Mollie Carmichael & Isabell Kerins
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a builder is to underestimate how important good design is to your buyers. From first time to luxury buyers, they are all immersed in Houzz.com, Pinterest, HGTV and more shelter magazines, and home fashion catalogues than you ever knew existed. They’re creating their own personal “look books” on Houzz and Pinterest for inspiration. If they are looking to remodel or buy new, you can bet that they are surfing these websites for the latest and greatest trends in design. If their style is modern, they can search “modern kitchens” on Houzz and 2,330,367 examples in photos are at their fingertips. If they search “white kitchens” you’re rewarded with 881,347 photos – a good indicator of the popularity of white on white kitchens! Another indicator of how obsessed we’ve become with interior design and style is the popularity of home furnishing and accessory stores. When I first began merchandising model homes in the early 90’s, if I needed to pick up some accessory items the only options were Garden Ridge Pottery or Pier One Imports – and the choices were limited. Today we have dozens of excellent, affordable retail sources for art, accessories, lamps and furniture.
Houzz and Pinterest are also great social media platforms for builders, remodelers and designers. We post our most recent projects and the comments and questions we receive help us to determine what is resonating with consumers. We keep hearing that the new home buyer today is increasingly interested in personalizing their homes and that they eschew cookie-cutter communities, floor plans and interiors. This particularly applies to Gen X, Gen Y and the Millennials – the tsunami of likely entry-level buyers. Many builders create Pinterest or Houzz pages for their clients to save their photos to – allowing the designer to review the photos to get an idea what will appeal to the buyer before their design appointment.
Ashton Woods Homes is an excellent example of a company that understands how important it is for their branding to reflect current and emerging design trends. Their new brand focuses on “inspiring home design, creative possibilities, and personalization opportunities for homebuyers” and they’ve focused on social media, Facebook, Houzz and Pinterest to get their message out. The “Get Inspired” button on their website leads to a “Look Book” layout from their Pinterest pages to rival Architectural Digest. The fact that AWH allows their buyers to customize to their hearts content supports the direction of their branding.
Buyers are spending hours each week watching design oriented TV programming and poring over design websites, compiling virtual scrapbooks with hundreds of images acting as inspiration for the decorating of their new home. They are appreciating, studying and learning design. By the time they hit the house hunt or the design appointment these buyers are versed in classics, trends and artful inspiration, so meeting expectations and creating excitement is a muscle builders need to exercise.
Builders can and should turn to architects and designers who have their sights on what is now and what is next. Just as technology is improving exponentially with the accessibility of so much information, so is creativity. Dousing the excitement level of a prospect by presenting standards and options that scream, “been there, done that” is a sales and profit killer. Home builders need to review their standard specifications and infuse them with stimulating selections that give the buyer a sense of inspiration and fulfillment. 8 X 8 and 12 X 12 tiles are giving way to rectangular and large format tiles and there are a number of good price points that should fit within your program. Rectangular vanity sinks are all the rage and the cost is the same as oval – give your buyers the choice. Because granite has come down in price, many builders offer it as standard in kitchen and baths. The price has come down because of its waning popularity – Silestone and other quartz countertop products are high on the list of preferences. Offer the option of taking the backsplash tile to the ceiling and the bath mirrors to the ceiling. Increasing prices to cover better standards is not a problem if the specifications are well researched and geared toward what turns a prospect on.
When meeting with a buyer about the decorating of their new home, more often than not they come armed with iPads or tablets loaded with images. Perusing these snapshots for common items and themes can help the designer and the customer narrow down selections expeditiously, giving the buyer confidence in their selections. Anticipating what is going to be on that device and having choices at the ready to secure the look they are after is a skill level builders need to achieve.
Design center professionals should apply the same level of excitement when making selections for spec homes. Buyers expect the same level of good design and excitement in an inventory home and you can’t afford to disappoint. Make decisions based on what you know about the target market and their preferences. A few tips – create contrast between cabinets, backsplash, countertops and flooring – spend a little more by extending hard surface flooring (wood is still the #1 choice) throughout the entry and main living area – you’ll recoup the cost by selling faster. Never use light fixtures with tea stained or “yellow” glass that make the home feel drab.
Apple’s products have always had a “look” that stood out from the competition and Steve Jobs knew the packaging, feel and design of his creations would create value and drive sales with increased profit margins. Using the same strategies will let your customers know that you understand who they are.