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”.

– 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? Continue reading

Social Darwinism is alive and well in the homebuilding industry.

When my younger son was active in debate he often used the concept of Social Darwinism as a justification for the most outrageous concepts and, while the ideology was disproven decades ago, his opponents were usually unable to defend against the argument and he handily won his rounds.  In fact, although he has not lived at home for fifteen years, we still have several of his debate trophies in his old bedroom, now referred to by us as the “museum”.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, Social Darwinism is a pejorative term used for various late nineteenth century ideologies which piggy-backed on the popularity of Charles Darwin’s new discoveries.  While often contradictory, the philosophy exploited ideas of survival of the fittest as applied to society. It commonly refers to notions of struggle for existence being used to justify social policies which show no sympathy for those unable to support themselves, perhaps similar to some extent to the less well publicized policies currently promoted by the more extremist members of the Tea Party movement. While the most prominent form of such views stressed competition between individuals in free market capitalism, it is also associated with ideas of struggle between social groups and classes. In sociology it has been defined as a theory of social evolution which asserts that there are underlying, and largely irresistible, forces acting in societies which are like the natural forces that operate in animal and plant communities. One can therefore formulate social laws similar to natural ones. These social forces are of such a kind as to produce evolutionary progress through the natural conflicts between social groups. The best-adapted and most successful social groups survive these conflicts, raising the evolutionary level of society generally. 

I was working in a southeastern market last week and, as it had been a few years since I had last visited this area, I was curious to see what changes had transpired.  The community with which I had previously been involved had been successfully completed and sold out but several new developments had opened and I took the time to visit them.

This market is fortunate in that it did not suffer a housing downturn anywhere near as severe as most other areas of the country.  Resale housing prices did not escalate unreasonably and therefore have not fallen substantially.  And new home production was not uncontrolled in the boom years and now is down only about a third from the average of the prior ten years.  There are three homebuilders whose operations I found to be noteworthy, two smaller local builders who are doing relatively well in the market and a large regional builder who is not doing as well.  Continue reading