wright homes currently on the market (or recently sold)—and how long they lingered there, waiting for the right buyer? Check out these listings below.

281 Bloomingbank Rd, Riverside, IL

Price: $1,150,000 Time on the market: 9 years

The Avery Coonley house went on the market in October 2010 for $2,890,000. For the next several years, it was on and off the market with a bunch of price changes before it finally sold in February 2019. Perhaps it was just too much Wright? For a megafan, is there even such a thing?

281 Bloomingbank Rd, Riverside, IL


6836 N 36th St, Phoenix, AZ

Price: $2,650,000 Time on the market: 3 years (and counting)

The Norman Lykes house is one of only 14 Wright circular homes. It’s been on and off the market since 2016, and the price has dropped a full million. With three bedrooms, a swimming pool, and a view of Arizona’s desert landscape, this gem surely should have been snapped up—so, is living in a round house less groovy than one might think?

6836 N 36th St, Phoenix, AZ

Live out your Luke Skywalker in Tatooine fantasy, but with a refreshing pool.

6836 N 36th St, Phoenix, AZ


5212 E Exeter Blvd, Phoenix, AZ

Price: $9,999,999 Time on the market: 6 years (and counting)

The David and Gladys Wright house is another one of Wright’s circular homes. The architect built it in 1951 for his son and daughter-in-law, and they called it their Taj Mahal. The house (and its guesthouse) was listed in 2008 at $3,995,000. After almost being demolished, it was sold for $2.4 million in 2015.

The new owner, Zach Rawling, established a nonprofit to restore the home. He hoped to turn it into a museum, then he wanted to donate it to the School of Architecture at Taliesin. His neighbors blocked these efforts, fearing crowds.

The restoration is incomplete, but Rawling wants to hand off the project. In September 2018 he listed it for $12,950,000; in February 2019, it was lowered it to $9,999,999.

5212 E Exeter Blvd, Phoenix, AZ


2801 Burnham Blvd, Minneapolis, MN

Price: $2,750,000 Time on the market: 14 months (and counting)

The Cedar Lake house, built in 1951, was listed for $3,400,000 in May 2018. But now, you can buy the beautifully maintained lakeside home for $2,750,000. It’s had only two owners, and it’s on the National Register, so here’s to hoping this quiet gem finds its buyer soon.

2801 Burnham Blvd, Minneapolis, MN


2607 Glendower Ave, Los Angeles CA

Price: $23 million Time on the market: Less than a month

We saved the most spectacular home for last. Built in 1924, the Ennis House is literally a movie star. It was featured in “Mulholland Drive,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” and “Blade Runner,” along with several TV shows and commercials. It went on the market in June 2009 for $5,999,000, then was relisted the next day at $15,000,000. Apparently that first price was more realistic. The house was finally sold for $4,500,000 in July 2011.

The new owner, Ron Burkle, lavished $17 million to restore the property and then listed it this July for $23 million.

2607 Glendower Ave, Los Angeles, CA

Ennis House is an example of Wright’s Mayan Revival. Perched high in the Los Feliz hills, it has views of the city and the Pacific. But the pool of Wright fans with pockets this deep couldn’t be very large at all.

2607 Glendower Ave, Los Angeles, CA

We shall see how well Burkle’s investment pays off. Hopefully it will defy the odds.

The post The Secret Curse of Owning a Frank Lloyd Wright House appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

Source: Housing Trends Feed



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