Has anyone noticed that the one good side effect of the down economy is that there has been a significant drop off in the house flipper types posting in the forums?
That's a sneaky way of getting your pet topic discussed Andrew, so how would I apply 'curb appeal' to the (cough) curb where I sleep? There is not much sun here as it is under a bridge and I have limited funds so HELP!!!!!!
I have no clue what you think my pet topic is, but I have observed that there seems to be less fishing for low budget short fix landscape remedies than has been in the past.
Related question: Do you find that a higher percentage of your design prospects are viable clients than had been before the recession?
So my little attempt at humour fell flat.
To answer your question: no. More than ever I find that people want to avoid the design process altogether.
I think that I just did not get it.
I'm surprised that you are finding that people want to avoid the design process. I know that there are less people doing anything at all, but I'm not realy noticing any changes in which demographic want to do what. The biggest difference that I see is that the only ones doing anything seem to be the higher end demographic .... who tend to be more likely to pay for design than others.
As someone who was heavily plugged in to the home flipping/contractor spec home landscaping trend as a big portion of my business, I personally do miss it. Not all home flippers were just doing the cheap fix up for maximum profits; I like to think that the contractor I was working with did quality work that benefited the neighborhood, and that the landscaping was also a good addition. All of the projects I got involved with were more than just cosmetic remodels; each involved upgrading structures with extensive earthquake reinforcing, new double paned windows, solar panels and/or geothermal heating systems in combination with hydronic heating, etc, etc. I know that I continue to get positive feedback from the new owners as well as their neighbors of the projects I worked on, and the ones that did sell are being enjoyed by the new owners.
New design work seems to be mostly smaller scale garden makeovers with total construction budgets well below $10,000 for the most part. At this level, I seldom waste much time preparing full construction plans or even master plan designs; to get more bang for the buck it goes straight towards materials and labor. The fact that 99% of my work is by referral helps, I don't need to sell my design talent, they come to me because they are already familiar with my work.
I am so ready for the housing market to improve, however, as I miss the larger budgets and more creative designs that working with contractors rather than strapped homeowners allowed.
Unfortunately even my long term wealthier garden design clients are less willing to do big ticket design these days, and I find my self doing a lot more design work that can be installed in a week or two rather than several months. Budgets also reflect the smaller scope of work.
It is still proving difficult to get clients interested in landscaping when just the labor portion of the work will amount to about a $1000 a day. I also hear from some of my long term suppliers of specimen sized palms/trees/accents and larger sized decorative pots that they wish I were buying more often, to the same degree I was before the real estate market crashed here in the SF Bay Area. Again, it is a much tougher sale convincing a client that $3000 to $5000 just for decorative pots, not including the plants, is something to take on.
Fortunately there is still enough on-going demand for smaller scaled work, and if I weren't also involved with ongoing quarterly maintenance to keep some of my past built projects looking good, I'd be looking at bankruptcy myself...
The upper end of the real estate market seems to be amongst the most severely limited in sales here in the Berkeley/Oakland hills area. People who are not forced to sell are waiting for the market to improve, and those looking to buy are still thinking that the market may fall further. This mostly affects houses going for more than 1.2 million, houses selling for less than $800,000 are still...
I may be incorrect in how I use the term "house flipper", but my conotation is the weasely low budget, fix the cosmetics and cash in type as opposed to investor in improving property to make it actually worth more.
There is no question that transfer of ownership is the biggest engine that keeps landscape designers and installation contractors busy.
Are you getting less calls from "unqualified" prospects (as a percentage) than you did when house values were rising? Are most of your inquiries "ready to go" now?
I wouldn't say that the prospects are "unqualified" these days, they just have smaller budgets to work with, and are typically ready to go immediately if I can work with their budget. As with many other landscape designers and contractors in these parts currently, we are all much more willing to take on smaller scale projects to pay the bills. I am not seeing a major uptick in confidence to spend more yet, and I've had to discount more to get work.
I'm definitely seeing a higher percentage of leads turning into design jobs, then turning into installs. The installs are still smaller than in previous years. The more ambitious of my homeowners are limiting themselves to $20-40K bites of the apple. I had attributed my increased closing percentage to the fact that with less to spend and knowing that the work had to be phased, homeowners better appreciated the value of a master plan. I think you make a good point though, laag, that the others just aren't calling as much. Given that I haven't been in business that long, it's hard to gauge market trends accurately.
what exactly is an "unqualified" prospect? what "qualifications" must a prospective client present to be "qualified"....and what exactly is wrong with folks fishing for a nice affordable solution to landscape/design issues they might have....and btw what business is it of ours how long a client wishes to own their property...it is more relevant to discuss their desires.... needs.... tastes... site issues and togethor achieve a satisfactory project....
