We recently surveyed the readers of Custom Home (CH) and its sister magazine, residential architect (ra), to determine how custom builders and architects are doing during the recession and what trends they see in the custom residential marketplace. Nearly 300 CH readers and 500 ra readers responded. According to respondents, they are surviving by adapting their business models and preserving client relationships. Most readers (69 percent for ra) keep small offices of three people or less, and many who participated in the survey (87 percent for CH) own their companies or are the CEO. Most important, more than half of CH readers report that revenue has increased or remained stable compared with last year (see statistic at left).

A lot of the jobs our readers are doing to earn that revenue match design trends we predicted. Houses are getting smaller (66 percent for CH), more sustainable (76 percent for ra), and flexible (39 percent for CH) to accommodate shifting situations such as making room for extended family or work spaces. Universal or accessible design also is gaining traction—38 percent of ra respondents reported they had an increase in projects involving accessible design while 22 percent of CH readers also are doing that type of work.

Even if sizes and styles are changing, survey results show that custom builders and residential architects primarily still design and build custom, single-family homes—they make up 82 percent of CH respondents' current workload and 92 percent for ra. Over the next 12 months, our CH respondents will build an average of 4.6 new custom houses with average budgets of $627,313. Remodeling, light commercial, outdoor spaces, and sustainable upgrades also rank high in both groups. Doing custom, attached housing and interiors such as condos or apartments showed a significant project share as well, making up 57 percent of current jobs for ra respondents and 22 percent for CH. And the reason our readers stick with custom housing despite the current market comes back to the client relationship. Says one respondent: "It is very personal—you are directly affecting the quality and patterns of people's lives in a very intimate and profound way."