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The Big Picture


I am blogging today on behalf of my sellers – and sellers everywhere.  These are trying times in real estate.  I don’t have to tell anyone that.  But I have a strange gift of being able to see the ‘big picture.’  I see the minutiae, but it does not mean as much to me as the whole scene in context.  Because of this, I tend to be a very patient person – I would rather take the time to wait for what is right than to settle for something less than right.  What does this have to do with real estate, you ask?  Everything! 

There is an article in this month’s Ohio Association of Realtors (OAR) magazine about price reductions, and what it takes to get a house SOLD these days.  I am always getting the question from my sellers, “what are you doing to sell my house?”  A very valid question, mind you.  The typical scenario that happens if a house is not selling is the agent will have that difficult talk with the seller about reducing the price.  It must be the price, right!?  Maybe not. 

Patience can be the most important factor for a seller – especially if a seller is lucky enough to have time on their side.  What if there is no buyer in the market at a particular time for your house?  What good will lowering the price do?  The most important thing is to have great photos of your house and get them out there on every real estate website imaginable (and there are lots!).  Almost all buyers look online well before they start looking at houses in person.  A good agent will make your house look good and inviting to the world.  A ‘well packaged’ and appropriately priced listing will make the right buyer want to see the house in person.  It’s that simple.   There are no secret tricks to get a house sold.  

I was glad to see the OAR article reinforce what I have been thinking all along.  As long as you are priced appropriately for the market (which requires constant surveillance), and have room to negotiate an offer within that price, a price reduction may not be the magic bullet.   In the big picture, it’s in everyone’s best interest for you to get fair market value for your home.  Sometimes you just have to wait for it to happen.

-Susan Rissover





The Best of Times?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

“Potter isn’t selling, Potter’s buying!” George Bailey in Frank Capra’s ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’

 I have taken to quoting the above lines in recent months when discussing the current economic climate and it’s effect on the real estate market.  No one has seen anything like this before.  With my 15 years in the mortgage industry and Susan’s 6 years in real estate we have witnessed this crisis from the front row.  We have seen friends, clients, colleagues and companies suffer personally, professionally and financially.  We empathize deeply with all those who are struggling in these trying times.

 While it is certainly a time to hunker down, fortify your perimeter and focus on weathering the storm there is also opportunity afoot.  The extended and enhanced home-buyer tax credit combined with unprecedented low mortgage interest rates make this an excellent time to buy if you are in a position to do so.

 Here are the tax credit highlights.  Please call or e-mail if you would like more detailed information.  The tax credit was originally slated to end November 30, 2009. It has now been extended into 2010. If you have a signed purchase agreement by April 30, and close the transaction before July 1, you’re eligible for the credit. 

 First-time homebuyers are eligible for a credit of 10 percent of the price of the home, up to $8,000. (Married couples filing individually can receive $4,000 each.) You are considered a first-time buyer if you haven’t owned a principal home in the U.S. in the last three years.

The tax credit has also been expanded to buyers who have owned a home at some period during the last three years and used it as their principal residence for five consecutive years in the last eight. They can receive up to $6,500 - or $3,250 for couples filing as individuals.

Individuals who earn up to $125,000, and couples who earn up to $225,000, are eligible for the full credit. Individuals who earn between $125,000 and $145,000 – and couples who earn between $225,000 and $245,000 - can receive a percentage of the full credit.

 If you qualify for the tax credit and are in a position to qualify for a mortgage, harder than ever but with fixed rates in the 4’s and adjustables in the 3’s, you might want to give it some serious consideration.  Things are slowly improving but it is still a buyer’s market.  Your buying power will probably never be greater.  Don’t forget if you do get the itch to start home shopping, if you are like most people you will probably need to sell your home before you can buy another.  If you are not prepared to sell, it’s likely you will find a home you love and lose it because you weren’t able to pull the trigger because of your present home. 

 Is it the best of times?  Is it the worst?  Are you selling like the masses or are you buying like Potter?  If you want to talk about it with someone, don’t hesitate to contact us.