....having said that however....personally I have had it up to my neck with the greed and pretense and lack of environmental awareness that was associated with the last growth boom that so altered the nature of our beautiful part of the northern rockies....home flipping is a symptom of the disease not the disease itself.....
I agree that the term "unqualified" referring to clients might be a poor choice of wording, but I think I understood the usage to refer to potential clients that were shopping around for lowest price, as opposed to having realistic budgets and expectations of what their budgets would allow. There is nothing at all wrong with clients trying to get the most for their money, but it is sad but true that good, quality design and installation are not exactly low budget items. Phasing construction over time, scaling back on materials choices to stay within budget, and having the client provide sweat equity labor are all ways of working within smaller budgets.
Living within a metropolitan area such as the inner San Francisco Bay Area, there aren't many open spaces left that can be developed, so the last growth spurt was more about upgrading existing properties rather than complete new construction eating up more open space. I also agree that alot of what got built as improvements was grossly out of scale with reality, and over the top luxury development isn't selling well here, so isn't getting built these days to the same degree as it was. Not necessarily a bad thing.
Home flipping seems to have dried up, as it was so dependent on home prices escalating ever upwards, and that isn't happening around here much.
Unqualified might not be the right word. The choice of words is reflectant of the industry jargon of "pre-qualified". It does cost a certain amount of time to go to sites, meet with people, walk the site, discuss a project, and write up a proposal before you even get a job. When you have a lot of people who have no intention of paying for design at all or who really are not ready to commit to it anytime soon, you can spend half the week running around that could otherwise be spent on productive work for paying clients. After doing this once or twice or a hundred times, you begin to realize that whether or not you want to be a nice guy and help everyone out or not, you simply don't have that much time to waste.
You also figure out through this experience, especially if you've chased dead leads a hundred times, some good indicators of when you'll be wasting your time or not. You might not get it right every time, but you'll manage your time much more effectively than if you do not "pre-qualify".
It might sound greedy, but it really is a matter of being practical and not wasting their time or your time. The analogy of being a new car dealer and having newly licensed drivers come in to the show room to test drive your cars and then going through the deal making process. If three different kids showed up everyday and put you through all of that, you'd find a way to limit this to only those more likely to buy. I think that is something most people understand. That is what "pre-qualifying" means. Those who do not pass the "pre-qualification" are what I meant by "un-qualified".
It might be assumed that all designers adjust the services that they do in order to fit what is appropriate to each prospect. Some might, but many develop standards of practice to maintain a level of consistency. Many times those practices carry a minimum amount of work that puts it out of reach in relationship to the overall budget of the project making the design proposal dead on arrival. It serves neither the prospect nor the designer to go through the meeting, discussing, and writing up a proposal for that. The prospect will often stop looking for someone else as he waits for the proposal, so it does negatively impact the prospect, too.
The question asked of other professional designers in the middle of this thread is meant to be whether the calls that they do get are more often "actionable" than had been in the past.
There's nothing wrong with profiling your customer base to determine where best to spend your marketing budget. The real danger as alluded to is to overextend yourself by chasing unprofitable leads.... every hour/expense invested in potential customers that doesn't pay off with a job (hence overhead covered and profit!!) is just an overhead expense that makes your next job more expensive. Raising overhead just creates a death-spiral where you put yourself out of the price range of clients - but you already knew this!
The other death spiral is to take on every project to keep "something coming in" because before you know it, they are all low paying jobs and you can't get the better paying jobs.
On the other hand, if you have employees and you feel some obligation to keep them working, it may be imperative to take some of those lower paying jobs to keep them working. Personally, I haven't found that offering the occasional discounted labor rates has kept me from raising them back up again for future work for the same clients, especially if they value the finished product and know that they are getting good value. No doubt it can be a fine line, and each person has to make these decisions as they face them, rather than following a general rule of thumb.
In my own case, I don't have the advantage of a significant other with a separate income stream to tide over the slow times, which makes it easier to refuse low paying jobs until something better comes along.
... or a full time job that pays the bills as is my case. So far, anyway.
You have to do what you have to do when you have to do it. But, if you completely change your market to a lower market you have to change everything that you do to produce the work. Basically, you have to make a different product. That is what I was refering to. Lowering prices and taking on some projects that might not be your favorite within a similar market and without radically changing your practices is another story.
I would venture a guess, Bahia, that you are not banging out $300 quickie plans for anyone who calls.
I wouldn't mind doing quickie plans for $300 at all, if it only took me a couple of hours to do them. In fact, I have been doing a lot more quick garden make over plans with suggested planting plans and only charging $500, but again, these aren't taking more than 3 to 4 hours to complete from scratch.
