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Confessions of an Old Home Junkie and What Cured Me

imgres Confessions of an Old Home Junkie and What Cured Me

As Published in The Seattle Times/ New Homes Saturday

by Al Doyle

I woke up one morning realizing I was an old home junkie. You know the type. We feel the irresistible pull as we  drive through the neighborhoods around Puget Sound.  Old homes seem to jump out and call our name, offering up the plea: “fix me, save me”! It’s all very seductive and I fell for them all. The bungalows, cottages, Craftsman, Victorian. Tudor and even one very appealing mid-Century modern (or Brick Ick a my friends named it). Over the years I’ve bought and sold a few, so I know what it feels like, both the good and the bad.  Old homes had me hooked.  I loved the idea of preserving history.  I adored the ornate trim and the solid woods. I bought the books, the magazines and wore my leather tool belt with great flair. Then recently I realized that old homes had become a very expensive habit and one of the biggest costs was to my lifestyle and comfort. No matter what I did to an old house, or how much money I poured into it, the results were still and old home. I would end up with a home that never had enough bathrooms and never had a master site. It usually had rooms I seldom used and never had rooms I really needed.  And then there’s the money thing.  Last time I went home shopping I noticed used homes cost as much as new one.  What’s up with that?  Don’t used cars cost less than new cars and doesn’t used furniture ends up in thrift stores?  Why on earth was I willing to pay as much for something old, creaky and needed a huge infusion of time and money when for the same price I could get exactly what I want in a new home?  That thought changed me.  Now I’m in the market for a home again  and I’ve started looking at new homes.  Here’s what I’m finding in my last few weeks of searching.  New homes are now designed with the kind of architectural charm we all love. Long gone are the days of the 70s and 80s and those dull split-level boxes.  Now I can choose from a wide array of styles from highly traditional to excitingly modern. I also found that new homes have far better floor plans. Architecture has come a long way and today’s homes are designed for today’s lifestyles. I’ve found home offices, media rooms, flex spaces, master suites-to-die-for and every home I’ve looked at has enough bathrooms (that’s a big deal if you’ve lived in old homes all your adult life!).  Then there is the lower maintenance costs.  Since everything is new and made with advanced materials, you can expect to go years without major repairs or upgrades.  New homes also cost far less to operate, with better insulation, more efficient heating and cooling systems and appliances and water-saving fixtures. I think I’m almost over my old-house habit.  It feels good.  I still may watch reruns of Bob Villa from time-to-time…just for old time sake.  Get our there this weekend and see what you can find.  Buy new, it’s the best investment you can make.

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IS IT TIME TO PUSH YOUR RESET BUTTON?

pier5620 300x224 IS IT TIME TO PUSH YOUR RESET BUTTON?

We may be living in one of the greatest eras of opportunity in recent history.  It may look grim right now, and we have fond memories of the early 2000s, when sometimes all it took to win was just to show up.  But the good news is the current economy presents an opportunity to rethink and reinvent our industry.

If you want to make your mark from here on out, you’re going to have to put it all on the line: your finances, your intellect and your guts.

So, are there any risk-takers out there still with me?

Think hard about it.  We are part of an industry that is ripe for innovation. The recent market conditions have taken away the proverbial low hanging fruit, but the need for shelter will grow as we continue to have babies and keep our doors open to immigration.

What will it take?

If you’re an architect, is it time to design differently?  Will it be more sensible size designed to minimize impact on energy and environment going forward? Is it time to explore the creation of denser clusters, and perhaps introduce community in places you have never thought about community before?

If you’re a builder, is it time to get over stick built?  Does anyone want a “stick built” car?  Toaster?  Are you ready to rethink how you put a home together?  Push the envelope on efficiency. Open up new markets with amazing affordability.  Get local governments to get in on the game of creating more housing and less “mitigation”?

Can we learn to market more efficiently?  How long are we going to depend on the newspapers? Whine about how much we spend on monthly new home glossy magazines? And then complain about how poorly all of it works, while we come back for more of the same, year-after-year?

Today, Fusionhappens pushed the reset button.  We’ve moved ourselves back to the waterfront home where we began this adventure a number of years ago, co-located with our friends Mithun in Seattle Pier 56.

Business for Fusionhappens has actually been pretty good lately.