 -Arlen Rissover


The Corbett House


There are several new MCM listings of note this month – kind of unusual for December.  Ben Dombar’s signature masterpiece ‘Good Living’ is on the market again after selling a couple of years ago (see link to the left for more info on this fabulous home) – if you missed it last time, here’s your chance! There is also a Ben Dombar fixer upper in North Avondale with a lot of potential, a way cute MCM ranch on the west side and an interesting looking place in Hamilton (see MCM link to the left for all of these listings).  Another home of note (no pun intended) just hit the market for the first time ever – the Corbett house! 

 Built in 1959 as the House Beautiful Pacesetter House of the Year (Feb. 1960 issue - see above), this state of the (then) art masterpiece is in largely original condition.  The home sits on over 5 acres of prime riverview property on Grandin Road at Edwards Rd. in Hyde Park.  It was designed for NuTone owners and major Cincinnati arts benefactors Ralph and Patricia Corbett by architect John deKoven Hill.  At the time, deKoven Hill was ‘on loan’ for a year from the Frank Lloyd Wright Fellowship to be acting editor of House Beautiful.  A little nepotism, perhaps?  Perhaps, but the result was a way cool home built for living (with his and hers master suites), entertaining (with special music performance areas) and recreation (yes, it even has an indoor pool!).  

All of the ads in the featured issue of the magazine were tie-ins to the materials used in the house.  The Formica ad featured the home’s kitchen (complete with a ‘boxer shorts’ inspired Formica print on the cabinet doors); a Bell Telephone ad introduced the first ‘princess’ phone used in ‘her’ master suite; Of course, NuTone products (intercoms, sound systems, doorbells, built in kitchen appliances) were also prominently featured.  Even the roof and extensive use of mosaic tile were featured in ads.  The list goes on and on.

With Mrs. Corbett’s passing last year (at age 99!), the home sits as a 1960 pop culture time capsule, with a $1,995,000 price tag.  As with so many other significant MCM homes, has the value of the land has far outpaced the perceived usefulness of the house?  What will become of the Corbett’s modern castle?  It’s too bad that some of that Corbett Foundation money, which funded so many Cincinnati music and arts organizations for so many years (including my childrens’ Cincinnati Public Schools Suzuki program for which I will forever be indebted), could not be structured as an endowment to sustain this property for all to enjoy.  Maybe Cincinnati could take a cue from the Miller Family and the Indianapolis Museum of Art who are working together to open the Eero Saarinen designed Miller House in Columbus, IN to the public.  It’s about time Cincinnati had one of our modern treasures preserved and open to the public for all to see!

-Susan Rissover




A Crying Shame!


In the summer of 2005, I got a desperate call from an elderly sounding woman from St. Louis who identified herself as Emily Pulitzer.  She told me that she heard her childhood home in Woodlawn had just been sold to a developer and she was not sure if it was still standing, but could I please see if it was and possibly try to save it from destruction?  She saw my name in Dwell Magazine, listed as Cincinnati’s Modern Realtor, and she knew I would understand.  You see, this house was one of the first modern houses built in Cincinnati.  It was designed by John Becker in 1938 and built for Emily’s parents, Harriet and Frederick Rauh.   

 What was she talking about?  How could I not know of this house?  A modern house in Woodlawn?  All those Nancy Drew books I read as a child had prepared me for the sleuthing that lay ahead….I immediately started my investigation.  The good news was that the house was still there – yes, a developer had bought the house and the entire 8.75 acre parcel had been platted to maximize the land.  The incredible 4466 sq. ft. international style modern home was simply in the way of this guys get rich quick scheme of selling 6 one acre lots for $190,000 each.

 So sure was he that his $750,000 investment in the house and land would pay back big time that he even let someone come on the property and deforest the trees.  By the time Arlen and I found the house and went trespassing for a look in September 2005, the entire area looked like it had been attacked by giant beavers.  There were wood chips everywhere.  But in the midst of all the destruction was a modern beacon capped with a gleaming strip of stainless steel.  The house was beautiful!

 We were so excited!  Surely we could talk the owner into preserving the house and developing around it?  And why didn’t anyone know about this place?  I called my friend Margo Warminski at Cincinnati Preservation Association.  She did not know about the house.  The state preservation folks did not know about it either.  Margo immediately put out a preservation SOS to raise awareness to this fantastic example of early modernism in Cincinnati.  John Becker’s own house in Anderson had already met an unfortunate fate when his family sold it for development.  What a wonderful opportunity to be able to save this one!

