THE 82% HOUSES -or- THE FIGHT TO CREATE THE PERFECT HOME

Over the past many years I have had the pleasure of working with some of the truly great residential architects from around the country, many of whom would be considered the legends of the industry. And these exceptionally talented men and women provided my clients and myself with some amazing single family homes, townhomes, condominiums and rental apartments. I am proud to have worked with these designers and to have participated in the process that created housing units that are as livable today as they were when they were designed up to 40 years ago.

In the past, it was typically understood and agreed that the “client”, the builder or the builder’s marketing director, would have done the market and competitive research and combined that with the builder’s capabilities and vision to create the strategy on which the new home designs would be based. The architect would then take that strategy and utilizing experience and talent, plus ongoing input and critique from the client, translate that into livable, exciting, salable home designs.

Most recently, I have been working with a client on a single family community and the client selected an architect with whom he and I have worked before with more than acceptable results. This time, however, it seems that the architect is willing to be satisfied with what I consider to be “82% houses”.

Specifically:
– the elevations are 82% of what they should be (the rooflines are neither impressive nor cost-optimized, the home entries create no exciting sense of arrival, the total feel is rather bland and unbalanced, etc.);
– the room sizes and orientation are 82% of great (some rooms are needlessly oversized, others are too small, there are three distinct dining areas directly adjoining each other, etc.);
– the features are 82% of what we want (the master bath lacks excitement, the kitchens are dated, dull designs with imperfect work areas, secondary bedrooms have undersized closets and lack direct access to bathrooms, etc.);
– the basic designs are 82% of fully usable (the homes lack the ability for optional variations within the basic structure – den into bedroom, game room into master study, bedroom into second master suite, etc.).

Now it may not appear that a new home that is only 82% of optimal would be a problem to sell for 82% was a solid “B” when I was in school but the elements are each, individually, 82% so that the total home is actually only 45% of optimal (.82 x .82 x .82 x .82) and that, by any scoring method, is a “D”. How many of my readers would wish to have to sell a home when the design is universally considered to have received a failing grade?

We are working with the architect on improving the score but it has been like pulling teeth. The immediate response to a requested change to one of the elevation styles was that “the resulting scale would be wrong” so I had to go out and photograph a nearby development where 95% of the new homes (and they had all been sold so the market must have agreed) had the alternate we had requested. The change was finally made but as we are in the process of rezoning and one of the required exhibits is the plans and elevations, we have needlessly been losing weeks of time because the architect fights any and all change to his creations. have, unfortunately, worked with architects in the past where egos have intruded on the design process.

One specific incident that I recall was at a meeting many years ago in a Midwest airport where the architect had flown in with the plans to present them for the first time to the builder and me, his marketing consultant. The strategy which I had formulated called for an affordable two story townhome product for a rather staid Midwest market. The architect, based in a dynamic southern market, had just won an award for a high density condominium product that had been designed for his home market and, rather than following the strategy, had decided on his own that his new “award winning” product would be suitable for this market. He had not done any market or competitive research and was relying solely on his “genius” that buyers would respond to his higher density product and a “non-common for this area” condominium form of ownership versus a deed-out townhouse. He also had not considered the risk to and financial burden on the builder of the pre-sale requirements of a condominium and the end loan financing challenges.

In the airport experience, the meeting ended when I finally told the architect that if he was willing to personally sit in the model homes every Saturday and Sunday until all of the homes were sold that I would accept his plans but, if not, then as I was responsible for the sales and would be on-site with the sales teams as required that he needed to do what we had instructed. No surprise, he did not accept the terms, we changed architects and the resulting development was quite successful. I later learned that other builders also had problems with this architect and in the ensuing years he faded from the national picture.

I am hopeful that with the current project we will get what we believe the market wants and needs with far less future grief and stress but the future is unknown. I do know that I will fight with my last breath to make certain that not one of my clients ever accepts 82% home designs because demand is never that strong that we can afford to take the risk of bringing to market any homes that are not designed as well as they possibly can be so I will continue to fight every day for 100% home designs. And the same goes true for community designs. But that’s just my opinion.

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