24 December 2010

Merry Christmas...

...and a healthy, happy and prosperous 2011!

(Photo: near Tutzing/Bavaria; ©tckaiser)

03 December 2010

Lies Have Short Legs

That's the translation of a common German saying "Lügen haben kurze Beine", meaning that lies don't make it very far. Doesn't that make more sense than setting the pants of a liar ablaze?

Mutual respect in business relationships: I very much appreciate it, I often encounter it, I wrote about it before. But sometimes values get so blatantly violated that I have to air my frustration first before I can move on to the lesson. Which I did learn. Here's what happened:

In October, Brent B., an American who lives in China, contacted me to find a modern home in Florida. He stated he's not working with another Realtor; we communicated regularly and often. Altogether I sent him 42 listings. 

Arriving in Florida the Saturday before Thanksgiving, he had requested to see three of those the following Tuesday. I emailed Brent before he left China, and again on the day of his arrival. No response – odd. Tuesday evening, I received an email from him (the juicy bits are in bold):

That would be great. I was wanting to see some properties further up north and would like to see what a nice home out there would cost. I have heard offers are being taken, at some point, near half what the asking price is...

Let me know, thanks for the time and looking forward to our 3rd meeting. Regarding todays properties, our favorite was the 3rd (looks) the second (neighborhood) and 1st for (style) , but after some time and thought, we will probably pass as of now.

Four minutes later, a second email:

Mixing agents, we went out with an Agent introduced by a family friend in Miami today who is actually living in Fort Lauderdale, so the second part of that mail was for him and did not know if you were able to schedule for Friday so we scheduled with him (tentatively) .

If you would still like to meet up, let me know as I will try to rearrange an email.

Once again, sorry for the mix up.
Leaving the barn-sized hole in his explanation aside, not having heard from Brent is quite understandable. He was a busy bee, meeting a Realtor colleague twice and setting up a third appointment. Only a cynic would question if he would have told me without the mix up. Or if he told my colleague that he was in contact with me for two months, having received 42 listings.

And the lesson? 

For real estate buyers and sellers: Be honest. Be respectful. Don't lie; it's bad for you/your dogs/children/breath. 

For real estate professionals: ask if the prospect works with another Realtor. Ask again. And make clear what your position on lack of integrity is. Mine: I don't accept it. I have enough clients who have the right to my honest, professional, undivided and respectful attention. I don't have time to waste with clowns.

As a story of friends of mine unfolds, I am writing an interesting post: The Case Against Building Long-Distance. Currently it reads like the script for a bad high-school play, it's that pathetic. Stay tuned.

25 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pepsie ad from the 1950s, source unknown.

Tune in next week: "Lies have short Legs".

05 November 2010

Modern Homes in Germany

End of September and into October, I was working in Germany,  in Munich as well as in Düsseldorf, which is located on the banks of the Rhine river.

Perhaps you're like me: I can't drive or walk around without looking at the architecture that surrounds me. And since it's too early anyway for October market statistics, a few houses that caught my eye:

In Düsseldorf-Kaiserswerth, overlooking the Rhine, a lovingly renovated home from the early '50s. Note flat tile roof, blacked-out window frames and balanced proportions.
On the banks of the Rhine at above location, floodplain and a sliver of water on the left.

New entrance of above house, integrated into existing landscaping.
Same street: Single family home, with ramp to underground garage on right.
Note overall balance, with carefully weighted fields of glass, white stucco and sandstone. No garage doors to disturb the front elevation.
Low-key midcentury home in Düsseldorf-Oberkassel, also on the Rhine. Front is completely clad in white marble, typical for '70s building in the area.
New construction on a hillside in Starnberg, outside Munich. Note drystacked wall - stones are set by master craftsmen as delivered, without additional cutting on site.
Another new construction, overlooking Lake Starnberg. Lot value alone is probably in excess of $2.5M.
View from the terrace, overlooking the lake. Winter view will only improve with less foliage. Photos of the finished home to come after completion.

If you wonder about lack of property details: no, I wasn't too lazy to research. Germans are very private people, and information that is readily available in the US – property sales records, lot sizes, owner names etc. - is all strictly guarded in Germany, protected by privacy laws. Facebook it ain't. From a US Realtor's perspective, it seems odd, but privacy does have advantages, doesn't it?

