Many of the urban hipsters we know in San Francisco (and a few friends in NY) want to quit their cramped city apartments and buy retro, mid-century Eichlers. Especially now that prices are starting to drop in Northern Marin.
What is an Eichler home? Joseph Eichler was a prolific builder who had a dream of California living that integrated the outdoors with the indoors. This was very forward thinking in the 1950s when people didn't have houses with big walls of sliding doors that opened onto sunny atria, where they could eat in the garden. But it made perfect sense for California's crisper-drawer climate.
Eichler teamed up with a number of architects to build 11,000, mostly low-cost homes in developments throughout the state. He also built some custom homes. Marin County has an especially high concentration of Eichlers—about 1,600 of them—in six neighborhoods, from Strawberry Point to upper Lucas Valley.
To see what all the fuss was about, we spent an afternoon with David Shapiro, a real estate agent with Frank Howard Allen who's been selling Eichlers for 30 years, and lives in one. Here's what we found out.
We met David at 1075 Las Ovejas Avenue in Terra Linda, one of his latest listings—a three-bedroom, two-bathroom Eichler which is on the market for $769,000. It sits in the middle of an Eichler neighborhood, on the kind of sunny, winding street where you'd expect to see a boy with a fresh buzz cut pedalling his new Sting-Ray. David, an athletically trim man with neat, gray hair and a quick smile, knows this neighborhood better than anyone. "I started in business in the late 1970s and I built it up by doing a lot of door knocking," he said. "There are approximately 750 Eichlers in Terra Linda and I've been to most of them."
In those days Eichlers were "kind of looked down upon by the real estate community and public in general" as out-of-style tract homes, he added. "But about 10 years ago they experienced a renaissance and now they've really come into vogue and sell for as much—or even more than—houses of other builders."
At 1075 Las Ovejas, David pointed out some of the tell-tale details that make an Eichler a hipster's dream: an open floor plan; a kitchen with two walls of windows that flow into sunny courtyards; beamed ceilings; and a long hall, lined with bedrooms and bathrooms as efficiently as a ship.
Over the years, certain architectural details have disappeared. Most original Eichlers have Philippine mahogany paneling that, in this home, has been replaced with more traditional wallboard. While real connoisseurs prize the paneling, "rarely wold you find it in impeccable condition," David said. "It was pretty flimsy and you have to remember that people raised kids in these houses."
This house is one of three Eichlers for sale in a three-block area. At 1020 Las Ovejas, for instance, another three-bedroom, two-bath Eichler is on the market for $799,000. And around the corner, at 794 Las Colindas Road, the same sized home is $759,000.
You can probably buy any of these houses for less than it would have cost you a few years ago, now that the Northern Marin real estate market has weakened. But you'll face competition from savvy Eichlerphiles. Just last month, one of David's listings, an $810,000 Terra Linda house, sold after getting three offers. Two came in at $775,000; the winner was $785,000.
David offers these tips for would-be Eichler buyers:
1. Thoroughly check out the original radiant heating system (the pipes below the floor) to be sure it's still functioning.
2. Inspect the flat roof to make sure it doesn't leak. ("The beams you see inside are both the interior ceiling AND the roof support. So a hole in the tar and gravel above will leak right in.")
3. Check out the Eichler Network for info on maintenance and atrium gardening.
More on Eichler: "Old Modern Houses With Futurist Ideas"
More Eichlers for sale in Marin.
Last week's Weekend Reading: Buying foreclosed houses with The Flipper