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6 Reasons to Support Single-Story Overlays in Eichler Neighborhoods

October 21 2016
October 21 2016


6 Reasons to support single-story overlays in eichler neighborhoods

Unity. Something our country seems to be lacking right now amidst the presidential debate, Black Lives Matter protests, disturbing clown appearances, etc. However in different tracts around the Bay Area, unity is being displayed, encouraged and publicized by Eichler homeowners in an effort to preserve the historic landscape of their community.

Just to give you some context on what’s been going on, there’s been a good deal of controversy recently between veteran Eichler homeowners and the newcomers looking to renovate, remodel and completely teardown their Eichler homes. The main focus of the debate is whether or not these newcomers should be allowed to build two-story homes that will loom over single-story Eichlers and essentially act as a “huge container ship” that would overwhelm the “little rowboats” around it. The incongruity, potential threat to privacy and the need to preserve history are just a few of the reasons the Eichler community came together to take the matter up with city council. Several Eichler neighborhoods have been able to protect the midcentury modern character of their communities by attaining special zoning or overlays. Residents of a Sunnyvale neighborhood consisting of mostly Eichler homes persuaded the city council to introduce an ordinance to modify the area's zoning to be limited to single-story homes, in an effort to preserve the architectural diversity of the neighborhood. The 72% of residents in support of the ordinance claim that Eichler communities are becoming endangered species and the uniquely iconic nature of the neighborhood needs to be preserved.

It's one thing to talk about the sense of community in Sunnyvale, but it's a completely different level of intensity when it comes to the communal bond between Eichler homeowners. There's an unspoken level of synergistic communion between the homeowners that speaks volumes about the legacy that 1940's real estate developer, Joseph Eichler, left behind.

As Eichler real estate specialists, it's so heartwarming to see the community understand and support the vision Joseph Eichler had for the neighborhoods he built. We believe so strongly in the cause that we’ve donated $1,000 in order to assist with the rezoning fee in the Fairwood Sunnyvale neighborhood. For those of you who have been following our blog, you'll know that Joseph Eichler took a risk at innovation in hopes of creating an open and diverse community. Every piece of his architectural design held a symbolic meaning and it's beautiful to see the community coming together to take on stance on what they see as an invaluable work of art.

1. It’s a Work of Art with Historical Meaning

The mid-century modern Eichler home style is a unique reminder of the suburban lifestyle of the 1950s and the 1960s. Stylishly modern in appearance and built in the burgeoning postwar suburbs of the Bay Area, people see Eichler homes as an embodiment of the emerging postwar California culture. Joseph Eichler spearheaded a fresh approach to tract development and developed a sense of togetherness in ways that were both planned and spontaneous. His designs were so different from other suburban homes that it actually ended up limiting his market niche and never achieving the scale of more notable developers. He wanted to cater to the middle-class by making his homes beautiful, yet affordable as well as create a community where diversity was welcomed, accepted and appreciated. Unfortunately, Joseph Eichler never got to reap the benefits of his success since his designs were widely adopted years after his death. It’s almost as if veteran homeowners feel a sense of obligation to not only give Eichler the respect he rightfully deserves, but also to show their gratitude for giving them the opportunity to invest in a home that’s highly valued today (Eichlers that were $9,000 back in the 1950’s are selling for over a million dollars today). What makes buying an Eichler home so rewarding is that there’s so much more meaning to it than just purchasing another new home in a good location. The values that society should’ve adopted a long time ago are embedded into the design of Eichler homes, and it’s imperative that we carry those values into the future.

2. Eichler Residents Put the Unity in Community

A strong sense of community was part of the original Eichler idea. The home layouts were consciously composed to define a particular place, and this formal unity helped grow social bonds. However this concept of shared space extended out from just inside the home. Eichler further sparked interconnectedness by instituting joint ownership in the recreation center, and park forcing neighbors to interact with each other through leisure activities. His goal was to increase social capital amongst the neighbors in a way where trust was developed. Now think about how that social capital would start to diminish if there were a few dominant two-story homes towering over the rest. It would put certain people on a different playing field and create unwanted competition.

3. It Protects the Privacy of Homeowners

Although Eichler homeowners have a robust sense of privacy, the very nature of Eichler homes and this idea of “bringing the outside in” requires some level of trust amongst neighbors. Every square footage of the home is incorporated into the design and leaves a very open and vulnerable space for residents. For example, Eichler owners put high, solid fences around their garden in an effort to use it as an outdoor room. Although every home provides a level of street-side privacy, the floor to ceiling glass windows may seem obtrusive if the public were to view the home from different angles. Eichler neighbors fear they’ll lose some level of privacy by allowing two-story homes to be built within their community, which makes complete sense when you put it into perspective. Would second-story windows offer unimpeded views into the glass-lined living rooms and master bedrooms of the Eichlers below? Would allowing one two-story home to be built lead to more of the same, which in turn would eliminate the neighborhood’s historic look?

4. There is ZERO Evidence Showing Single-Story Overlays Decrease Home Values

The number one concern people have about banning two-story additions in order to preserve the look and quality of the Eichler community is that it will drive down home values. However, a study done by Eichler homeowner, David Hanzel, shows compelling evidence that having a single-story overlay did not compromise the value of homes at all within the past 20 years. Hanzel charted the appreciation of home prices in 18 different Palo Alto neighborhoods in order to see if there was a difference between homes with single-story overlays and homes without it. Surprisingly, the lowest rate of appreciation was in a neighborhood with no overlay zone.

Read full article here:

5. There’s Little Value Potential to Building Two-Story Homes

Another thing to point out is that there just isn't enough value potential right now in tearing down an Eichler and building a two-story home. The current top value price for a newly constructed 3000 sq ft home located in Sunnyvale's best school districts is around $2.5-$2.6M this year. One could buy an Eichler in the same neighborhood for around $1.8M, but it will cost more than $700k to tear down and rebuild the new home. Perhaps it might make more financial sense in a Palo Alto neighborhood where Eichler homes are being purchased for $2M and torn down to build $4-5M homes. However in all cases, it will take many years of strong appreciation for homeowners to possibly sell the home and break even.

6. Eichler Homeowners Understand They Have a Cultural, Communal Responsibility

We mean this in the most literal way possible: Eichler homeowners all share similar core tendencies that make them a great fit for their home. Although they differ in terms of race, age and occupation, they all tend to be somewhat “adventurous and often creative”, according to former salesman and three-time Eichler homeowner, Frank LaHorgue. Joseph Eichler was a genius in this sense since he created a community tolerant of extrinsic differences by eliminating racial segregation (which was a bold move back in the 1950’s) and emanating the appealing aspects of shared public space, open-floor plan interiors and street-side privacy. Those qualities that united Eichler buyers made them good neighbors regardless of their backgrounds. Why? Because there was a mutual understanding that purchasing an Eichler meant supporting a much larger cause. Therefore in order to truly appreciate an Eichler home, it’s important to understand the history behind it and the cultural responsibility you have when you move into the community.

Now this doesn’t mean that you’re stuck in some conformist community where differentiation isn’t allowed. By all means, change up the décor and add that extension you’ve always wanted. But just ensure that these modifications don’t disrupt your neighbor’s privacy and conflict with all the core characteristics that give definition to an Eichler home. In our 20+ years of experience of dealing with Eichler buyers, most (95%) of them have no desire or interest in adding a second story when purchasing their home.




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