22 October 2010

The Modernist Castle Dilemma

A problem that could be facing any modernist lover, any day, anywhere: 

What to do you if you own an old burned-out castle in Germany you don’t want to rehab for $9m to live in it? Silly question; you build on top of it.
In 1830, the Löwis of Menar family purchased the Mauren chateau near Stuttgart in Southwest Germany as a summer residence. It was constructed approximately two centuries before and burned out in 1943, hit by British bombs. During WWII, the Krohmer family, direct descendants of the Menar family, made do in the stables, the burned-out castle was off limits (‘yeah right’, said the kids). After the war, preservationists wanted to rebuild ("your money is no object"). Though the owners were able to keep the castle from further decay, they couldn’t actually use it.
Over several decades, the family had repeatedly considered how to make use of the large lot and make the ruins habitable again. Rebuilding according to original plans would have created approx. 14,000 sf of living space, at a cost of ca. 6.5m Euros (approx. $9.1m as of Oct 2010).

"Then as now, way too expensive for us," says grandfather Ernst Krohmer. "And who wants to live like that anyway," asks his daughter-in-law Anke. "We wanted something modern but not fashionable, tying new in with the old."
As often with such projects, the right architect made all the difference. Ingo Bucher-Beholz, first very hesitant to accept the commission, changed his mind after visiting the site. On the evening of his visit he faxed a draft, showing the castle walls topped by a steel structure and two cubic buildings. 
After decades of no solution in sight, suddenly everything fell into place very quickly. Plans were approved because the new development does not destroy the historic construction, instead hovering 18 feet above it. The two buildings, home to three generations of the Krohmer family, cost 210,000 Euro (ca. $294,000) each, offering 1,500 sf of living space per home. They are divided into four equal-sized rooms, two bathrooms and an open living/dining/kitchen area.
A steel bridge connects the two bungalows, a common staircase leads downstairs. There, kids bikes and barbecue grills are parked, and family parties take place in the shade of the homes above. Says a delighted Felix Krohmer: "That we can live this way is a gift."

Based on an article published in the FAZ. Photos by Jens Gyarmaty and Zoom61 (#4).

17 September 2010

200th Oktoberfest

If you think "hold it, there really is no connection between "Modern", "South" or "Florida" and the Oktoberfest", think again:

Munich is located in the South of Germany.

Handy Germany map shows N, S, E, W and Munich location
Only someone supercritical  would call that stretching it just a bit.

Today was the opening of the 200th Oktoberfest, the first one celebrated 1810 on the occasion of a Royal Bavarian wedding, Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxen-Hildburghausen (full 411 on Wikipedia.)

Now, if you think her name reminds you of a German wine label: stop that, you're being mean.

Gunshot salutes on the opening of the 200th "Wiesn". ©dpa
Munich breweries joined forces to brew (!) a commemorative beer.
Commemoration lasts until the stein is empty. ©sz/Lisa Sonnabend
15 more Oktoberfest photos – with German captions, sorry – in today's Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Prost!

10 September 2010

Fall Decorating

First though, a special treat I found yesterday, only 6'31'' long but jaw-droppingly fascinating: the video "The Known Universe".

Created by the American Museum of Natural History, it takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang. And back to earth, thankfully.

I recommend to watch it in full screen, and if you have a fast internet connection, in 720p.


The classic, earthy colors associated with Fall decorations are an homage to Mother Nature herself. The burnt oranges, browns, and golden wheats are the colors we witness first-hand as the seasons change.

But the changes in color aren't just for out of doors. These days, the most savvy of decorators bring the season inside.

How can you makeover your home for Fall?

Here are some simple ways to capture the spirit of the season, without turning off potential home buyers.

Changing Tablescapes: When staging your home, your dining room does wonders for setting a mood. And in the Fall, that mood is magnified by family dinners and the holidays. To take advantage of the season, change up your tablescape.

The first step can be to change your tablecloth or runner to richer, more earthy tones. If you are a true do-it-yourselfer, you can find seasonal fabrics at your local fabric store. A runner is as simple as cutting a straight line and making neat edges.

Next, invest in gold or jewel color chargers that will accent your family china. A charger is simply the decorative "plate" that is used to dress up your dining table.

And finally, don't be afraid to set a theme. Mini-pumpkins can be used to hold name-cards. Use the florals of the season, such as holly berries and decorate branches to create a festive centerpiece. And accent the table with beautiful leaves.

Scents: Fall is a great time for warm, rich scents, such as apple-cinnamon, French Vanilla, and anything related to cookies or baked goods! Just keep them away from your dining table, so that their scent doesn't overpower the tantalizing aroma of your home-cooked meal.

