26 October 2012

Owners of Wright-house in Phoenix consider Selling or Razing later

A development team that bought the David-Wright-house in Phoenix designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright will sell the house rather than accept landmark status, reports the NYTimes today.

The house's owners, John Hoffman and Steve Sells, are hoping to sell the house before Nov. 7, when the City Council is scheduled to vote on giving it landmark status, which they oppose.

But in Arizona landmark status shields a property from development or destruction for only three years. So if the Council grants the request, something else might happen, Mr. Sells said. 

“I’ll move in, invite everybody to come in and take their pictures, and I’m going to wait three years,” he said, interlacing his fingers behind his neck as he slouched on the orange cushions of the master bedroom’s seating area. “Then I’m going to knock it down to recoup my losses.” 

Please read the full NYTimes article here, and then voice your opinion on the possible demolition here.

Photo: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives

19 October 2012

Successfully Preserving Modern Architecture

Too late for this one
I recently received a phone call from a reader from France: the lady's mother lives in a Fort Lauderdale waterfront home that she and her late husband had commissioned in the sixties with a well-known architect; the caller had a question.

She assumed that when her mother moves to a senior care facility and the house will be sold, it will be torn down. As if that is not sad enough, she continued by asking if I knew how some of the materials could be recycled. When I inquired if the house is still in liveable condition, she responded "absolutely". So why not sell it to someone who will preserve the house and its architectural integrity?

Shortly afterwards, I was invited to visit the house; the son keeps it in excellent condition. Priced right, it should not be too difficult to find buyers who will continue to maintain and love the house as it deserves.

The success of the story hinges – largely if not exclusively – on the sellers: see the fate of the razed Catalano house in Raleigh, NC, the uncertain ending for Fitzgibbon's Paschal house in Raleigh, or the happy end for Chuck Reed's String house in Hollywood.

If you shake your head: "nope, it's the buyers", you're mistaken.

I realise I speak pro domo, but through years of experience I learned that the sellers decision on how to market a property makes the difference. An expert broker will go beyond advising on correct pricing – see Paschal house as a negative example – and reach into his/her database of like-minded clients, who in turn will want to preserve style and integrity of the original commission.

A recent example: when my office was fortunate enough to list the String residence, the sellers and I agreed upon a realistic price, I emailed every active prospect and client in my database, procured two full-price offers before the house even was on the MLS, got the bank to send an appraiser who had extensive experience with modern homes, and found new owners who will maintain the character of the house.

Catalano house, Raleigh, NC, by Eduardo Catalano, 1954
The Kronish house, the Catalano house, the Paschal house – they show that there is a need for guided involvement. Not for blind zealots trampling on owners rights, but for interested people becoming involved. Even if you do not own or sell your modern home, you can help promote modern architecture.

More on how to do just that – on a case-by-case basis or by supporting regional or national organisations such as Triangle Modernist Houses or the World Monument Fund – can be found here. – Thank you.

12 October 2012

Art, Architecture or $?

If you haven't been shopping for modern waterfront homes in Miami in the last month or so, you're excused. But for everyone else, including this lowly real estate broker and modern architecture fanboy, some price developments are flat out ridiculous. Even considering current market-trends.

Franz Marc: House with Trees, 1914
I'm at a loss to explain to clients why a house for $3,300 per square foot is ten times nicer than one for a realistic $330 a square foot. Or why this location is ten times nicer than that one.

My suspicions of occasional random price determination were confirmed by a recently closed sale in Miami that topped the charts at $47,000,000. That house has been on the market for five years (!), starting at $60m. Based on the size of the house and a lot price of $10m, I figured that $60m was a number picked by other reasons than a normal mark-up. And true, the builders admitted that they just wanted to have the most expensive property on the market. Hats off to my colleagues who still sold it.

But when pricing is getting out of hands at times, sellers and their estate agents have to come with up with very flaky explanations, including my favourite one: "It's not real estate, it's art. Dummy". (They don't say dummy, but you somehow feel it).

My beloved NYT recently printed a good piece about it – nice to know that even some heavy hitters in The City don't buy into the art-logic, and understandably so.

Can you follow the "it's so expensive, it's art" argument? Because I sure don't.

05 October 2012

Wright house fighting for Survival; a Modern Real Estate Transaction

Modern homes by specialist real estate agent/broker Tobias Kaiser
©Scott Jarson via NYT

The David and Gladys Wright house in Phoenix, designed 1952 by David's father Frank Lloyd Wright, is in immediate danger to be torn down; a developer is chomping at the bit to raze it and subdivide the lot. 

Michael Kimmelman, NYT's architectural critic, wrote a enlightening and detailed piece about the dilemma the house is facing; please read it here.

And while you're at it, please cast your vote here to preserve this endangered design. 

Update Wed, 3 Oct: The City of Phoenix and the developer have reached an agreement that will put any work on hold while a search continues for a buyer. A senior adviser for Mayor Frank Stanton said Wednesday that the agreement with the developer who bought the 1952 home delays for nearly a month any demolition of the house. The adviser said the deal allows time to find a buyer who will preserve the house. The potential demolition of the sweeping home, built on more than two acres, set off a firestorm among architects (dpa via nyt).

Real Estate Transactions in Modern Times

Some of you may know that I also practice commercial real estate, specialising on NNN or net-leased properties (this is the case when a tenant is responsible for every building expense including taxes, repairs and insurance. Typical are a Walgreens, CVS, McDonalds or many others you see every day). 

But recently, I was part of one the more interesting commercial transactions in my 20+ years of practice – interesting because of the geographical aspects of the deal. 

The way this transaction was conducted would not have been possible when I was a noobie in real estate:

  • the two investments were located in Ohio
  • the seller was located in Tennessee
  • the buyer was located in North Carolina
  • the listing broker was located in Michigan
  • the selling broker – me – is located in Florida

Netto vermietete Anlageimmobilien und Geldanlagen in Florida und USA durch Tobias Kaiser
I never saw the properties, never met the seller, never met my colleagues, and didn't fly up to the closing (which in most cases has to take place in the county the property is located). All done electronically, all done from afar.

I have conducted negotiations, inspections and closings long-distance before, some even from overseas. But this was the first time when I handled every part of a transaction from my desk. In my opinion, this clearly works only in commercial, and even then only in some cases.

Have you done a similar deal? And what are your thoughts on conducting business without any face-time?