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How to Sell a Frank Lloyd Wright House

“It’s like dealing with a group of theater critics. You’ve got to put on a good performance to generate accolades, and if you don’t, you’re going to hear from them,” said Paul Penfield, the owner of a Wright house in Ohio that was designed for his parents in 1953 and is now for sale.

In his lifetime, Wright designed about 450 buildings, 380 of which remain standing, according to Barbara Gordon, the executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, a nonprofit organization in Chicago.

While people are most familiar with his public projects like the Guggenheim Museum, or his showcase houses like Fallingwater in western Pennsylvania, Wright designed more than 300 houses, most of which incorporated natural surroundings and materials into a design of clean, angular lines, with an emphasis on public spaces.

About 45 Wright properties have changed hands in the last five years, Ms. Gordon said. The process is not easy, with many going on and off the market over many years, as owners try to find buyers willing to assume the responsibility while appreciating what they are getting.

“These houses may not have the number of bedrooms or baths and the large, open kitchens that people demand now,” Ms. Gordon said, “but the livability comes with the warmth and light, and that special feel you have being in these homes.”

Here are the stories of five Wright houses that have recently changed hands or are now on the market.

A Tough Sale in an Obscure Location

Fred Taber knew he had his work cut out for him in late 2012 when he was approached to sell the three-bedroom Eppstein House in Galesburg, Mich. One of four Wright houses built for scientists from Upjohn in a 70-acre compound known as the Acres, the 2,250-square-foot house had been largely neglected for more than 15 years. The roof leaked, the boiler had rusted out, the 60-year-old wiring needed updating, and the pool surrounded by a chain-link fence was an eyesore.

Mr. Taber, a Realtor with Jaqua Realtors in Kalamazoo, spent two years encouraging the owner, who lived in Washington State, to get the 1953 house in livable shape before putting it on the market. The next task was arriving at an asking price. It made no sense to compare it to other 1950s ranch houses in Galesburg, where the current median listing price of a house is $112,000, according to Realtor.com, or to Wright houses in Chicago or Madison, Wis.


Wright’s 1953 Eppstein House in Galesburg, Mich., is owned by Marika Broere and Tony Hillebrandt. It can be rented for a night on Airbnb.

Marika Broere

“This house is in a small community. Most people don’t even know these houses are here,” said Mr. Taber, 46, who finally settled on $475,000.

Mr. Taber created a blog for the house, and held several open houses, which typically drew two audiences: locals “who would come through and say how horrible it was and that it looked like a prison,” and Wright fans who would try “to show they knew more about the house than I did.”

In July 2016, Marika Broere and Tony Hillebrandt of Ontario, Canada, bought the house for $368,000. They have spent almost as much again rebuilding the roof, updating electricity and plumbing, re-staining the woodwork, double-glazing the windows, adding air-conditioning and removing the pool.

Self-described house “hobbyists” who have bought and renovated several properties in Canada, the couple became interested in Wright houses after moving to North America from the Netherlands 12 years ago, but never imagined they would own one. “Would you believe it if somebody told you that someday you’d own a Rembrandt?” asked Ms. Broere, 60. “For us, this is first an amazing piece of art, and second, it is a home.”

This fall, they will begin renting the house on Airbnb for about $310 a night.

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