Design Smarter, Not Harder

Everyone loves saving money and getting more for less, right? Therefore, cost-effective designs are always in vogue – especially now. I know, there’s nothing sexy about the term “cost-effective”. The housing market is faced with higher interest rates, rising material costs and labor shortages, land and land development costs rising. As a result, prices for new homes are starting to ascend into very thin air. Despite a strong economy, higher wages and employment along with robust millennial household formation, new home sales have started to slow.

The scars of the 2008 housing bust run deep, so many builders are already starting to fear that the next downturn is at our doorstep. While there are no indications that now is the time to panic, it might be a good time to take a deep breath and look carefully at what you are building and designing.

Simple questions to run through:

Are your plans current and compelling?

Are they the “right” size?

Are there unwanted costs that can be removed?

Should you cut square footage, cost per square foot or both?

Current & Compelling

Current and compelling plans have features and options that you’re unlikely to find in used or resales homes. This is so critical because used homes come at a lower price point. Since we are dealing with higher costs, one of the primary competitive advantages new homes have are new features. This is something that the automotive industry does very well - constantly adding features like semi-autonomous driving, advanced infotainment screens, heated, cooled and massaging seats, etc. Suddenly, the car we’ve been driving starts to feel dated and we find ourselves yearning for the latest and greatest.

So what can we incorporate into our homes to give the same “Gotta-have-it” allure?

-Current kitchens with focal point islands

-Daily Lifestyle Solutions – some as standard, some as options:

Walk-in Pantries, Messy Kitchens, Welcome Home Valets, Connected Laundries,

Pet Palaces, Parcel Delivery Vestibules

-Fresh elevation styles using color, textures and materials to add animation

Right-Sized Plans

One of the lessons we learned from the last housing downturn was that buyers are no longer interested in paying for the “unused” spaces their realtor told them they needed for resale. Hence, we saw the disappearance of the formal living and dining rooms. Instead, buyers want to see that square footage distributed into space they actually use like kitchens or the Daily Lifestyle Solution spaces. Likewise, buyers don’t value excess hallways and circulation space.

Another technique to reduce the overall square footage of the plan is to create dual use rooms. We see this often as a downsizing strategy to accommodate the “what if” scenario for guest bedrooms. Keeping the seldom used secondary bedrooms to a minimum while allowing the study to function as a guest room.

Cut Unwanted Costs

Unwanted costs are often the stuff the buyers don’t see. Why would they want to pay for them? I’ve often said, ask any buyer if they prefer quartz countertops or a glu-lam beam in their garage. I think we all know the answer to that one.

In an earlier blog, I talked about the geometry trick to maximize the ratio between exterior walls and interior square footage by “squaring the house up”. Other techniques include simplifying the building envelope, eliminating corners and thus a simpler roof. In houses with trussed roofs, designing in 2’ increments results eliminating extra trusses, four-foot increments maximizes exterior 4’ by 8’ plywood sheathing and reduces waste.

Not the same as “being cheap”

Please notice that I am talking about “unwanted” costs. This doesn’t mean doing the bare minimum with code required windows. Instead, it means being strategic about window placement. Windows bring in natural light and expand the space – making the space appear larger than it is. Standardizing window sizes and avoiding tempered glass should be the first course of action before eliminating windows.

The last couple of years have seen welcomed demand to new home construction. In a booming market, it is easy to jump into action, overlooking the principles of good design – like adding value from a buyer’s point of view while removing unwanted costs. As my builder clients always tell me, it is always easier to “fix” a floor plan with additional square footage rather than be disciplined about creating efficient plans.

Now might be a good time to collectively roll up our sleeves and cut both square footage and the cost per square foot – the right way!