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Older and Better

A name architect? A famous resident? History has become a marketing tool as sellers find value in a place with a past.

July 28, 2002|LESLEE KOMAIKO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"In most of California, brand new is very important," said Doug Drummond, an agent with Coldwell Banker La Canada Flintridge. "But there is a clientele that really enjoys the history of a home."

In some instances, buyers may even be willing to pay a premium for a home with historic significance. At the least, Drummond said, a compelling history "enhances a buyer's good feeling about the house."

Realtors are responding by making history a part of their marketing, and not just with grand estates but with more modest properties as well.

The practice isn't altogether new. For years, savvy Realtors have included the names of such well-known architects as Paul Williams in their listings. Williams designed dozens of mostly traditional homes throughout Los Angeles as well as co-designing the Theme Building at LAX.

But the practice is becoming more common as the number of buyers, sellers and agents interested in such things grows.

"History works for the buyer and the seller," said Boyd Smith of Coldwell Banker Pasadena. "It provides a past and a present. For the seller, it helps position the product."

Knowing a property's history also helps Smith do his job better.

"In our business, what we're really selling is information. It's pretty obvious to say, 'Here's the living room.' " But being able to tell people that a famous diva sang regularly in that living room or an important city leader commissioned the home is something else.

"It's almost as if you're a docent or a tour guide," Smith said.

How much a good history is worth is hard to quantify. Let's just say some histories are richer than others.

According to Steve Haussler of Coldwell Banker Pasadena, "A house by a name architect who is nationally famous can get up to 25% or more [over what it would otherwise]."

"People seek out Wallace Neff and Paul Williams houses," said Jan Eric Horn, executive director of the Architectural Division of Coldwell Banker. The same goes for homes by Greene and Greene and Richard Neutra.

"I have five agents a day calling to say, 'Do you have something by this architect or in this style?' " Horn said. "In Pasadena, if you have a house designed by Wallace Neff, Myron Hunt, Reginald Johnson, Bertram Goodhue or Carlton Winslow, people will clamor to see those."

Palm Springs mid-century homes by Albert Frey are especially hot right now, Horn said. "If they come on the market, they go in two seconds."

A former celebrity owner can also add appeal to a home, but rarely does this factor increase sales price. For one thing, Horn said, "in this town people are used to celebrities."

"Often high-end buyers have no interest in purchasing a home owned by a celebrity because they know they'll have looky-loos," Horn said.

Take Madonna's former homes. "They have not brought a premium," Horn said, "because the tour buses are always around."

There are exceptions. Horn recalled a property listed several years ago by a colleague. "It was owned by David Geffen, and the woman who ended up buying it was a famous music writer. She paid a huge amount over market because of that [industry] connection."

Recently, Catie Snider of Prudential John Aaroe Pasadena and her partner, Michael Darling, brokered a deal on an 1895 Federal Colonial-style three-story home in the San Pasqual neighborhood of Pasadena.

"It was originally commissioned by a physician who was also a gentleman citrus farmer," she said. That information, included in the marketing materials, "became part of the cachet of the home."

A surgeon ended up buying the house. The history, Snider said, played into his and his wife's decision.

"They liked the fact that its original inhabitant had been a local physician," Snider said. "They were kind of carrying on that tradition."

Another "warm fuzzy," to borrow a usage from Haussler, is when a house has been written about. When Haussler listed an unusual Altadena property--actually two cottages and a studio surrounded by a lush garden--he created a flier featuring passages from a 1978 New Yorker article written about the house by poet Hilegarde Flanner, whose mother purchased it in the 1920s.

"An old-fashioned and romantic air of seclusion," Flanner wrote, "almost of secrecy."

"It really sucked people into the moment," Haussler said. "I don't think it increased the sales price. What it increased was the love affair."

Tory Howe can relate. When she and her husband walked into a 1927 home by the Pasadena-based architectural team of Marston & Maybury, listed by Smith, they were immediately seduced by the architectural elements.

The two spreads on the house from popular home magazines of the 1930s that were sitting on the dining room table made the package that much more enticing, as did the first bills for the house, also on display.

"That appealed to me," Howe said. "It's like being a collector. I've always loved history anyway. Ironically, this home was built by a very good friend of my grandfather."

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