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Selling Wright

Local Realtors provide insights on marketing unique, historic homes

September 5th, 2017 2:34 PM

Frank Lloyd Wright's J. Kibben Ingalls House on Keystone Avenue in River Forest. | Alexa Rogals/Staff Photographer

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

A few weeks ago, The New York Times' Real Estate section told us "How to sell a Frank Lloyd Wright house." We couldn't help but notice that not one of the homes mentioned in the article was in Wrights' longtime home of Oak Park, in River Forest, or even the state of Illinois. 

Sure, Frank got around, but he was based in Oak Park for 20 years, and efforts by the Frank Lloyd Wight Trust, which owns his historic Oak Park home and studio wrote the book on Wright preservation, and has served as a beacon for the preservation of many of Wright's designs throughout the country. 

While the Times article touched on the Midwest, covering homes in Ohio and Michigan, and hit the east and west coasts with Wright homes in Los Angeles, New Jersey and Virginia, nary a mention was made of the village of Oak Park, home to the world's largest collection of Wright-designed homes and buildings.

Call us biased, but with 25 existing Wright-designed structures in Oak Park and another handful in River Forest, we think our neighborhood real estate professionals are uniquely suited to comment on just what it takes to sell a Frank Lloyd Wright house. 

The New York Times didn't ask, but we did. Some local realtors and a peek at a few recent sales provides some insight into this niche of the market.

Wright in River Forest

River Forest native Pamela Linn, Senior vice president of sales for Jameson Sotheby's International Realty, is especially qualified to comment on selling a Wright home. 

Not only did the real estate agent sell two Wright homes in the past year, but one of them was her childhood home. Growing up in the J. Kibben Ingalls house led to a lifelong love and understanding of Wright's designs that she finds helpful in marketing his homes. 

For Linn, the tour buses driving past her family's home on Keystone Avenue were the first clue that her house was not a normal house. But even before then, she knew that Wright was something special. 

Her parents, John and Betty Tilton, rented Wright's Beachy House on Forest Avenue in Oak Park prior to purchasing the Ingalls House in River Forest in 1976. She recalls the lessons started early.

"My walk to school every day included seeing several Wright homes, including the Heurtley House, Hills House, Moore House and more, and of course the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio," Linn said. "My parents exposed my sister Dawn and me to the world of Frank Lloyd Wright at a very young age. I learned to identify the style of Wright at an early age and loved the Prairie Style homes we lived in."

John Tilton, an architect, added onto the 1909-designed Ingalls house in 1980, with a sensitive addition off the back of the house. While not visible from the street, the new addition included a large open kitchen and family room, half bath and deck as well as an expansion on the second floor. Linn cites her father's meticulous attention to the details such as art glass and horizontal lines for creating a seamless expansion of the home.

When her parents decided to downsize in 2015, they called on their daughter to help them sell the house. Linn says that when listing a Wright house, she takes a different approach to marketing.

In addition to contacting the media and throwing invitation-only parties for brokers and potential buyers, she puts together aerial shots of the home using drones, and sets the video to music, creating a keepsake for both the sellers and the future buyers. 

Mindful of the fact that potential buyers are not limited to the Chicago area, she also lists the home on Wright on the Market, a source for listing available Wright homes.

After initially listing the home for a little more than $1.3 million in March 2015, Linn found the right buyers for her parents' house, which closed for $820,000, in August. 

She acknowledges that it can take longer to sell a Wright house than a house without the famous architectural pedigree.

 "One factor is that living in a Wright House, house, you become part of the history of the house, and at times, it can be hard to let go of that," Linn said. "I feel that whether you are a current owner or a former owner, you will always be part of a special group of people."

Linn also recently represented the buyer and seller of Wright's Winslow House in River Forest. 

Originally listed at $2.4 million in 2013, the home's new owners paid $1,375,000 in December 2016 for the 5,036-square-foot home on Auvergne Place. 

Built in 1894, the Winslow Home had been in the family of former WGN-Ch.9 General Manager Peter Walker for 57 years.

Wright in Oak Park

On the other side of Harlem Avenue, @properties' Greer Haseman has been the sellers' agent for two recent Wright sales in Oak Park.

In 2016, she sold the Oscar Balch House at 611 N. Kenilworth Ave. for $1,126,800 after less than 30 days on the market. And, in August, she attended the closing of the Laura Gale House on Elizabeth Court, which was under contract within a few weeks of hitting the market in May.

Haseman agrees that selling a Wright house takes a different approach than selling another historic home in the area. 

"It's a much different marketing strategy, because it's a much different buyer that you're appealing to," Haseman said. "Your demographic is different, because you are really looking for a stewardship. It's like purchasing a living legacy."

With the Laura Gale House, Haseman worked with the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust to coordinate her marketing push with this year's Wright Plus housewalk.

"We were a part of the 100th anniversary of Wright's birth tour," Haseman said. "The buyer actually laid eyes on the house for the first time during the tour, and we had another potential buyer from out of state who also saw the house for the first time the day of the walk."

Noting that it adds cachet to a home when a potential buyer sees hundreds of people waiting in line to see a house, Haseman admits that the house almost sold itself. She says that Elizabeth Court is one of her favorite streets in Oak Park and that Wright seemed to situate the house perfectly on the winding road in a way that set off its Prairie school lines. 

The property sold for $952,000 after a previous sale in April 2010 for $975,000.

Haseman said that buyers of Wright houses tend to know exactly what they are getting. 

"As with any property, most buyers do their due diligence," Haseman said. "Buyers of Wright houses tend to have a highly refined appreciation for architecture and history."

Gloor Real Estate agent Laura Talaske sold her own Wright home, the William E. Martin House at 636 N. East Ave. in Oak Park in 2011and said that there is a fine line to balance between buying history and buying a house. 

"Although we as owners feel the homes are works of art, that doesn't sell the house," Talaske said. "Buyers and appraisers still look at them as bed/bath counts and square footage numbers, so the pricing has to be appropriate. It's a tough relationship."