Source: Christie's International Real Estate
Real Estate

Your House Is a Masterpiece. Why Can't You Sell It?

Turns out, artful living can be a burden.

In the late 1960s, the architect Luis Barragán was commissioned to create an equestrian compound in Mexico City with stables, a four-bedroom main house, riding paddocks, and a shallow pool for horses to refresh themselves. 

It was in the latter part of Barragán’s celebrated career (he later won a coveted Pritzker Prize), and the property, called Cuadra San Cristóbal, was adjacent to the exclusive equestrian French Club.

The home is considered one of Barragán's masterpieces.

The home is considered one of Barragán's masterpieces.

Source: Christie's International Real Estate

The club is no longer, but the home has been rigorously maintained by the family that commissioned it. Four years ago, they put the property on the market (its current price is $13 million), at which point they were forced to reckon with a conundrum faced by owners of architecturally significant houses around the world: A historically significant architectural pedigree can be a burden, not just a selling point.

 

Neighborhoods Change; Houses Remain the Same

The home has two pools. One for humans, and one for horses.

The home has two pools—one for humans and one for horses.

Source: Christie's International Real Estate

Thirty years after Cuadra San Cristóbal was built, the equestrian club is gone, and the neighborhood, once upscale, has gone downmarket. “Many of the lots have been fractionated,” said Federica Zanco, the director of the Swiss-based Barragán Foundation. “There are many small-scale houses that are not particularly elegant, and not particularly well kept.” 

The property includes a main home, horse stables, and manicured grounds.
The property includes a main home, horse stables, and manicured grounds.
Source: Christie's International Real Estate

The owners of Cuadra San Cristóbal opposed the development of structures that would somehow diminish the value of the estate and did their utmost to remain faithful to what Zanco called “one of the masterpieces” of Barragán's life. “They of course are very aware of the importance of their building,” she said. “And they fought hard not to allow some offensive construction in the vicinity, but of course, how long can that go on?” she asked rhetorically. “They want to sell the house, and at a certain moment they have to let go.”

The property was built adjacent to an equestrian club, which no longer exists.
The property was built adjacent to an equestrian club, which no longer exists.
Source: Christie's International Real Estate

They haven’t yet. “We’ve had some offers, but they don’t want to sell [the house] short,” said Jeronimo Quiroz, the broker representing the property. “There are developers who would love to buy it to tear it down, or turn it into a club house or something like that.” The sellers won't accept those options and are stuck trying to hawk a fancy house in a decidedly unfancy neighborhood.

Potential buyers face a daunting financial calculus: They’d be paying a vast sum (in any city) for a home without the typical services associated with that kind of price. “Really wealthy people in Mexico City tend to cluster around certain areas,” Zanco said. “There are security concerns, and so forth.”

The property has Barragán's trademark use of bright colors and clean lines.
The property has Barragán's trademark use of bright colors and clean lines.
Source: Christie's International Real Estate

That means a buyer who’s willing to preserve the home probably won’t want to live there. The buyer might be an institution, or it could be a “pool of investors,” Zanco suggested. “It’s worth it, for a wealthy class of Mexicans who are concerned about their cultural future.”

 

When Maintenance Costs More Than The Purchase Price

The Chateau was built at the turn of the 20th century by a French industrialist.

The château was built at the turn of the 20th century by a French industrialist.

Source: I@D

Often, the more historic a home, the more problematic its upkeep. In the case of the massive Château d’Aubiry, a 16,000-square-foot, 22-room castle in the south of France that has an greenhouse built by Gustave Eiffel (designer of the Eiffel tower), “every meter you’ll find a new painting, or sculpture, or design,” said Anthony Diaz, the broker representing the home. “It’s not just a castle; it’s an historic monument.” (Indeed, it is listed as such by the French government.)

There's a grand enclosed interior courtyard.
There's a grand enclosed interior courtyard.
Source: I@D

But all that decoration requires immense amounts of restoration and upkeep and even larger sums of money to do it. The castle is currently on sale for €12.6 million ($13.6 million). And when the owners who put in all that cash want to sell it, they need to do it at a high price to make themselves whole.

Much of the house is preserved in its original state.
Much of the house is preserved in its original state.
Source: I@D

Located just a few minutes from the Spanish border, the castle was built in 1903 by the French industrialist Pierre Bardou-Job, who made most of his fortune by selling JOB rolling papers for cigarettes. (“Do you smoke?” asked Diaz. “Well if you did, you’d know his brand.”)

The main staircase.
The main staircase.
Source: I@D

The castle has its own theater, formal dining room, billiard room, and library, and the grounds include a chapel, formal gardens, and a swimming pool.. “Everyone is interested,” said Diaz. “But who can buy it? Only someone who’s very, very rich.” 

The house is covered in ornament.

The house is covered in ornament, much of it Art Nouveau.

Source: I@D

 

Livability

The house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1960.
The house was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1960.
Photographer: Landmark Photography

In 1960, Frank Lloyd Wright built a glassy, 2,600-square-foot home on a little less than four acres in suburban Minneapolis. The house, which is set on a quiet cul-de-sac, has a dramatic, sweeping roof, a grand vaulted main room, and a series of built-in features that are Wright’s trademarks. The same family has lived in the house for more than 50 years. Now they've put it on the market for $1.395 million.

Many of the home's historic details have been preserved.
Many of the home's historic details have been preserved.
Photographer: Landmark Photography

Because of its unbroken stretch of ownership, most of the house’s features have been preserved, which is both a blessing and a curse. “Works by Wright are like living sculptures,” said Barry Berg, the broker who’s co-listing the property. “What was ahead of the curve back then is inevitably—think kitchens or baths—not going to be as expansive or generously appointed as your typical suburban tract home or a mansion that gets built today.”

There are built in features specific to Wright's designs.

There are built-in features specific to Wright's designs.

Photographer: Landmark Photography

Buyers of the home, then, might have to make some sacrifices (“sacrifice” being a relative term for having to use a sleek albeit not wildly spacious midcentury bathroom) or risk upsetting preservationists by altering the home’s original layout. “There’s a little bit of a disconnect," Berg said, "where someone might think: 'Is this where I really want to live?”

The carport.
The carport.
Photographer: Landmark Photography

Countless architecturally significant homes have found buyers whose answers have been a resounding “Yes.” Berg himself has sold a Wright home before (“it took about two weeks to sell, but we had the right buyer,” he said), and there’s been a spate of high-profile home sales in recent months.

The main fireplace.
The main fireplace.
Photographer: Landmark Photography

“Really, it’s never that easy to sell an architectural masterpiece if it’s not in the right location,” said Zanco, the Barragán Foundation director. “In the end, it’s not always an added value.”

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