In the mid-1990s, a wealthy family commissioned architect Steven Holl to build a country house on 33 acres in the Catskills. The result was a bright red, 2,900-square-foot house in a Y shape that cost about $1.3 million.

The family also built a boathouse (not designed by Holl) on the edge of a pond on their property and commissioned artist David Novros, whose art is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, to paint frescoes inside it. The boathouse added roughly $500,000 to the property’s cost.

Eventually though, the family began to spend all its time in Europe. It decided earlier this year to put the house on the market. Its asking price is $1.6 million, or about 20% less than was poured into the property 23 years ago.

“There are no comps for it— zero,” says Raj Kumar, a broker at Select Sotheby’s International Realty, which is representing the property. “If a local realtor [valued it] by square foot, that house would be $400,000 at most, which is hilarious. It’s worth far more than that, but it has to be perceived value in the eye of the buyer.”

Kumar and the owners of the property are encountering the sobering reality of selling a “starchitect”-designed home: They might have gotten what they paid for in their house’s dramatic lines, luxurious materials, and prestigious pedigree, but when it comes time to sell, the market is often unforgiving.

Fashion designer Tom Ford’s Tadao Ando-designed, $75 million New Mexico ranch has sat on the market for three-and-a-half years; a Toshiko Mori-designed house in the Hudson Valley has been on and off the market since 2017, during which time it’s taken a $3 million price cut; an estate near Vail, Colo., designed by Annabelle Selldorf was initially listed for sale in 2015 for $33 million—it’s still for sale, with an asking price of $29 million.

“When somebody embarks on this road to have a world-renowned architect and a first-class building and an all-star cast of people to build their home, it’s really about a dream,” says Tye Stockton, a broker at LIV Sotheby’s International Realty who represents the Selldorf-designed Colorado house. The trick, he says, is “for the seller to realize that someone else might not place the same type of value on those components.”

Recouping Their Investment

Unlike most houses that languish on the market, many of these properties are not examples of faulty design, undesirable markets, or owners with unreasonable expectations of making a large profit. Instead, in multiple instances, sellers often hope simply to recoup their building cost.

“The owners wanted to list it for over $2 million to recover the money they put into it,” says Kumar, the broker trying to sell the Y house. “And I wanted to list it for $1.475 million, because a lot of people are looking for properties under $1.5 million. But we ended up settling for $1.6 million.”

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