Mid-Century for Sale

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If you've always craved a Mid-Century Modern home, now might be the time to embrace your inner Rob Petrie.

Even Mad Men mania, it seems, can't keep the once-booming market for classic MCM houses safe from the roiling real estate market - including architect Richard Neutra's iconic Kaufmann house in Palm Springs.

The much photographed (by Julius Schulman) masterpiece was removed from listings last March after only a few potential buyers came forward offering less than $10 million -- under the $12.9 million asking price, and way under the $19 million reportedly offered at a Christie's auction in 2008 (which fell through behind the scenes), according to the listings agent Crosby Doe in Beverly Hills.

"Many owners are not willing to give away an architectural treasure in a market like this," he says.

But other owners are apparently ready to haggle.

Doe says prices have dropped from previous highs and there's more inventory out there as houses take longer to sell. Not exactly a fire sale, compared to other markets, he adds, but an "exciting buying opportunity" for fans of the MCM way of life.

Consider John Lautner's 1947 Gantvoort house in La Canada Flintridge. The 2-bedroom, 1.5 bath home was listed in 2008 for $2.2 million, but the price was trimmed to $1.79 million and then to $1.52 million before it found a buyer, according to Curbed LA.

And then there's Lautner's 1949 Schaffer residence in Glendale. Originally listed at $1.95 million, it's been knocked down to $1.49 million, according to the LA Times, which speculates whether the home's appearance in the new Tom Ford film "A Single Man" might help lure a buyer.

How the mighty Modernist homes have taken a hit.

The Modernist style, which describes homes built in the Mid-20th Century that featured open floor plans, glass walls and simple but functional designs (you know, the kind you see in Dick Van Dyke reruns), were, until recently, a hot item. Back in 2004, the New York Times quoted Doe as saying, "it seems like there have been record-breaking sales every couple of weeks. If there's a name architect involved, there is an instant value attached." Neutra houses, he noted, were selling for twice the prices of those of similar size.

He'll still show you the Kaufmann house, of course, if you're interested. But for the moment, the owners, who have made massive and expensive renovations, are holding tight. Instead of selling, "they might eventually give it to a museum," Doe says.
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