Shelter or Home: Which Builder Are You?

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While all of us may be tiring of Millennium Fever, the fact is all the ballyhoo can cover important grist for the collective mill of our industry.

January 01, 2000

While all of us may be tiring of Millennium Fever, the fact is all the ballyhoo can cover important grist for the collective mill of our industry. Look at the energy we invest each year when December 31 looms and so many of us resolve for change and improvement, or at least, take the time to reflect on the possibility.

Consider the notice accorded to that chunk of time known as a decade, or to "eras," periods that often span an even greater number of years. Move on to centuries and their stature as 100-year milestones.

The fascination becomes understandable as 2000 begins and we bid adieu to one thousand years of human activity. Compare what was happening at its start to the way our world is structured now. Is it any wonder that the interest in change, in comparisons, in evaluations and forecasts is so high?

I believe the coming years in new home building, design, merchandising and marketing hold enormous potential if we stay open to fresh ideas and put some imagination and effort into understanding the hearts and minds of our buyers. Call me cock-eyed, but I persist in believing that an impressive bottom dollar and true-life spaces do not have to be mutually exclusive. That in every price range, buyers find a way to pay for real value plans that offer the flexibility and features that truly make their life better. And, that in every market, it behooves builders to pay close attention to the demographics and psychographics that have changed and continue to change the face of American home buyers and their environments.

Homes for the new millennium will weave time-honored components of residential design with refinements geared entirely to making life a bit easier, more fun, more doable. The key is a simple one: You offer your buyer a better way to live.
A New Tradition

Use some daring and use it confidently. We’ve mastered the process of building as we know it today. We’ve perfected value engineering and flex spaces for virtually every price point and target market. We know how to plan and build for every lot size and every condition. And, in the years since I first began showing buyers the dream fulfillment of home ownership -- moving beyond bare bones of square footage and bedroom count -- we’ve become more sophisticated about marketing and merchandising.

Now, in this time of unprecedented prosperity and buyer-savvy, it’s time to regenerate and stop doing business by rote. It’s time to bring the dream-weavers into the team and to take a few chances. No, I’m not advocating that we stop building the familiar in favor of rammed-earth abodes, or that we risk profitability in the pursuit of environmental purity. But we can and we should take some new steps in design and construction. Our homes must reflect a heightened environmental awareness. They should support the fluid, multi-faced rhythm of today’s living, where time is precious and superior lifestyle function gives us a bit more of it. Remember these five things as you work to achieve that goal.

  • Port In The Storm. Honoring the tradition and truth of home as refuge is paramount, especially in a world that keeps exploding with population, pollution, disasters and problems beyond our purview as builders and developers. In short, it’s getting tougher and tougher out there, and the home needs to be a sanctuary that offers comfort.
  • Respite and Retreat. While ever important, today’s buyers seek potent ways to interact with the world outside their doors. This means we must pay attention to technology-computers, communication systems, security systems, sound and entertainment systems, etc. Intelligent, thoughtful attention is needed to create quality study spaces for the kids. While we can never keep up with every option in our high tech world, we can and must provide the basics in each home so that every buyer has a quality framework they can embellish to suit their needs.

Richness and layers in our surroundings will delight, with colors, textures, finishes and aromas that soothe, charm and inspire. Use this richness to bring a sense of aesthetic adventure to your models and sales centers. Deliver a compelling proposition by showing persuasive possibilities. Make these backdrops come to life and buyers will begin to think that living in your new neighborhood is a must-not just an option.

  • Think inclusively; think flexibly. Move away from stereotypes. Most people are more than a type, and if model home spaces are really going to convey "personalization," they must show the backdrops that fit your buyer’s aspirations. Case in point: children’s bedrooms. Is every seven-year-old girl really just a fairy princess? Are all little boys sports mad? Can we take these elements of truth and weave them into spaces that are more-that are fun and inviting without being completely role-ridden?
  • Honor multi-culturalism. In virtually every market, home buyers include a diversity that was simply unheard of 15 years ago. All signs point to its continuance (Why else would the Los Angeles Times run a weekly feng shui column?), and smart builders will keep in touch with real buyers. Smart builders also will supplement professional focus group research with a few well spent hours each month in his/her models listening to buyers as they make their rounds.
  • Eye on the prize. The goals in home building remain the same. We are, after all, in business and we must be profitable to succeed in the long term. Quality will always be what attracts new buyers and makes existing customers happy enough to buy from you again.

However, getting there means more than delivering formulaic responses to complex lifestyle questions. Our world is simply too diverse, too fast and too full of choices for the consumer to settle for monotony. Keeping your eye on the prize means keeping them wide open to opportunity as it unfolds in the millennium.

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