Architecture speaks to more than a residential style. It represents a lifestyle. In cities around the world, historic homes and newly constructed homes share the same zip codes and preside over the same streetscapes, but buyers ask very different experiences of these two residential styles.
The definition of urban contemporary is ever changing, one that evolves with every new iteration in technology, engineering, and design. It is rooted in the now. Historic is rooted in its time.
$2,950,000 USD | New Orleans, Louisiana | Dorian Bennet Sotheby’s International Realty
Some cities are distinguished by their classic architecture such as the antebellum homes of New Orleans and Savannah, or the Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco properties in San Francisco.
“San Francisco is a geographically small city which prizes its distinctive architectural heritage,” says Gregg Lynn, senior global real estate advisor at Sotheby’s International Realty in San Francisco. “Neighborhoods employ aggressive ordinances to preserve this historic fabric, creating an environment in which there are few options for new construction homes.” Many of the city’s historic properties are well located, near or with views of San Francisco landmarks that locals hold dear, which can increase the value of a residence by more than $1 million. Older properties have intrinsic story value, too. “In San Francisco, real estate drives pop culture. Restoring or living in a historic home provides homeowners with the ability to participate in real estate story-telling, which is an essential part of San Francisco’s community dialogue,” Lynn says.
$8,995,000 USD | San Francisco, California | Decker Bullock Sotheby’s International Realty
Vintage homeowners see themselves as temporary guardians, accepting the responsibility that preservation comes with the property title.
Historic homes are smaller in scale than new construction, typically not more than for or six stories for those built in pre-elevator days. “The smaller scale building equals a stronger bond between the neighbors in that building and a more direct physical connection with the street itself,” says Jeremy Robertson, an associate at Hacin + Associates, a Boston-based architectural firm that specializes in historic restoration. “That scale of a building is very attractive in the higher end market.”
Homeowners hire companies like Hacin + Associates for the way they contrast and interact contemporary design with a structure’s traditional detailing. “We respond to the existing aesthetic, and this gives us a richer palette in the end. We really love to play off of that,” Robertson says.
That contrast and interaction manifests when modern kitchens, wine rooms, bathroom spas, even elevators are installed in traditional spaces. “It clearly costs more per square foot to do these rehab projects than new construction would be. But owners appreciate the inherent qualities of older structures and are willing to pay a premium for that experience,” says Robertson. It also requires patience. Both renovations and approvals by historic landmark committees can be slow processes.
¥130,000,000 CNY | Beijing, China | Beijing Sotheby’s International Realty
American cities define historic as a century or two old. In ancient cities like Beijing, residences can have a history more than 2,000 years old. The most noted historic style is referred to as the siheyuan or Beijing courtyard garden house, a walled compound that surrounds an open courtyard.
This architectural style has been used for temples, palaces and government offices as well as for residences of the wealthy. Kevin Corbett, CEO of Beijing Sotheby’s International Realty, calls it the “cultural symbol of Beijing,” since it is the most prevalent traditional Chinese-style home in the city. These ornately decorated residences are generally the most expensive homes in the capital, in part because of their desirable locations in the city’s urban core, near historic sites like Tiananmen Square and because they can never be replaced with modern architecture.
Courtyard residences can range from $10 million to $100 million and yet, Corbett says, they “are recession proof” and unlikely to “ever lose value.” For those whose urban lifestyle includes frequent entertaining, they are an ideal fit. At the same time, the ancient city is seeing a boon in modern construction fueled by a rising wealthy class and influx of international elite. Many developments are part of master-planned communities that offer the conveniences of urban living such as onsite shopping, restaurants and entertainment all within reach.
If some cities like San Francisco, Boston and Beijing are known for their historic housing stock, global cities like Dubai, United Arab Emirates, are at the opposite end of the spectrum. In Dubai, vintage construction simply doesn’t exist. The oldest buildings date back decades–to the 1980s–not centuries and even those are “far and few between,” says Amy Brown of Dubai Sotheby’s International Realty. Ultra modern skyscrapers and sparkling new villas are a “mix of styles from around the world with a European focus.”
18,000,000 د.إ AED | Dubai | Gulf Sotheby’s International Realty
International buyers investing in luxury second homes and pied-à-terre apartments gravitate to low maintenance, high-tech residences. And, of course, that appeal readily extends to primary urban residences where developers of new projects are outdoing themselves in a race to offer the most extravagant perks. Condominiums with blue-chip art in common spaces, on-site offices for work-from-home entrepreneurs, room service, lap pools, children’s playrooms and sky garages are about the ultimate in convenience and creature comforts. If historic homes are more likely to tie residents to their neighborhoods, new high rises offer a lifestyle above and beyond.
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Article provided by Iyna Bort Caruso exclusively for Sotheby’s International Realty®