Does heritage increase real estate value? Results of the Fooks House auction…
Alistair McLean
Category: Heritage

Alistair: Posted on Monday, 27 May 2013 1:01 AM


Secret Design Studio attended the auction of Dr Ernest Fooks’ house at 32 Howitt Road, North Caulfield this afternoon which was sold after some spirited bidding for a bit over $2.4m in front of a large crowd. The median price for houses in North Caulfield is less than half that, with the Home Price Guide reporting that the median price for the suburb is $1,078,000, so Secret Design Studio started to wonder how much the heritage value of this beautiful 1960’s home affected the sale price.


Dr Ernest Fooks, a Czech architect, who was educated in Vienna, designed the home in 1964 and it was completed in 1966.  Heritage Victoria’s statement of significance says:

“The Ernest Fooks House is of architectural and aesthetic significance as an intact, individual, and highly creative work combining analytical planning, aspects of Scandinavian and European modern design while incorporating principles of traditional Japanese architecture. It represents the most architecturally resolved of Fook’s domestic designs, being a complex and carefully detailed multi-layered spatial composition in a fully designed landscape.


Photo from Gary Peer and Associates listing for 32 Howitt Road, North Caulfield.

The Ernest Fooks House is also of architectural significance for its high level of craftsmanship in the joinery and finishes throughout the house, from the folding and sliding screens to built-in joinery items. The house is of historical significance for its special association with Dr Ernest Fooks, a highly talented, progressive, European-trained émigré architect who made an important contribution to the architecture, town planning, education of architects and town planners, and to the cultural life of Melbourne in the decades immediately following the Second World War.”


Photo from Gary Peer and Associates listing for 32 Howitt Road, North Caulfield.

The Fooks lived and entertained in their home, without children, and until the auction today have been the only owners of the property.  The property has been well maintained in its fifty years and the furniture and artwork that was originally used by the Fooks, remained as they had furnished it, for the public open for inspections.  The Fooks had exquisite taste, and everything in the home was of high quality and well maintained.  Even the built-in clock radio in the meals area was still working today, but I think it was only receiving AM radio, as it was installed before FM radio!


It is interesting to see that the beautiful photos taken by architectural photographer Wolfgang Sievers in 1967, which are now held in the State Library of Victoria, show that little has changed – the garden is more established, and there is a new coffee table in the living room.  In the entry hall there was a book lying open on a hall table containing these photos which was a collection of Wolfgang Sievers’ photographs.   For close-ups of these photos go to the State Library of Victoria’s link at


For more recent photos go to Ms Kitty Vintage Facebook album “Snaparazzi_The Fooks House”

Part of the strength of Fooks’ design was how suited it was for entertaining and socializing.  Gary Peer and Associates had organized a mobile coffee cart.  Secret Design Studio has never been to an open for inspection with such a party atmosphere.  The casual elegance of the living area opening out onto the rear deck with built in seating and then down to the pool made everybody want to grab a coffee and chat about the house.  The elderly neighbours placed themselves on the couches in the living room and looked like they were regular visitors.  The younger viewers milled around the outdoor deck and pool, with some kids playing hide and seek in the gardens.


After breaking up the party and shooing everybody out to the street the agents were ready to start the proceedings.   Mr Phillip Kingston, the auctioneer from Gary Peer and Associates, was very excited to be managing the sale. In his preamble he told us that Mrs Fooks had called on him a few years ago, after her husband had passed away, to provide a valuation of the property.


Photo from Gary Peer and Associates listing for 32 Howitt Road, North Caulfield.

He had delicately explained to her that her beautiful, but comparatively modest sized home, which her husband had designed, which had been her home for most of her married life, and which was on a substantial 1100 sq.m lot would sadly be sold for land value.  As Howitt Street is one of North Caulfield’s premier streets, and North Caulfield is one of Melbourne’s wealthier suburbs its demolition would be inevitable. While the home was a perfect fit for a genteel couple who loved to collect art and entertain, the small number of bedrooms and lack of kids’ space would not be of interest to many family buyers who would be looking to buy in the area.


Photo from Gary Peer and Associates listing for 32 Howitt Road, North Caulfield.

When Gary Peer and Associates received the call from the executor of the Fooks estate to list the home for auction they were pleased, however there was an interesting twist.  After Mrs Fooks had her meeting with Mr Kingston, a few years back, regarding the strong possibility of her much loved home being sold for land value and then demolished after her death, she had contacted Heritage Victoria.  Before her passing away at 103 years, 32 Howitt Street had been listed with Heritage Victoria, preventing it from demolition in the future.  Hooray for Noemi Fooks!

So did her action in getting her home listed with Heritage Victoria increase or decrease the value? The crowd would have been at least 200 people, and Mr Kingston, the auctioneer was very clear about the heritage listing and how the house could not be demolished in his pre-amble. He also let us know that he had spoken to about 10 different potential buyers who were happy to purchase the property with the heritage listing and who had the means to look after it.


Photo from Gary Peer and Associates listing for 32 Howitt Road, North Caulfield.

The whole auction was filmed and will appear on the Gary Peer and Associates website. This would explain why Mr Kingston was even more effervescent than his usual self. Watch out for the Secret Design Studio site car!

Remember that the median North Caulfield price is a bit over $1m so the first bid was a gutsy $1.8 million. The prices in Howitt Road over the past three years have ranged between $870,000 and $7.05 million with number 32 being a typical lot size.  Mr Kingston put on a fine show as an auctioneer in control of his audience. He even handed out box sets of Mad Men to random members of his audience, and condolence bottles of Veuve Clicquot champagne to the unsuccessful bidders.


The bidding was spirited with probably three or four people bidding, not ten people as Mr Kingston had hoped.  The first bidder was tenacious, and the property was on the market at about $2m. Unfortunately the first bidder, who had been so competitive from the start of the auction lost out to another bidder, who was as equally as tenacious who came in when the property was on the market.   Finally the property was sold at a bit over $2.4 million and everybody (apart from the unsuccessful bidders) was happy.  I understand that the executors are happy to negotiate with the new owners for the purchase of the furniture if they wish to buy it as well.


Photo from Gary Peer and Associates listing for 32 Howitt Road, North Caulfield.

If this property was being sold for redevelopment then this price would equate to about $2200 per square metre.  By comparison the most recent property that was sold as land in North Caulfield (it actually had an old, sad looking Edwardian house) was about $1800 per square metre, however the street was not as prestigious as Howitt Road.


Photo from Gary Peer and Associates listing for 32 Howitt Road, North Caulfield.

Secret Design Studio thinks that in this case the combination of the heritage listing, the authenticity of the property and the good maintenance over the life of the house have increased the value of the property above the land value, despite the limited opportunities for traditional family style accommodation. It is truly a beautiful and unique home and today’s bidders, auction watchers and Heritage Victoria appreciated this.  Unfortunately for many sixties houses that have not been well maintained they usually sell for land value due to the expense of remedial work.   I am sure that the Fooks would be happy with the result.


Photo from Gary Peer and Associates listing for 32 Howitt Road, North Caulfield.


Photo from Gary Peer and Associates listing for 32 Howitt Road, North Caulfield.