Editor's Letter - May 2009

The Changing Meaning of Value

Steven Biller

Seldom do I dread producing an issue of Palm Springs Life, but this month — our annual real estate issue — came with a challenge: We, like the army of reputable experts whom we interviewed, were hard-pressed to wrap our arms around a market so unsteady in the aftershock of the economic quake.

Then I thought about the special qualities of the desert. Values of houses have fallen, but not what we value in a house. So, unless you must sell now, only the latter seems important. What you need now is comfort and peace-of-mind.

Think about your location, views, living spaces, and all the art and objects and collectibles that make your house a home. Therein you find a “value” more affirming than a recession-era appraisal.

In “Forever Seeking the Dream House” (page 45), our Wealth columnist, Ellen Paris, returns us to the basics by asking a compelling question: “Is your house still your best investment?” Real estate experts offer surprising answers.

Sheila Grattan serves up the “New Rules of Real Estate” (page 46) and a look inside some communities that offer value in abundance.

For me (and what I personally value), Morris Newman’s article about the ill-fated sale of the Kaufmann House, designed by modernist icon Richard Neutra, is most interesting. I watched one year ago when Christie’s sold the house at auction for $19.1 million in its prestigious evening sale of contemporary art. After the sale fell out of escrow, the house reappeared on the market for $12.9 million. As we go to press, it’s closer to $12 million.

In “Revisiting the Kaufmann House” (page 50), Newman, an architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, checks in with Crosby Doe, who holds the listing for the sleek, 1946 masterpiece. The famous photograph of the house by Julius Shulman (on the cover) helped put Palm Springs modern architecture on the map.

All of this begs the questions: Do brand-name architects matter? And does size trump style? Your answers will help reveal your definition of value.

Meanwhile, don’t cry for the Kaufmann House; a collector of historic architecture will come forward when the price is right. Or, as Newman points out, the current owners could change their minds about parting with the house they value.

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