 The owner, however, did not share our vision or our passion for what he had. I tried pleading with his agent (who had the lots listed) to let me show the house and find a buyer who would preserve it.  The owner refused to let the agent show the house since some sort of ‘preservation’ movement would really interfere with his plan!

So the years passed.  Margo did not give up, but she did not have much success, either.  The market dropped and the owner’s dream of selling 1 acre lots in Woodlawn for $190,000 evaporated (although a couple of the lots are still on the market!).  The house, abandoned and uncared for, fell into decay.  Cincinnati Magazine ran a story about the house in September 2009(http://www.cincinnatimagazine.com/article.aspx?id=80413 ).  Then a couple of weeks ago, I saw a foreclosure listing pop up on Leacrest.  Could it be??  It was!  Somehow, the house and 2.5 of the original 8.75 acres ended up back in the hands of the bank and was now on the market for $149,000 (it has since been reduced to $119,900)!!  So Arlen and I headed back out to take a look.  Could this gem be saved at long last? 

NOTHING could have prepared us for what we found.  To say the house was stripped was an understatement.  It was devastated!  Everything was torn out of the house and it was open to the elements.  Someone ripped out both stairways, the entire kitchen, the bathrooms……paint was peeling everywhere, the ceilings were crumbling.  The carpet was still in place in the living room.  The stench was indescribable.  In spite of all that, the actual structure seemed sound, most of the windows (which had been replaced with nice quality wood casements) were pretty decent and unbelievably, the curved plaster walls were in pretty good shape (they don’t build them like that any more!).  Some of the original art moderne light fixtures, imbedded in the stucco exterior, are still intact, and are beautiful. 

Can the house be saved?  Sure, with unlimited funds.  I can’t even imagine what it would cost to make this house livable, but I’m sure it could be done.   But it would be a lot easier to hop in the DeLorean, fire up the flux capcitor, and stop the guy from buying the house in the first place.

So here is my last plea for the Rauh house – if anyone out there has really deep pockets and wants to be a hero to all modern and architecture fans, I know a fixer upper I can sell you.  It’s a real ‘handyman special!’

-Susan Rissover

exterior September 2005exterior December 2009living room December 2009dining room December 2009kitchen (I think!) December 2009


Click here for a link to the mls listing from 2004 when the ‘developer’ bought the house (check this out to see some before pics):

Click here to see the current mls listing:



The MODERN Blogs

I wanted to reinvent my blogging ‘career' by introducing you to two of my much younger and more energetic blogging friends, Chris Magee and Stephanie Labbe.  Chris and Stephanie are both Cincinnati modern architects with interesting perspectives, and they are generously journaling their experiences for all to learn from – or commiserate with!  

Chris is renovating a 1957 Ben Dombar classic MCM with a lot of ‘baggage.’  You see, Chris and his wife Wendy bought one of the first MCM houses I sold after becoming an agent.  The house was not even on the market at the time, but I knew of the house because I used to live in the neighborhood and I knew the owner wanted to sell.  But the well meaning (I think) owner had done some dastardly things to the house and only someone young and with boundless energy and optimism – and a great eye for design -  could see the potential.  It also helped that the house was reasonably priced (at the height of the market) and could be lived in as is.  So Chris and Wendy jumped in with two feet and embarked on an incredible journey that has been part renovation, part restoration, and part reinvention.  Now they are a family of 4 living the modern dream, Cincinnati style, one roof leak at a time!  Check out Chris’ blog @ www.cincinnatimodernation.blogspot.com 

Stephanie and her husband Cliff are lucky enough to be living any architect’s ultimate dream – building their own modern house.  After successfully renovating a small starter home and pocketing the equity, Stephanie set forth drawing her dream – a new modern home on a budget.  They bought a piece of land that another builder had shelved in the economic downturn, and went at it.  Now a year and a half later, they have moved in to their dream, and Stephanie is hoping to use all the knowledge gained on her journey to build more modern homes for Cincinnati families.  Check out Stephanie’s blog @ www.thelabbehouseproject.wordpress.com

-Susan Rissover