Modern Real Estate: Too Alluring to Fail? - Page 2

Values of modern homes fell with the housing crash—but their appeal still stands strong

"Style-wise, modern is the new Craftsman," says Craig Terrien, who handles real estate in the San Fernando Valley with Valley Modern. "Today, Craftsman doesn't enjoy the extreme of popularity it did 20 years ago, when people first rediscovered it. But it's still a respected style that people will pay a premium for. The excitement for modern may die down some day. But modern will always be a popular style."

"The interest in Eichlers has continued," Slocomb says. "That hasn't changed. If it's a good house, and it's been true to the Eichler style, it may sell in less than a week."

Another indication that mid-century modern will remain a popular style is the way its appeal has spread nationwide. Thanks to magazines such as Dwell, and to local real estate agents such as Gail Jodon of Charlotte (North Carolina) or Craig Mayer of Mile Hi Modern in Denver, the value of modern homes is becoming engrained in American culture, not just on the West Coast.

Jodon has helped boost interest in Charlotte's modern homes in part by putting on home tours with the group Modern Charlotte. "I've pretty much created the market," she says. Homes that once sold for less than their non-modern rivals now sell for more, she says.

In Denver, Mayer says, homes in Krisana Park, a neighborhood of homes that were frank copies of Eichlers, also have gone from selling for less than non-modern homes to commanding a premium.

Throughout California, in many markets, including San Francisco, the East Bay, and Orange County, both tract and custom-designed mid-century modern homes sell more quickly, and often for more than their comparable, non-architecturally distinctive rivals, precisely because they are out of the ordinary.

Craig Terrien has observed the same phenomenon in the San Fernando Valley, where homes have declined about 20 percent from the height of the market in 2006.

"Even in this [downturned] market, houses that are true to the architecture are selling at a premium to ones that are poorly done or to houses without architectural distinction," he says. "If I have a listing for a house that has been thoughtfully renovated, and the comparable is a whatever-house in the same neighborhood, they'll both get multiple offers, but mine will get more offers and will get five to ten percent more."

Sam Benson, a broker in the East Bay, has tracked recent Eichler sales in Walnut Creek, Concord, Castro Valley, and Oakland and found that the modern homes sold more quickly than their non-modern rivals in most areas.

real estate pros

"The statistics show that modern homes are faring better than ranch-style homes," he says. "However, we are still not out of the woods. 2010 will certainly have its share of short sales and foreclosures."

"I work with a lot of people who have to have an Eichler," says Glenn Sennett, a broker in San Mateo. "If somebody has to have an Eichler, it will sell for a little bit higher, to that person. A lot of people want an original. They don't want to buy a home that has been changed by somebody else. They want to buy an original, and then if any changes that will be made, they will make them."

In San Francisco, broker Tal Klein brought a 1963, 2,400-square-foot home designed by the famed Northern California architect Warren Callister onto the market in June 2009 and sold it in three days for the asking price of $1.85 million. "It tells me that good, well-designed homes get a premium and sell quickly," she says.

Cynthia Randolph, an artist who bought the home with her husband Andrew Simsak, still thinks it was a lot to pay for a house—they'd started out two years earlier looking for a San Francisco Eichler—but has no buyer's remorse. "This house wasn't necessarily something we were looking for, but it was what we wanted and didn't know it," she says.

In a stronger market, she says, there would have been a bidding war for the house, which blends mid-century modern with Arts & Crafts and Asia in the unique Callister way. As it is, she had to move fast, putting in a bid before the first open house.

glenn sennet and brokers in a living room

The relative scarcity of such modern, architect-designed homes in San Francisco makes the ones that do come onto the market particularly attractive, she adds.

Kelly Larnard, who handles Eichlers in Orange, says prices have dropped. But she says they sell quickly, and at a premium, especially when compared to non-modern homes nearby. She attributes that to their architecture. "There are many, many more not-so-great houses on the market than great houses," Larnard says. "The great houses go very quickly, very quickly. They get multiple offers."