Welcome Wagon: The first thing your buyer sees is your front door. So, make this space inviting. Use mats, wreaths, or a simple hanging cornucopia as a seasonal display.

Swap out Fabric: It's time to get cozy on the couch. Bring out your favorite throws, especially those in luxurious chenille or velvet! And don't forget to add a cozy blanket to your guest rooms as well.

Fall colors are a fun way to welcome guests, so take advantage of the season!

Used with permission. © Carla Hill/Realty Times

I.M. Sep 11, 2001

27 August 2010

Property Values: What to expect around $500,000

Much in demand are currently modern homes in the price bracket $500,000 to $599,000. Here is a look at some of the available modernist homes and townhomes in that range:
Alfred Browning Parker built this classic mid-century residence (above) in Coconut Grove in 1953. It has two bedrooms, one bathroom and an office on 1072 sf under air – not large by today's standards, but an open floor plan and wrap-around balconies integrate tropical outdoors and indoors nicely. $599,000.

Within walking distance to the beach are these new townhomes in Pompano Beach. Three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a guest bath are spread out over approx. 3,031 sf under air, with several models available, including some on the water with private dockage. Starting at $578,788; waterfront units are in the $800,000s.
A five-bedroom/four bathroom home directly on a golf course in Tamarac, with ca. 3,940 sf under air, built in 1969. The property offers volume cedar ceilings, a wood/gas fire place, an oversized garage and pool with spa. $549,000.

Short sale in Miami Shores: a waterfront home with 122 feet on a deep canal, with no bridges to the Bay. Renovated kitchen and baths; big master suite, kitchen open to the family room. 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, ca. 2,880 sf, two-car garage, corner lot, built in 1949. Reduced twice to $525,000.
Another townhome, this time in Highland Beach, located just north of Boca Raton. Waterfront with dockage included (!), and pet friendly to boot. Completely updated, with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a guest bath, ca. 1,456 sf under air, built in 1977. $540,000.
1950s mid-century home with Bay views in Miami, offering four bedrooms and three baths on ca. 2,220 sf under air. Bay across the street affords water views, vaulted ceilings and a open split floor plan emphasize space. $485,000 (admittedly, that's not in the $500,000 range, but only because it was just reduced. That's not my fault, really.)

International Style and Brutalism made love and gave birth in Lighthouse Point, to a 4/3 with ca. 2,800 sf (the listing Realtor calls it "hip and contemporary Frank Lloyd Wright style”. A visit to the history page could clear that up quickly). Built in 1971, with impact doors and windows throughout, and a pool. Reduced this week from $549,000 to $499,000.

If you're not completely thrilled with what you see here, email me for alternative suggestions please.

In the meantime, thanks for reading this post!

13 August 2010

Odd Obsessions, Miami Vintage Stores anyone?

In this post: The obsession with Pending Sales, July Market Statistics, upcoming post "Vintage Furniture Stores in Miami-Dade", housing for Purple Martins.

Pending Sales: Wrong Approach?

If you read the Wall Street Journal, you may have seen an interesting piece last week about the housing market; interesting because it quoted a data set I have a major problem with: Pending Sales. 

If you are not familiar with the real estate industry, you may not know that some analysts regard Pending Sales as an early indicator of housing market trends.

I wholeheartedly disagree.

Merely because buyer and seller execute a contract does not at all mean they will go to closing; only last month I represented a buyer who got a severe (but understandable) case of cold feet. In my observation, currently approx. 25 to 35 percent of all pending contracts do not close because financing or other conditions point the transaction south. 

Please consider that whenever you see Pending Sales being interpreted as a market indicator.

Upcoming post "Vintage Furniture Stores in Miami-Dade" 

Back in March, I wrote about furniture stores in Broward county that specialise in vintage modern furniture. That post turned out to be quite popular, so I just started researching the same for Miami-Dade.

I have quite a list of stores already together, but would love to get your input. If you know of a store that deals with used modern furniture in Miami-Dade, would you please fire off a quick email? Thanks for helping me!

Interesting Reads:

A great read (for Saturday morning over coffee at the Eurobread?) appeared in yesterday's NYT: Birdhouses Designed for Repeat Visitors. Enjoy!

30 July 2010

Günter Behnisch, German modernist architect, 1922–2010

The architect who gave post-War Germany a new face, Günther Behnisch, passed away in July at the age of 88. 

