Why Frank Lloyd Wright Homes Sell for Less Than You’d Expect

They usually need updates, but landmark status makes them hard to renovate. And, around here, they’re not as rare as you might assume.

A Frank Lloyd Wright home in Oak Park

Photo: Rick Talaske

OAK PARK (Under Contract)
When Laura and Rick Talaske decided to sell their house—a three-story 1903 gem by Prairie Style master Frank Lloyd Wright—they relearned a lesson from when they had bought it two decades earlier. “We price [Wright’s designs] as art,” says Laura, an agent for Better Homes and Gardens Gloor Realty. “But they sell as houses.”

In 2010, the couple listed the place at $1.6 million, or $900,000 more than they had paid in 1990. But it didn’t go under contract until this June, when the asking price was $1.2 million. (The sale is expected to close this month.) That price “makes sense for a home of this size in Oak Park,” Laura says, “but [ignores] the fact that we have 50 art-glass windows.”

Why don’t Wright buildings command a premium commensurate with their pedigree?

For one thing, they often have small kitchens, narrow doorways, and built-in furniture that limits decor options—and a few lack basements, which limits storage space. Because local governments granted some houses landmark status, making repairs or building additions requires navigating a byzantine approval process. And they have a reputation for being prone to crumbling foundations and leaky roofs (but “[only] a very small number have had those problems,” Laura insists).

Finally, they’re not as rare as you might think: At presstime, at least seven other Wrights were on the market in the Chicago area. See three of them below.

 

Three More of Frank’s Finest

A Frank Lloyd Wright home in Elmhurst
Photo: Courtesy of realtor.com

ELMHURST
First listing: $2 million (September 2007)
Current listing: $1.3 million

 

A Frank Lloyd Wright home in Highland Park
Photo: Courtesy of redfin.com

HIGHLAND PARK
First listing: $1.4 million (May 2011)
Current listing: $1 million

 

A Frank Lloyd Wright home in Hyde Park
Photo: Courtesy of redfin.com

HYDE PARK
First listing: $2.5 million (January 2012)
Current listing: $2.4 million


Got a question about the local market? Tweet @DealEstate or e-mail dennis@rodkin.com.

 

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comments
6 months ago
Posted by David J Gill

Dennis Rodkin,
There are a few things in this piece that don't quite make sense.
1. First, the idea that 'built-in furniture [in a Wright house] limits décor options' is a slightly ludicrous thing to say. The house IS it's own décor. No one buys a Wright house casually with the idea that they might go 'French Provincial' or 'early America' when they decorate. Also, houses of similar age (100 yrs+) often have built in cabinetry, benches, window seats.
2. I don't know if one would call the kitchens in a Wright house in Oak Park particularly small. They aren't expansive gourmet kitchens, but they aren't galley's either.
3. Most, if not all, houses of similar age are likely to have condition problems on the scale of leaky roofs and crumbling foundations. Luck and decent maintenance by previous owners being the key determinants.
4. The idea that these houses, or any old house, needs 'updating' is much overdone, unless you are thinking of electrical/plumbing behind the walls stuff. I hear things now and then about how old houses "need to be updated to today's lifestyle." Why? That idea can be expensive and self-indulgent and shouldn't be assumed as so.
5. Is landmark status or inclusion in a designated historic neighborhood all that onerous? I'm sure there are some self-righteous bureaucrats as well as home owners who have a property rights axe to grind, but the review process and the expertise that offers can be helpful to many homeowners who can't visualize the changes they may consider or may otherwise have only a contractor or sales person with a conflict of interest to advise them. Anyway you don't renovate or remodel one of these houses, you restore them.

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