The Midcentury Market
Whether you’re thinking about buying your first midcentury home or another to add to your growing collection, here’s what you can expect to find — and pay.
What’s easy to find?
Josiah Hamilton: If you want an Alexander in the north end, you can find it. At any given time, there are about 40 Alexanders on the market with the same footprint, all on about a quarter of an acre.
Allen Miller: There is always a selction of Alexanders on the market because there were so many built.
Rob Kincaid: Three quarters of our rental homes are midcentury — about 75 out of about 100 private homes with private pools. Only a few are outside Palm Springs proper. Our homes are in Vista Las Palmas, Old Las Palmas, Movie Colony. We also offer celebrity homes, some which have a lot of sizzle associated with them (like those of Bing Crosby and Christina Onassis). Many homeowner clients are somehow involved with design as their occupation either in L.A. or New York, so some of these homes are like walking onto a movie set.
What’s hard to find?
JH: There is a diminishing pool of original homes — not renovated, not touched. It’s harder to bring a bad remodel back than something that has never been touched. What’s also lacking is people who are taking the modern concept and reinventing it. I see the 1970s coming back really big. Seventies modern is just as cool as midcentury modern; there’s just not as much of it. Designers like Jonathan Adler and Kelly Wearstler definitely brought their different ideas to the desert. In turn, they’ve helped people come up with new ideas. People forget there are no set rules. Every house doesn’t need a Shag print over a shag rug.
AM: At any given time, there is not a lot of true, one-of-a-kind works of architecture on the market. Potential buyers looking for a special, historically significant property will often wait for homeowners to sell. Also, bare-boned fixers tend to sell quickly if priced appropriately. They don’t last long on the market because they get snapped up.
On an Alexander, for example, what can we expect to spend?
AM: It wasn’t 10 years ago that Alexanders in the north end that today are $400,000 for a fixer were under $100,000. Today, maybe two or three have recently sold for less than $400,000 — and not much under. Prices on the Alexanders depend on neighborhood, size, and view. Generally speaking, here’s how it breaks down: A small Alexander in the north end (about 1,200 square feet) start at $400,000. A similar slightly bigger home (1,300 to 1,600 sqaure feet) in central Palm Springs starts around $600,000. Look for one at Villa Las Palmas and you’ll start at $850,ooo on the lower end for a fixer (1,600 to 3,000 square feet) to $2.1 million for one of the best. For a small Alexander in the north end, a nice restoration job will cost in excess of $100,000. That would cover the renewal of all systems, landscape, plumbing, electrical, roof, kitchens, bathrooms, and so on.
What surprises those who are looking at midcentury homes in Palm Springs?
JH: What I run into more than anything is people who think they’ve discovered something that nobody’s found before. They pull up in front of a Wexler in an area that is distressed and they’re shocked when I tell them the price is $600,000. They are surprised by the value of this type of architecture.
AM: Some people are surprised to learn that there are people in Las Palmas who are buying (modest-sized) midcentury homes in the $850,000s — some to tear down, and some to restore.
RK: Some people are surprised by how peaceful and restful Palm Springs is, and how staying in a midcentury modern house can be so invigorating because of the opportunity to live the indoor-outdoor Palm Springs way of life. They comment on their delight with how restfully they sleep. I don’t know if it’s the mountains, the homes, the sun, or all of it. The homes are open, bright, and sunny; and people comment on how there are great views from every room — from the kitchen to the bathroom, bedroom, and pool area, as well as the views in touring around Palm Springs. Everywhere they look is a beautiful vista. It’s hard to find a midcentury home in Palm Springs that doesn’t have fantastic views.
What about midcentury homes in Rancho Mirage?
JH: Rancho Mirage has some of the finest architectural homes in the desert. There are a lot of William Cody homes and other big names out there. Those homes are not necessarily built with the same ideas in mind. It seems there was a lot more money out there, and people wanted something bigger. It’s still like that. Rancho Mirage is more serious, and Palm Springs is more playful.
AM: We do a little work in Rancho Mirage. There’s better value there. You get more for your money there. The same house in Palm Springs would be priced 20 to 25 percent less in Rancho Mirage. But people really seem to want to be in Palm Springs. Our downtown village and Palm Canyon Drive is one of the most beautiful community districts I’ve seen, with the mountains as a backdrop and the palm trees lighted at night.
For those who want to use their midcentury home as a vacation rental, how can they make it attractive to renters?
A well-designed, well-equipped, well-stocked kitchen is also really important. Our renters are coming to experience life in Palm Springs, so they do cook. Neighbor-hood is important, but it’s not the biggest factor. People are looking for the experience of Palm Springs nostalgia or mystique, and that can be done in just about any neighborhood. Some people request to stay in an Alexander, a Wexler, or an E. Stewart Williams, as homes by these architects have started to have well-recognized brand identity across the country.
How can we spot a bargain?
JH: Know the market. Once you do, you’ll know what is and isn’t a deal. The mathematics of it are very straightforward. The problem is that people get overwhelmed by passion. Using someone who is a professional in the business is key. Choose someone who knows the product, the market, and your needs. If you’re looking for a specific type of property, you need someone who knows that product and that market, not just the market in general.
AM: We advise people to set aside time to tour the neighborhoods of Palm Springs with us. We can point out the kinds of architecture that are currently available on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis and estimate the values to them by pointing out what has recently been sold and at what price.
What if we’re just looking to rent a midcentury home?
RK: Renting a home is the perfect opportunity to experience before you buy. We have a lot of repeat customers, many who pick a different home each time. We offer everything from a one-bedroom condo to seven-bedroom homes, all with private pools. Prices are based on the size, location, amenities, season, and, to some extent, neighborhood, and they range from about $200 to $1500 per night.
What makes midcentury homes such a strong investment?
JH: Quality sells. If it is done right, you can sell it. I tell all my clients: If you don’t need to sell, don’t sell. And if you do, be realistic. People have a hard time paying for someone else’s terrible ideas. But modern homes that are done correctly aren’t affected by market conditions. There’s always going to be an audience for this niche.
AM: We truly believe midcentury modern homes are a great investment. They will consistently out-appreciate the real estate market in general, because there aren’t enough of them to go around.
RK: This market has been successful because it appeals to all price ranges. Our architecture is almost like what art deco was to South Miami Beach in the late ’80s and early ’90s when it was really being rediscovered there. And here the swimming pool is the centerpiece of the rest and relaxation experience, like the ocean is in Miami. People keep coming back to Palm Springs because they get hooked on wanting to own a piece of midcentury Americana.
Now is a great time to buy in Palm Springs. There are a lot of homes available on the market, and a lot have already been redone. And if you’re looking to make your home a rental, we’re within 100 miles of 20 million Southern California residents. Most of our tourists come from Southern California. Los Angeles has a lot of people who understand midcentury because it’s a design community and an artistic epicenter. There are a lot of people there with whom midcentury style resonates.