What was so good about the good old days? Maybe it was the simplicity that comes of having limited choices. You could buy a Ford Model T in just one color: black. Easy. Simple. Today we're overwhelmed by choices. We can have it our way, but we have to figure out what that means. And for every choice we make, there's the possibility of regret over what we did not choose. I live in a converted garage, more politely known as a "carriage house" (even though carriages were long gone when it was built in the 1940s.) I live there because I can't decide what style of house or even type of housing I really want. I'd like a Modern house, a Craftsman bungalow, and an urban loft. I don't want to confine myself to any one choice. And, please, don't even get me started on what materials and products should go into those dwellings. I bought a new car several months ago, but now I'm regretting all the options I didn't choose and all the other types of vehicles I didn't select. Should I have gotten the "sport package"? Why didn't I go ahead and buy the convertible? The SUV? I have the luxury of choice and the curse of too many choices. So do you and so do your clients.

simplify, simplify

Limiting, categorizing, and mass producing choices is what luxury production builders do best. They make home buyers feel as if they can have it their way, but they orchestrate it carefully so buyers aren't staggered by the process. In the end, many of those buyers think they've bought a "custom home." Certainly, this misguided notion makes us cringe. They do not have a custom home just because they picked the carpet and decided how to finish off the bonus room. But that misperception means significant competition for your firm. If your potential high-end clients think they can have a custom home at production-home prices and buy it with the same ease and efficiency they encounter purchasing a BMW, you've got a problem. Or, maybe, if you're a glass-half-full kind of person, you'll realize you have an opportunity.

new market

You already have a market among design-savvy custom-home clients, but they are a limited breed. They're gutsy, have loads of imagination, and are not intimidated by a blank sheet of possibilities. Your biggest opportunity for expanding your market is among wealthy buyers of luxury production homes. These are the people who can afford your services, but are led down the path of least resistance by production builders. By streamlining the intimidating number of choices they face, you can make custom design a much less fearsome prospect. I'm not suggesting that you hand your clients a menu of options and call it a day. Instead, I want you to put on your empathy hat, honor their fear, get past your own passion for the blank sheet of paper, and give them a stronger foundation for imagination. There is such a thing as too many choices, and it can paralyze even the most opinionated potential clients. Help them and you help yourself.

Comments? E-mail: cconroy@hanley-wood.com.