When a seller of a modernist house calls and asks my opinion on pricing, I try to be helpful. However, I’m not a real estate agent or appraiser. What I can ask is, “how did the caller arrive at that home price?” If it was based on solid comparable houses, they are likely on the right track. But sometimes, the seller has invented a price, fixated on it and only wants to hear agreement from me. Here’s a typical tale that might better explain my point:
Three siblings, Rick, Hudson and Janine, must sell their mom’s 1962 modernist ranch designed by a talented local architect, Bob Cartwright. They ask Rick’s wife, Barb, to be their realtor. Barb has never sold a house like this before. The best modernist realtors have a network of inspectors, appraisers, roofers, architects and other specialists, in addition to direct experience. Barb, however, is baffled by mid century modern design. She recommends an appraisal—which the family rejects. Hudson, having watched way too much HGTV, declares the house is “too unique” to appraise and is “worth a fortune” because of the Cartwright design. The family lists the house at a price everyone agrees “feels right.”
The house sits for three months with three showings and no offers. Preservationists, Cartwright fans and fellow agents tell Barb the house is overpriced. The siblings insist everyone is wrong. Instead, they lower the price 5 percent and replace the cute pink bathrooms hoping that will do the trick.
A year after the initial listing, with no offers, the siblings lower the price again, tell Rick to tell Barb they “want to go in a different direction,” and hire a realtor promising more advertising. Eventually, needing to close the estate, the siblings sell the abandoned house (with new water damage issues) to a developer for land value. Another cool house bites the dust.
Wishful thinking is a poor valuation strategy. Get on the right track toward determining a market price with an appraisal.
Most appraisers are not familiar with modernist architecture and tend to appraise low, so ask your appraiser to compare against other houses by the architect plus other similar modernist houses in town. An appraiser may claim that including houses outside the neighborhood is prohibited, but it’s only true when a bank or mortgage company pays for the appraisal. Better yet, work with a knowledgeable real estate agent specializing in listing mid century modern homes.
The bottom line is: Buyers are going to be well-informed about pricing. You need to be equally well-informed, rather than wishing on a star.
Home Market Resources You Should Know:
- If a house is by a well-known architect, the USModernist Library helps realtors, buyers, sellers and appraisers find historical information, including photos and often advertisements for the fixtures, which may need to be replaced or repaired. Find it at USModernist’s website.
- If you have an Eichler home (a developer working on residential subdivisions 1949–1966), there is a whole network of Eichler realtors, connected with Eichler-friendly appraisers. Visit Eichler Network to learn more!
- If you’re refinancing your home, seek out a bank that deals with a lot of historic properties, as it will have appraisers who know the market better.
George Smart founded NCModernist Houses and USModernist Houses, together the largest open digital archives for residential Modernist architecture! He is also the host of a podcast titled “USModernist Radio”, which posts every other Monday on iTunes.
Ready to hear some more house hunting stories? Check out this post to hear the highs and lows of home buying from Atomic Ranch readers.