You are exactly right that the scope and scale of work for lower budget jobs needs to reflect the lesser profits. It is a big mistake to over promise what can be done with a smaller budget.
In all honesty while always appreciative of and seeking new... more well funded and open ended projects( no really which of us isnt)...I have also taken pleasure in ,the creative exercise of designing owner executed plans of modest scale... and not just in slower periods economically or seasonally...when welcome business...
...on occasion why not?
...I have actually used this as an inexpensive advertising ploy...a well laid out and owner maintained( insured by some personal attention as required) fresh install, a little income... for little time and effort ...relativily speaking.... in a nice locale or good traffic flow etc... has paid off for me.
Not to mention taking commisions from neighbors etc who appreciate what they see... this over the decades can add ones own flavor to the urban tapestry
....another thread, observations on our maturing installations and designs .....another day...
anyway my point being smaller scale commissions can not only be finacially integral pieces of ones annual economics...but in and of themselves can actually be aesthetically succesful complete designs.....economies of budget and scale can work... and I would contend ....should work if we are indeed exploring the full capacity of our options as designers.
Some of my most satisfying and successful visual compositions brought to instant near maturity have been patio and container installs...either seasonal or perennial....
I have a client with true alpine exposure 8200 feet in SW Montana who I encouraged to restore and revive the existing... rather than create anew most of the landscape( defensible fire perimeters etc aside)... knowing the healed site would yield glorious color naturally.... and to bring color to the foreground exuberantly filled windowboxes of sturdy trailing ivy leaved geraniums in color accented with lobelia icelandic poppies and varied combinations there of.... it is glorious..
it can be done...seriously inexpensive should not of neccesity equate with poor design...lets not let cheap and ugly prevail...it need not..
I do not mean to suggest that small projects are not a good market. I'm just saying ...
1. it appears to me that less people are interested in going through the motions unless they are prepared to follow through.
2. no matter what part of the market you are working in (all are good, all can be profitable, and all are respectable), if you make it a habit of taking on projects that are smaler scale, smaller budget, and smaller scope, it tends to beget more of the same and before you know it you have a totally different business and it is much harder to get the type of jobs you used to get.
Would there ever come a point where you just concede that business IS totally different now and the type of jobs you once enjoyed might not be back for a long time... if ever?
I appreciate the ability, education, the hands on plying of one's skills to create a balance of suitability and harmony for a fee, but today, right now, is it worth your while to sit back without compromise and wait solely for the high end demographic? Not a critical issue if you have a steady alternate income.
The one thing I don't see here, and it's refreshing, is a whining, woe is me attitude.
I'd be happy to provide one if anyone is interested.
If not from me, I'm sure I can come up with somebody else here.
owner executed plans of modest scale
I like that! And that describes my primary client base/project scope pretty much to a 'T'. It also is a source of business that seems to be far less impacted by current economic conditions than other many landscaping options. In fact, my experience is that many homeowners are hunkering in for the long haul and are less inclined or financially unable to move up or build. They are willing - even eager - to put forth the effort and labor themselves to improve their properties to their needs/wants in return for considerable savings bypassing the professional install. Kind of the outdoor equivalent of "nesting" :-)
And not all the projects are all that modest in scale. I just recently completed a phased master plan for a 5 acre property for some serious DIY'ers. It is new construction but they cleared the land, designed and built the house themselves and I have no concerns that they will be able to implement the plan effectively. They are already well on their way with the first two phases.
I readily concede this is not the design career path for everyone. And it is not the income stream that everyone needs or wants. But it is a lucrative niche that seems to be positively rather than negatively affected by the economy.
> I just recently completed a phased master plan for a 5 acre property for some serious DIY'ersWhat features are they going to be developing?
My sister and her husband were planning all sorts of stuff for their 1952 Palo Alto Eichler (which they purchased from the original owners)...then he got laid off. Now they are hoping he can find a job in the area...and sis is panicking about what to do with their overgrown yard and the house that has it's almost-original kitchen. Which they bought 18 months ago when my brother-in-law's company moved him out there.
If they end up having to move I'm going to be flying out there to help them "flip" the house they thought they'd be in for the next ten years.
Which is fine...because I haven't worked since mid-November. Economy is really kicking our butts here in NC. Oy.
The house flipper next door to me must not know about these forums. Their idea of landscaping was to take a chain saw to everything, pack up the debris into a circa 1980's car, and spread red mulch.
A little more labor intensive than the fall back plan of a colorful ceramic pot full of something equally colorful on the front stoop.