by Michele Newbern Gillis
Interior decoration in a model is everything. When a customer enters a model home, they need to feel like they could just move in and interior decoration is the key to making that happen.
Judith Johnston of Sisler-Johnston Interior Design gave the attendees some pointers in interior design at last month’s Northeast Florida Builders Association’s Sales and Marketing Council at the University Center at University of North Florida.
“I’m here to help you increase your profits and maximize your bottom line,” said Johnston. “A builder’s basic need is to bring buyers to their home. They create price plans, floor plans, elevations and renderings to show the buyers. The problem is buyers don’t typically visit a community to see price plans, floor plans, elevations and renderings.”
Johnston said they want to drive through a community and visit a fully furnished model.
“Buyers have a need to emotionally experience a home,” she said. “They want to walk through the kitchen and run their hand over the granite counter top and take a look at all the commercial appliances in the house. Buyers have to mentally move into a house before they buy it.”
Johnston showed photos of an unfurnished model and a furnished model to explain how buyers will stay longer and be more interested in the furnished model.
“Buyers will stay longer in a fully furnished model,” she said. “That gives you an opportunity to walk with them, get to know them and maybe even qualify them. Buyers are going to focus on the features of the design in a model and they are going to tell others.”
Johnston gave a formula for profit:
• Good design
• Traffic increases sales.
• Sales increase profit.
“However, not just any design will do,” said Johnston. “Market appropriate designs are what you need to accomplish this goal.”
She suggested designing the house to reflect the personality of the community - such as, a boating theme or a child-friendly theme.
When selecting a designer to spruce up your model, she said to make sure they are licensed.
“Do it for the same reason you would hire a licensed contractor to put an addition on your home and not a handyman,” she said. “Be sure to choose a licensed interior designer and not a decorator.”
She said to really investigate the interior designer’s experience, ask to see photography, how many models have they worked in, look at their portfolio, go see a model they have designed and ask the site agent if it has created traffic.
Johnston said to also find out the extent of their bank of resources - for example, find out if they have samples of stucco, tile, exterior landscapes, paints, wall coverings, lighting, front doors, molding and more.
“There is an array of samples they should have at their disposal,” she said.
Johnston said to make sure that your interior designer can buy directly from the manufacturers for supplies they need to decorate your home.
“If they can purchase direct, then they can pass the value on to you because they don’t have to pay a middleman,” she said. “You also need to find out how connected they are to other industry professionals. It’s important that your interior designer be well connected to resources and to the industry.”
She said to know your interior designer’s insurability and financial stability.
“Insurability has to do with two areas, Worker’s Compensation and liability,” said Johnston. “Everyone that shows up on your job site should carry Worker’s Compensation. Liability insurance covers the contents including home furnishings, from the time they leave the factory until they are installed in the model.”
She said checking financial stability of the design firm is also very important before you hand them a check.
“Choose local instead of an out-of-town design firm,” she said. “Here’s why: you will get better service, they’ll be able to make more frequent site visits to the job, they’ll be more available to you and there will be a cost savings and market familiarity because they live and work in your town.”
Contracts were another subject broached by Johnston.
She said the contract should clearly enunciate the scope of services that the designer is planning to provide.
“The responsibility of the designer and the builder should also be in the clearly enunciated contract,” said Johnston. “The builder is responsible for everything that permanently attaches to the real estate and the designer is responsible for everything that is free standing.”
Johnston said to understand what is included and what is not included. Also make sure the start through completion schedule is outlined clearly.
“The first thing your designer should do for you is to template your floor plan with furniture pieces so they can analyze it and make sure there are no problems with the floor plans,” she said.
She said you should also receive written specifications in an organized format, not one piece at a time.
The designer should also visit the job site to analyze the floor plan in person.
“A walk-through is a critical part of maintaining communication through the design process,” she said. “It is there that you are analyzing every aspect of floor plan and can often find opportunities to improve it. The design firm you choose should be available by phone and available on site.”
Money saving strategies were also shared by Johnston. She told the group to be sensitive to industry trends.
“There are two kinds of industry trends: short-term and faddish, and long term and lasting,” she said.
She showed a model designed in a classic style because she said it’s better to go classic to offer a lasting style to the home.
“Adding marble, copper ceilings, grand piano or granite are classic elements that help make it a classic design,” she said.
Also, buyers want to see colors and texture in the model. She said there has been a return to the traditional values where people are staying at home more.
“I think people are looking for authenticity,” she said. “They are not settling for artificial products anymore. They want the real thing and they are willing to pay for it.”
Examples of these are wood floors, columns, faux paintings, layered molding, granite countertops and brass fixtures.
“They want upscale features,” she said. “Another trend is bringing the outdoors in. God created us to live in a garden and I think that instinct has remained within us. We create gardens wherever we go. We create them on our pool area, porch or the lanai. We are always trying to bring the outdoors in.”