Breaking With Traditional (NYTimes)

Upper Brookville

SECLUDED on almost five acres, on a hilltop at the end of a cul-de-sac, is a cedar-sided contemporary home custom-built in 1987.

Its pewter doors open onto an atrium with a plexiglass dome, a free-standing floor-to-ceiling double-sided fireplace in marble, and a sunken wet bar. Floor-to-ceiling glass across the back of the house offers views across Oyster Bay Harbor and the Long Island Sound to Connecticut. An indoor pool complex has a retractable roof, sliding glass doors, a spa, a wet bar and a cabana with full bath.

The house has four bedrooms and four and a half baths; the master suite is on the first floor. The list price is $2.149 million.

Yet up the street in this posh neighborhood, on lots about half the size of the contemporary’s, two six-bedroom colonials, one built in 1986, the other in 1990, are listed for more money: $2.495 million apiece.

David Brandt Walti of the North Site Realty Corporation in Syosset, the listing agent for the 5,300-square-foot one-of-a-kind contemporary, described it as “architecturally stunning.” And although he knows the challenges of trying to sell a contemporary on an Island where the colonial is king, he took time to extol the virtues of his listing.

“A colonial is a colonial,” Mr. Walti said. “A classic home is a classic home, and there is very little you can do.” But a contemporary gives a buyer flexibility to be “as creative as you want.”

Speaking of creativity, however, brokers often need a lot to sell such properties. They may start out listing a contemporary as a “postmodern, or estate, or two-story house,” said Sandi Lefkowitz, the sales manager of the Glen Head, Sea Cliff and Old Brookville offices of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty.

While a contemporary on a large North Shore lot might be listed at $2.1 million, she said, a “good-looking colonial” on the same block could be $2.4 million.

Laura Smiros, a partner with her husband, Jim, in Smiros & Smiros Architects in Glen Cove, wrote in an e-mail that unless contemporaries are considered “one of the very special ones,” they “took a beating on resale” and have “been selling for less than traditional homes since the mid-’90s.”

And Ms. Lefkowitz said that because only very specific buyers — including Europeans, Asians and a younger clientele — will consider contemporaries, “the price has to be adjusted to reflect it.” But although the sellers sacrifice a little, the buyers “are going to get a better value.”

She continued: “It’s like fashion. You go with what’s popular. The traditional colonial is what most people want.” Most homes being built, whether for $500,000 or $5 million, “they are cookie cutters; most of the homes are different forms of colonial.”

Similarly, split-levels, like high or raised ranches, have “never been top of the appeal line.” Splits are also “a good deal,” but mostly in the $500,000-to-$800,000 range. Contemporaries, which could be considered “retro art,” don’t have a price limit and  “by and large tend to be over a million dollars,” Ms. Lefkowitz said.

According to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island, the 191 Nassau County homes checked as “contemporary” under “housing style” on listing forms have a median list price of $1.388 million, and the 23 homes described as “postmodern” have a median of $1.549 million.

Of the 36 homes on the market in Upper Brookville, the 18 described as colonials span the widest price range, from $1.469 million, for a two-acre property, to $10.99 million for one on five acres. The one postmodern, on two acres, is listed for $1.86 million, and the three contemporaries range from $2.149 million, for Mr. Walti’s listing, to $2.399 million for a 15-room 1989 house. Prices on the five expanded ranches, two farm ranches, one split-level and one raised ranch are grouped at the low end of this pricy market, ranging from $1.098 million to $1.875 million.

Some brokers have noticed more interest in contemporaries recently. Donna Marie Chaimanis, a managing director of Laffey Fine Homes’ Luxury Portfolio, said that with 43 contemporaries and 15 postmoderns out of 500 Gold Coast listings on the market over all, in the last two weeks she had had “more showings on my contemporary listings than on my traditional homes.”

Faith Kanen, an associate broker with Shawn Elliott Luxury Homes and Estates, says cash buyers, many foreign, are “drawn to contemporaries.” She is hoping one will pounce on her 7,000-square-foot listing in Brookville for $1.79 million. It has been on and off the market for a few years, and was first listed for more than $3 million.

David Chotan, who started building contemporaries in the 1960s in areas like Kings Point, Kensington, Old Westbury and Brookville, said that though resales had been slow, he believed contemporaries had “held their value.” He may soon find out. He recently listed his own 25-year-old four-bedroom six-and-a-half-bath contemporary with indoor pool in Old Westbury for $2.698 million.

“The last few years it’s been traditional homes all the way,” Mr. Chotan said of his own business, though recently there has been a “resurgence” in contemporaries accounting for as much as 30 percent of his new work.

During the contemporary’s heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, Brian Shore, a Locust Valley architect, designed many. More recently, he said, he built “a modern house in drag” in Old Brookville, clothing the stucco exterior with a more traditional, turreted look, though on the inside the home is strikingly contemporary.

“Doing a modern house is riskier in the sense that there is such an inventory of traditional homes on Long Island,” Mr. Shore said. “There is a familiarity and comfort with a traditional home.”



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