Wright-designed houses prove hard to sell
Friday, January 14, 2005
OKEMOS, MICH. -- Imagine having a dream home in a private, peaceful, bucolic setting -- and being unable to sell it because it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Some owners of one-of-a-kind houses conceived by the iconic American architect are discovering it's not easy selling them in an era when cathedral ceilings and easy commutes are on the wish lists of many prospective purchasers.
But the sellers are also concerned about finding the right Wright buyers -- ones who will cherish, not demolish, his creations.
After pouring tens of thousands of dollars into buying, repairing and renovating her Wright-designed house, Arlene Moran hasn't received any serious offers despite its pedigree.
She's asking $375,000 (U.S.) for the three-bedroom home in Galesburg, about halfway between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.
"It's going on two years and I'm desperate," says Ms. Moran, 70. "I refuse to lower the price. I put in $180,000 (worth) of restoration. I would like to have my money back."
But, she says, "I can't have just anybody" buy it. She considers her home, which she never has lived in, a work of art.
Don Schaberg is ready to sell the Okemos house he and his late wife commissioned Mr. Wright to design, and where they lived happily for four decades. Mr. Schaberg realizes it won't be easy finding someone willing to spend $1.6-million for a 3,800-square-foot ranch without a garage, but also said he's under no real pressure to sell and doubts he will come down much on his price.
"I'm just certain the value is going to increase," he says, calling the house and its six acres southeast of Lansing "the closest thing to heaven on earth."
"Everybody thinks it's one of the warmest and most peaceful places they've ever been in," Mr. Schaberg says of the window-filled ranch that overlooks a tree-lined meadow.
Mr. Schaberg first contacted Mr. Wright in 1949 and construction was completed in 1958, a year before Mr. Wright's death.
It was done during Mr. Wright's "usonian" period, when the architect, in his final years, focused on more modest homes for families on a budget.
Mr. Schaberg said his ideal buyer would be interested in obtaining "one of Mr. Wright's last, practical, family houses," while fully appreciating it as a work of modern art.
Susan Sweetow, a real estate agent in Scottsdale, Ariz., who once worked as a tour guide at Taliesin West, Mr. Wright's sprawling, 600-acre winter home near Scottsdale, says "the market is narrow for his homes and limited to people who appreciate a work of art and a piece of history. It's important the market be geared toward that target market."
She said modern home buyers want big garages, large kitchens and spacious bathrooms -- features not generally found in Mr. Wright's usonian homes.
"You have to find the right buyer who will appreciate the qualities that were in his homes," Ms. Sweetow says.