His radical modern designs, including the Munich Olympic Stadium, marked a departure from the bombastic architecture of the Nazi era and shaped the face of the new German democracy.

The world gazed at Behnisch's work on August 26, 1972 with the opening of the Munich Olympic Games. The stadium he designed at the age of 50 was an icon – a perfect symbol for the new, democratic Germany (He designed the Olympic park together with the architect Frei Otto and the landscape planner Günther Grzimek).

Olympic Park and Stadium, Munich

The open, undulating tent roof that seems so light, so weightless, reaches well beyond the actual stadium. The magically woven, transparent carpet, 75,000 square metres in size, rests gently on the Olympic Park and sent a powerful message: A democratic, open country is welcoming the nations of the world. It was an attempt to distinguish West Germany from the bombastic architecture of the Nazi era when Berlin had hosted the 1936 Olympics.

Behnisch, who was born in 1922 and who became a submarine commander in WWII, took an interest in architecture when he picked up a book on the subject in a hotel in the Italian port of La Spezia. "It was about how you construct buildings. The war was over and I had to do something for a living," he recalled. He became a prisoner of war; the British released him in 1947. After that he studied architecture in Stuttgart. He opened an office in 1952 and quickly gained kudos for designing school buildings and sports halls.

In 1973, Behnisch was awarded the coveted task of designing the new parliament in the then-West German capital, Bonn, but the project dragged on for an eternity. He only got the green light in 1987 for a modified version, and in 1992, his parliament building was finally opened. But Germany was reunited by then, and the Parliament moved to Berlin at the end of the 1990s.
Plenary Hall, Bonn (1991 - 1992)

Focusing more on public buildings than residences – his website lists only nine residential projects – many other of his designs were highly regarded, but much less in the limelight than the Olympic Stadium or the Plenary Hall:
Tower of the Nürnberg Airport (1997-1999)

NordLB bank in Hannover (1999-2002)

Therme Bad Aibling (hot mineral springs), in Bad Aibling outside of Munich (which my wife and I visited in winter 2008, swimming from the inside to the outside on a crisp and clear winter night – incredible!)

Buchheim-Museum, Bernied (1997 - 2001) located on Starnberg Lake outside of Munich, dedicated to the Buchheim art (as well as knick-knack) collection. The structure, just down the road from my wife’s and my Bavarian base camp, resembles a ship, jutting at a 90° angle towards and over the lake.

The Berlin Academy of the Arts was his last spectacular project, but also rightly criticized for design faults such as excessive noise and not enough space.

Berlin planning department officials had been horrified by his plan for a high-tech glass façade. "Why not?" said Behnisch the modernist. "I never even thought of putting a stone façade there. We didn't want to awaken any associations with the pretentiousness of the Hitler and Wilhelminian architecture." 

He deeply disliked the new style of the Berlin republic and of its architecture. He regarded historical copies as the architecture of security that served a petit-bourgeois yearning for comfort at a time when bold new visions were needed. "If someone needs comfort, they should get a cat," he once said laconically.

Günter Behnisch died on 12 July 2010 in his home in Stuttgart, Germany.

Excerpted from and based on an article in the Der Spiegel, published 7/13/2010 


Please make your opinion heard – and at the same time donate to a charity for free! 

How? Participate in the poll "what modern magazines do you read?" – see last Friday's post.
For every vote the poll (left column) receives, I will donate $1 (up to $100) to The Children's Aid Society, rated among the Top Ten charities by CharityNavigator.org.
Many thanks!

23 July 2010

Survey: what do you read?

I know it's Friday the 22nd, and the next MSF post isn't due until next week. But to keep you on your toes and see if you're awake, I designed a short survey for you.
  • Since you are interested in modern architecture, would you share with me which modern architecture print publications you read (and with reading I mean at least one out of every four issues)? 
For every vote the poll (left column) receives, I will donate $1 (up to $100) to The Children's Aid Society, rated among the Top Ten charities by CharityNavigator.org.

If there is a cherished publication I overlooked, let me know please – either by comment or email me privately. Many thanks and have a fine weekend!

02 July 2010

Modernist Field Trip, Happy 4th!

If you don’t know about the non-profit Triangle Modernist Houses (TMH) and the man who created it, George Smart: it’s about time. TMH’s goal is to document, preserve and promote residential modernist architecture. And it succeeds on all levels. George and his Mod Squad, most of them based in the Triangle area in North Carolina, are modernist maniacs, in the best and most complimentary sense.

