The owners, he says, are aware that a sale won’t be immediate. “I feel much worse about it than the owners do,” he continues. “They’ve never put pressure on me. They said: ‘We totally know that it’s going to take time to sell this.’”

How Low Can They Go?

In other instances, it’s not a question whether homeowners will sell for less than it cost to build the house; it’s how low they’re willing to go. Take a 10,561-square-foot house designed by Rafael Vinoly in Ridgefield, Conn.

“The house’s original owner spent more than $25 million between design and build,” says Laura Ancona, a broker at William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty who represents that home.  

When its original owner died, her heirs left it to Fairfield University, which, after a few years, put it on the market “and sold it for a fraction of its value,” Ancona says. The closing number in 2012, according to Zillow, was just $2.7 million, well below the listing’s initial asking price of $10 million.

The property’s buyer quickly put it back on the market for $25 million, presumably in the hopes of making a quick profit. It failed to sell.

Now it’s back on the market—this time including an adjacent house on 11.23 acres for a total of $9.75 million. “When we listed it for $25 million, it was indicative of what [the seller] would have parted with it at the time, and now the price is indicative of his increased motivation,” Ancona says.

If the house sells for its current asking price, it will have lost more than half its value in 30 years, and that doesn’t factor in any value for the second property thrown in. “It’s not that the property is less valuable [than it once was], but it doesn’t matter if it’s a cool market or a warm market— this is still going to be an exception to the other properties in Ridgefield, Conn.,” Ancona says.

The Bright Side

The key to putting a price on these houses is to emphasize what Stockton, who represents the Selldorf house, calls a “replacement cost scenario.”