A Crain’s Chicago Business article in January on last year’s biggest winners and losers in real estate posits that the Midwest’s love of Prairie Style has hit a wall.
The Crain’s article arugued that today’s homebuyers appear to prefer new and contemporary to traditional and historic homes of any style, and also cites the decided lack of appeal for the designs of noted architects with Chicago roots, including such historic favorites as Frank Lloyd Wright and William Drummond.
Whether due to perceived cost of upkeep or a change in tastes from historic to contemporary, local historic housing stock is sitting on the market for longer than it used to.
In Riverside, several homes associated with the Wright have struggled to find buyers in recent years. The public wing of the Avery Coonley Estate sold in February 2019 for $1.15 million after almost nine years on the market and a price drop from the original asking price of $2.9 million in 2010.
Previous owners Ella Mae Easton and her late husband, Dean, purchased the home for $975,000 in 2000 and spent years on a painstaking restoration of the home, which earned them a 2004 Wright Spirit Award from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.
Baird and Warner’s Catherine Simon-Vobornik, who sold the house for Eastman, says there are a few reasons a Wright house can take longer to sell, and they don’t have to do much with trends.
“First of all, the properties tend to be a little higher in price point,” Simon-Vobornik said. “Then, you have to find a buyer who appreciates Wright. I knew this house would take longer to sell, because you’re selling a house that’s a luxury house and a historic house. It’s a subsection of a subsection of the market.”
She notes that Wright aficionados come in all ages, but says that younger homebuyers might not be able to afford a more expensive house. The public wing of the Cooney Estate was also quite sizeable, which she says can be a factor in making a sale. At roughly 6,000 square feet of home and an acre of land, the house alone would require more maintenance than an average house.
While the home took a while to sell, Simon-Vobornik says that she and Eastman are thrilled that the purchasers are happy to be there. She describes them as an established couple who were looking forward to entertaining in the home.
“The buyers love it,” she said. “We found the perfect buyers for the house. With Wright homes, sometimes it’s all about timing and finding the next person who will be a caretaker and preserve the house for the community.”
The Eastmans also purchased the Coonley Estate’s coach house in 2005, and restored that home’s 3,400 square feet, including 94 Kyoto glass windows and 18 original light fixtures.
Ella Mae Eastman was residing in the home after her husband’s death, but listed the house in February 2019 for $1.1 million. Simon-Vobornik, who is also listing this house, notes that after a price drop to $995,000, Eastman is willing to wait for that perfect buyer.
“It’s only on one third of an acre, and it’s only a one- story property, so it requires less maintenance. In this area, ranch homes tend to appeal to people who are retired or looking ahead to retirement.”
Another part of the formerly extensive Coonley Estate, the Coonley Playhouse, has also failed to find the right buyer after an extended time on the market. Designed by Wright and built in 1912 as a private kindergarten, the building was converted into a private residence by architect William Drummond in 1919. Originally listed in June 2018 for $800,000, the price has been cut to $650,000.
The changes in taste might have been percolating for some time. In neighboring Brookfield, a home designed by Drummond was also once used as a school before being converted to a single-family home.
The Prairie Style house sold in 2003 for $445,000. It was listed for sale again in 2013 for $399,000 and after several price drops, finally sold out of foreclosure in 2017 for $250,000.
As proof that it may be history and not architecture that is scaring off new buyers, one of Riverside’s oldest homes, the Dore Cottage designed by Calvert Vaux, has failed to find a buyer in over a decade on the market.
Built in 1869 at 100 Fairbank Road, the home was designed by Vaux in cooperation with Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park who also laid out the plan for Riverside.
The home boasts 14-foot ceilings and four original marble fireplaces, as well as an outdoor gazebo. The house was first listed at $1.399 million in May 2008, and today is priced at $599,500.
Simon-Vorbonik who is not associated with the other listings, notes that it’s more likely just a matter of timing with unique homes.
“It might be an architectural gem, but at the end of the day, it’s a house,” she said. “It has to make sense for the market.”