One of TMH’s activities are field trips to interesting properties, mostly private residences not open to the public. I took part in one two weeks ago together with 13 of the nicest modernistas you can imagine, and had a blast.

Flying very early in the morning from Raleigh to Baltimore, we spent the day in the DC area and returned late at night. One of the trip highlights was a visit to the private Brown residence, Richard Neutra’s only house he built in DC and his last one in the US; he didn’t see it’s completion.

Brown house, built in 1968. 4,000 sf including an addition by Heather Willson Cass from the early 90's, which won an A1A award. – Many thanks again to the Browns, extraordinarily gracious hosts.

Neutra, born in Austria (and thus pronounced Noitra), immigrated to the US in 1923 and died in Germany in 1970. He built mostly in California, but also in Texas, Michigan and even complete subdivisions in Germany.

Famous for querying clients about their expectations in detail, he sometimes used questionnaires to discover his client's needs. In case of the Browns – and much to their surprise – Neutra even moved in with them for two weeks in their previous residence, to better observe their lifestyle. The result is beautiful.

Find out more about Neutra's projects (as well as upcoming trips) on TMH’s website.
If you follow the business news, you certainly read by now that May housing statistics on the national level are simply dismal. It seems that without intervention or a considerably improved economy, the housing market is far from being able to leave the bed and walk, not even mentioning being released from the sick ward.
Here in the Southeast, we will be baking around 90°F or 32°C this 4th of July weekend, so a cozy fire for a nice little barbecue seems appropriate. (For my last one, I got up at 5:30 am, and after smoldering for 14 hours, the pork butt emerged so tender we didn’t need knifes or even forks.)

In that spirit: have a laid-back, relaxed and delicious Independence Day!

04 June 2010

Modern Architecture in the Alps (II)

Every detail in Alpine architecture has a functional or sometimes decorative – like "Lüftlmalerei", the al-fresco painting – background. 

But your notions about this architectural style may have gone through an adjustment already with the first part (click here for part I). 

It seems as if, instead of marrying the shepherd boy and devoting her life to making artisan sheep's cheese and knitting sweaters, Heidi had a change of heart, went to architecture school and then interned with Mies, Meyer and Mollino. To the point, here are some more striking examples of Modernist architecture in the Alps:

Hungerburgbahn; Innsbruck, Austria. Public rail transport from downtown to a ski area, including a bridge and four train stations, completed 2007. Architect: Zaha Hadid, London. Cost: 50.7m Euro.

 Kapelle St. Johannes der Täufer; Mogno, Switzerland. Chapel St. John the Baptist, completed 1996. Architect: Mario Botta, Lugano. Cost: CHF 620,000 (construction only, no architect fees charged).

Aquadome Spa; Längenfeld, Austria. Hot mineral springs spa with indoor- and outdoor pools, sauna etc., completed 2004. Architect: Schnögass + Partner, Vienna.

Top Mountain Star; Obergurgl, Austria. Restaurant (who in the world named that thing?) at 2800 m/9,000 ft. elevation, completed 2007. Architect: Peter Schmuck, Munich.

 Frauenmuseum; Hittisau, Austria. Museum dedicated to everything female, with the village fire station in the basement and a concert hall upstairs, completed 2000. Architect: Cukrowicz Nachbaur, Bregenz.

Chesa Futura Apartments; St. Moritz, Switzerland. Apartment building nicknamed “The Peanut”, completed 2004. Architect: Foster+Partners and Kuchel Architects.

Hauptschule; Kappl-Paznaun, Austria. Elementary school (7,300 sqm, 76,000 sf) for the villages of See, Ischgl, Kappl and Galtür, completed 2004. Architect: Noldin und Noldin, Innsbruck.

Chalet Mollino; Sauze d’Oulx, Italy. Ski lodge/refuge at 2286 m elev. (ca. 6,900 ft), originally with a restaurant and station chairlift, completed 1947 and restored 2001. Architect: Carlo Mollino, Torino.

To my regret, there isn't enough space in a post to mention more than just a small selection of the interesting buildings in the Alps, or to discuss in greater detail what's shown here. But I hope this brief intro to modern Alpine architecture was as fascinating to you as researching it was for me. 

As always, I invite your comments and critique.

Fotos: Spiluttini, Arte di Sauze, Foster+Partners, obergurgl.com, Tourismusverband Vorarlberg, Frauenmuseum Hittisau, Mario Botta, Ötztal Tourismus, Kaiser.