Real Estate

A tale of two Eichlers

Whether classic or remodeled, Eichlers sell briskly in Palo Alto

Two Eichler homes on the same street recently sold in Palo Alto, one a near classic and the other an "updated" and modified version. The classic was smaller, although on a larger lot, but it sold after five days on the market for $120,000 over the asking price.

Monique Lombardelli, the Modern Home Realty broker for the classic home at 750 De Soto Drive, expressed no surprise that the 1,784-square-foot home sold in May for $2.918 million. Her specialty is appealing to the Eichler purists -- some call them cultists -- who highly value the wood paneling, contrasting beamed ceilings and open floor plan.

"The number one thing for me is people respond to the mahogany. It doesn't matter what the kitchen and bathrooms look like. I think it's kind of a waste, when people remodel and put a new kitchen in. If it's not a really simple, clean-looking kitchen, buyers will probably change it themselves," she said.

Chris Anderson, the Alain Pinel, Menlo Park, real estate agent for the remodeled home at 755 De Soto Drive, said that home was "really well-received," despite its painted white walls and more traditional furnishings.

"There were nine disclosure packets pulled on the property," which resulted in three offers.

"There were some mechanical issues on the home that were a challenge for some," he added, pointing to the termite damage, smaller lot size than the house across the street and fear of future flood damage.

Anderson called 755 "a kind of an in-between house" due to the major remodeling done after massive flooding brought three feet of water into the home in the 1990s.

Comparing 755 to 750, Anderson said, "Ours was updated, but back in the 1990s. It was showing its age. A lot of the originality (wood paneling, floors) were changed during the remodel process. It didn't have the interior finishes of an original Eichler, but it had the shape. ... It would have been cost-prohibitive to bring it back to original."

The previous owners did add double-paned windows and converted some interior floor space, turning most of the garage to a family room and office and adding a carport.

"They left the windows and lovely skylight. There's wonderful light in the house, which is nice," he added.

Many of the same people visited both homes in May. Looking across the street at the classic, Anderson noted that "the originality of the house resonated with buyers. We had people walk through and say they wish it had been more original or less modified. ... We had good square footage (2,284 square feet), a nice bedroom count (five), near good schools, nice, lovely little cul-de-sac, some strong features. It had a lot of positive attributes. If you don't look at one sale across the street, I think we did well, compared to some other Eichlers."

The listing price for the larger home on a smaller lot was $2.795 million, a bit less than its classic neighbor, and it sold after three weeks on the market for $2.75 million.

"The house across (the street) was very untouched, an original Eichler. For cult followers, that's heaven. That's perfect. But it's a more difficult house to modernize because you have the slab floors, simple structure. For some buyers, they look at it to be a challenging remodel for that reason," he said.

Anderson, who restores classic Porsches as a sideline, compared the value of an original Eichler to a recent sale of a classic car. Someone found an old (Shelby) Cobra classic sports car stored in a barn in its factory-made condition -- a tad faded but essentially OK. That "unmolested" car sold at auction for $3 million; a restored Cobra, with a spiffy new paint job and gussied up engine, would go for closer to $600,000, he said.

"Once you start modifying, you've lost it. ... If you can have a very original Eichler, 'barn find,' 'unmolested,' those are hard to find. The new owner won't touch it. They'll live in it, probably add some comfort conveniences. But it would be a crime to pay a premium for an original Eichler and paint the walls white," he added.

Lombardelli acknowledged that classic Eichlers sell faster. "This was a movement of giving people homes, not only design but community. It's almost like you're buying a piece of history. That's more valuable than just a house."

Lombardelli has some advice to give to owners of Eichlers that have been modified, who would like to emphasize more classic characteristics: Don't try to strip the paint off the mahogany paneling, add mahogany veneer to one accent wall per public room and paint the beams a contrasting color (either dark, if the ceiling is white, or white, if the ceiling is dark). Also, choose a light cork or light gray tile for flooring.

The couple who ended up with the classic Eichler at 750 weren't even specifically looking for an Eichler when they decided to move from their Victorian home in San Francisco's Mission district to be closer to work on the Peninsula.

They saw quite a few remodeled Eichlers, but, "when we saw this one, we were really captivated by the preservation," Amy Keeler said. "It's like a time capsule, in a sense."

While living in the City, Keeler and her husband Sean Cullen had begun collecting midcentury modern furniture -- even to the extent of storing some pieces that just didn't fit in their Victorian. The table and chairs and living-room couch fit perfectly in their new home.

"It just seemed like it was meant to be; everything tied together," she said.

So far they haven't changed much: a couple of hanging light features in the hallway and updating the electrical system in the whole house (adding grounded outlets, for starters).

New kitchen cabinet doors were added at some point, Keeler said, and she thought the originals had been on tracks. But restoring that is a low priority.

Today the couple is enjoying the one-story expanse where they can age in place, the access to outdoors, what Keeler calls "that sense of comfortable living."

And she's very happy they outbid two developers.

"It could have been a monster, a McMansion," she said.

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