Why this $40M home near Brad Pitt's castle hasn't sold – SFGATE

The Butterfly House sits on the rocks as the Pacific Ocean waves crash on the rocky coast in Carmel, Calif. The home has been for sale since August and is sitting on the market with a $40 million asking price. 
When Carmel’s Butterfly House, one of the most architecturally notable on the Central Coast, hit the market late last summer, the mid-century icon was expected to move in a jiffy. 
It didn’t.
But it should have. In the first year of the pandemic, there was no hotter real estate market in California than the Central Coast, and Carmel was the epicenter. By December 2020, the California Association of Realtors reported that home prices in the region had shot up 25% on average from the previous year. 
Beyond the area’s surge in home prices, the three-bedroom, 4.5-bath, 3,700-square-foot house at 26320 Scenic Road in Carmel has just about everything going for it, at least on the surface. Touted as one of the five homes built on the ocean at Carmel Point, it’s been the subject of features in magazines like Architectural Digest. The architect is a big name: Frank Wynkoop, a mostly commercial architect who designed and built the home over the Pacific for his family in 1951. And of course there’s the distinct design: The home’s canted roofline resembles a butterfly spreading its wings over the ocean. 
If Wynkoop family lore is to be believed, the building even had the blessing of mid-century architecture’s GOAT. While the home was still under construction, Jay Wynkoop, Frank’s son, spotted a man wearing a coat and hat casing the house. Jay told the Arizona Republic in August 2012 that he approached the man and asked if he could help him. The man turned and asked him, “Who’s the f—king genius who designed this place?” 
A view of the Pacific Ocean from the coastline in Carmel, Calif., near Monterey.
Frank Wynkoop came out to see what was going on, then turned to Jay and said, “Son, I want you to meet Frank Lloyd Wright.”
“The Butterfly House is one of those that’s recognizable immediately,” Noelle Micek, of Carmel-based Noelle Micek Interiors, told SFGATE. “Even in an area with notable homes, historic homes, preserved homes — there’s nothing like it.”
The Butterfly House came on the market on the heels of several headline-grabbing celebrity sales in the area, another factor that pointed to a quick turnaround. 
Betty White’s downtown Carmel getaway fetched almost $3 million over asking in April 2022, while Brad Pitt purchased a castle for  $40 million, just on the other side of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve from the Butterfly House, in July.
Betty White’s Carmel, Calif., home sold for $2 million over its asking price in April 2022.
But since Pitt’s purchase, a volatile economy and a spike in interest rates have cooled white-hot Carmel considerably. The Butterfly House has thus spent 149 days on the market — with no apparent bidders. 
“What we kind of noticed is that as soon as the economy started to turn and in conjunction with the holidays, people started sitting on their properties,” Micek said. “Now it’s more people are asking, ‘How do we want to approach the market given inflation and economy?’ They’re not in a hurry.”
Brad Pitt attends the “Bullet Train” premiere in London, July 2022. 
Micek’s assessment makes sense. The rise in interest rates and a continued economic slowdown during the last quarter of 2022 have created a double-digit dip in prices. In November 2022, Carmel home prices were down 19.3% from the previous year, according to Redfin. While homes sat on the market for for 49 days in 2022, compared to 51 in 2021, only seven homes sold in November 2022. By comparison, 24 homes sold in the same period the year prior.
Though economic factors can influence a market when it comes to a median-priced home — in Carmel’s case, that’s currently $2.4 million — showpieces like the Butterfly House usually aren’t susceptible to the same economic factors, Micek said.
The coastline in Carmel, near Brad Pitt’s new home. 
So why else could potential buyers be shying away? 
For starters, the home may be overpriced. The Butterfly House’s Zestimate (the algorithmic home value estimate by the online real estate market watcher Zillow) is off the asking price, by a lot. So much, in fact, that it comes with a disclaimer: “The list price and Zestimate for this home are very different, so we might be missing something.” Zillow estimates the property is currently worth $22,847,600. That’s more than $17 million shy of its current asking price of $40 million.
At press time, the listing agent for the Butterfly House, Shelly Lynch of the Carmel Realty Company, had not returned SFGATE’s calls. 
Aside from economic factors and asking price, there is another potential issue, more difficult to describe, that may be driving buyers away from the Butterfly House. It’s taste; a set of hard-to-pin-down but very real aspects that influence a historic home’s actual value. 
And when that taste goes bad, there’s a word for it. 
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“What we call it is contorted,” said interior designer Howard Hawkes, who, along with partner Kevin Kemper, owns Santa Barbara- and Palm Springs-based H3K Home + Design, which specializes in mid-century restoration. “Over the years, things happen. People try to add too many things and change too many things. They strip things down or they build up. They let the lines and the simplicity of the house fade.”
The Butterfly House has gone through several iterations — and a quartet of owners. The Wynkoop family, the original owners, was beset with tragedy almost immediately after the home’s completion in 1951. Frank’s wife Ada died two years later, prompting him to sell the home to philanthropist Steve Kahn and his family in 1955. 
The Kahns lived there for a half century. During that time the home went through several renovations, notably one initiated after a fire in the home’s central heating system, according to a May 10, 1964, report in the Modesto Bee. 
In the early 2000s, then-Vice President Dick Cheney was allegedly in negotiations to purchase the home. But Carmel resident Joe Walter ended up buying it from the Kahns in 2008, for $9.3 million. Wynkoop’s sons, Jay and Thor, helped him complete a renovation two years later. Their plan was to bring back some of their father’s original designs and modernize the home at the same time. 
The Lone Cypress has been called one of the most photographed trees in North America. The tree is located between Cypress Point Golf Course and the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Carmel, Calif., on the same coastline as the famed Butterfly House.
The pair’s biggest changes were adding a rectangular pool in the home’s courtyard, since the original kidney pool had been filled in and covered in flagstone pavers, along with adding indoor square footage.
The Wynkoop brothers also attempted to restore the original home’s sunken living room, but were unable to recreate the centerpiece of the living area centerpiece, a round fireplace with an era-defining floating hood.  
“It was the ultimate project,” Thor Wynkoop told the Arizona Republic at the time of the project’s completion. “It’s a real joy to see the home reborn with such elegance.”
But the realization of the Wynkoop brothers’ vision was short-lived. Current owners Kevin and Hannah Comolli bought the Butterfly House from the Walters in 2014 for $16.5 million and hired Los Angeles-based architect and designer Jamie Bush to oversee a 2.5-year, multimillion-dollar overhaul. 
Kevin Comolli — a venture capitalist who funds software companies and apps you’ve probably never heard of, including a social networking game for children — moved with his family from London to the Central Coast to be closer to his firm’s Palo Alto headquarters. In 2018, at the time of the home’s completion, Hannah Comolli told Architectural Digest that her “true spiritual home” was in Carmel — or at least it was for a handful of years. 
Will the next owner of the Butterfly House restore the galley kitchen or attempt to resink the living room? Might they pop the roof off and add back a fireplace the size of two pool tables? Or will they sit on the Comollis’ $6,700 sofa and simply stare at the sea? 
Or maybe whoever’s next will just tear it all down and build something new — or maybe wait for the ocean to take it back and return the view to the public. 
“You have preservationists on one side who don’t want to touch anything and people who want to buy it and live in it,” said H3K’s Kevin Kemper. “Everyone likes to go to the museum, but don’t want to live in a museum.”
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