As I write this, for the first time since the recession began, the AIA’s Architectural Billings Index is in the positive zone in all regions of the country. No one is ready to exhale yet, and many residential firms are still suffering, but signs are indicating a recovery in the housing industry. A slow and tentative one, yes, but we’re all ready to engage in some positive thinking.
I’ve spoken with quite a few architects who say that the phone is ringing again, even if potential clients on the other end aren’t quite ready to pull the trigger on design fees. Or perhaps design is going ahead, but the big question is whether the clients will ultimately break ground.
What we need are some compelling reasons in our arsenal to convince people to go ahead and build that dream house or add on that new kitchen/family room/master bedroom suite. And I have a few of those reasons up my sleeve. Give them a try—gently—with your tire kickers and tell me if they work.
1. As the market bounces back, the waiting time for the architect of their choice will increase. And that architect will be balancing more projects at one time.
2. Waiting longer means talented builders and subs may not be available to build their house.
3. And with longer waiting times come increased carrying costs on land (if your clients are building new) and potentially higher lending costs (if your clients are not self-funding the job).
4. Building material costs will inevitably go up with increased market demand. Manufacturers have closed many plants and have laid off skilled workers, severely reducing production capacity.
5. Relatedly, waiting times for delivery of materials will increase because of shortages and backlogs at the plants. And that, in turn, will increase project carrying costs and delay the construction timeline. Furthermore, manufacturers currently have a greater incentive to work with architects and builders on custom solutions. They will have less time to do so as the market returns, and those custom solutions will likely cost more.
What we have right now is the perfect moment in time to get the best architect, the best builder, and the best materials to build a solid, beautiful house. That team also has the time to devote its best care and attention to your clients’ job. But tempus fugit. In fact, the time is passing, or has passed already, in parts of the country.
I don’t think we’ll see another building boom like we had in the previous decade. But I know the talent to design and build a top-notch house has contracted dramatically since the building bust. The number of desirable building sites is also dwindling as speculative builders snap them up in anticipation of increased demand for new housing.
Is this really the perfect time to design and build a new custom home? I think so—if your clients want the most bang for their buck. Does that mean the stock market will never dip again? Certainly not. Will housing prices never decline again? No guarantees. But our homes were never meant to be a Vegas jackpot; they’re the center of our lives. Building a house is always a leap of faith—like marriage or a new job—but nothing worth having comes without a measure of risk and fear of the unknown. It’s time to embrace the future and shed the death grip of the recent past.