Why?  Because we’re finding new ways to help our clients reach their customers.  We’ve taken the plunge and made our investments in social media.  We are teaching our clients how to build websites that empower them to do their own updates. We’re creating new tools to track leads and to radically improve the Search Engine performance for our clients’ websites.  We’re finding new and more efficient ways to create marketing materials.  And we are insisting that everyone we work with (especially clients) adhere to the mantra “waste nothing; measure everything.”

Sorry that today’s blog is a commercial, but today is a big day for us as we settle in our new work space.

Please accept our invitation and our challenge to take what the market has handed us and make something truly new, fresh and IMPORTANT.

Lives are shaped in the homes we design, build and market. Let’s do more than our best.  Let’s do something new.

NEW ADDRESS:

FUSIONHAPPENS, LLC
Pier 56
1201 Alaskan Way, Suite 200
Seattle, WA 98101

206.264.7707

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Builder Magazine Weighs In On Nation’s Top Housing Markets

As this year’s PCBC conference wound down and the the winners headed home clutching their hard -earned Gold Nugget awards, Builder Magazine went live with a review of the nation’s top 15 new home markets.  It’s a real eye-opener.  They also amuse (or depress) us with their review of the 15 top losers.  It was very interesting to see where markets like Seattle and Washington D.C. fell.  I guess the democrats are good for biz if you consider a growing number of government workers all need a new place to live.  Read it here.

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What Do You Do With A Live One?

bankowned What Do You Do With A Live One?I have had my worst fears confirmed. There truly is a missing link in the evolution of new home sales.At least in the Seattle market.For my out of town readers, I’m checking up on you as you read this, so don’t get too smug…yet.

New homebuilders spend tens of thousands of dollars on websites, and even more on media ads and internet campaigns in search of those increasingly elusive buyers.One of my worst fears as a provider of marketing advice and services was the thought of how many buyers get lost through the cracks of a well planned marketing campaign?A few weeks ago, I realized I was in the market for new home. After 19 years on Bainbridge Island, it was time to make the move back to the city, perhaps downsize, find a cool neighborhood, explore the options of condo convenience or single-family privacy.Here was my chance to do some first hand research.I had everything a “live one” needed: motivation, a price range, a timeline and questions.Here we go, I thought. I’ll use this opportunity to see who is doing the most outstanding job of following up on leads.

To even the playing field, I established some rules.I would look in the Seattle Times New Homes Saturday two times. First on March 22, and then two weeks later on April 5.I chose the Times because it was the most expensive place a new homebuilder can go to generate live ones…leads that is.We’re talking about ads that cost from about $1,500 to well over $6,500 for single run. That’s how important new leads are.Second rule, I would only respond via the builder or building’s website.I would completely fill out the form, answer all questions, and only initiate the test if the project fit my price range and other criteria.I would then proceed to answer questions, etc. as the bubbly sales agent followed up on this live one.So, on week one, eager to meet some exciting new people and see some wonderful new product I began my quest.I had some great places to choose from and even knew quite a bit about many of them.Here’s who I signed up for more information with:Caymus Townhomes, Veridian Cove, Cooper Creek (Centex), Berrywood (Quadrant), Element, Trace Lofts, Bellevue Tower, Ruby, San Juan Passage, Front 9, Verdeaux, Canal Station, Brix, diModa and Centerra.I would have signed up for a cool project in Columbia City, a neighborhood I love, but the listing agent only offered his phone number, not even an email.I guessed he didn’t want me to call him after midnight, the dope!Two weekends later I added The BelBoy, 5th and Madison, Polygon at The Point, One Main Street, The Vue, The Parc and Olive 8.If you or your client are represented above, you might want to stop reading right here.

The scorecard:

Eric Jones of Centex.You’re my hero.Centex sent an auto-responder and Eric followed up with several polite emails and phone calls, engaging me in conversation about my needs. The agent for San Juan Passage sent an excellent personal response within hours after my inquiry. Sean from Ruby followed up with an email wanting to know more about what I was looking for.OK, that’s three out of twenty five! The rest of you?Pretty much missing in action.

Williams Marketing rocks in the auto-responder department, every project I inquired about netted me a quick robot reply. One auto-responder even promised me a 24-hour personal follow-up. That was March 26… I’m still waiting. I got few other auto-responder messages, and on more than half—thirteen out of twenty-five—of my inquiries, I received absolutely no acknowledgment or follow-up.

The lessons learned?Before we spend a builders’ hard-earned money on ads, search and outreach, all of us have to sharpen up how our sales teams get the resulting leads and think long and hard about effective follow-up and lead tracking systems.Each lead, in these current market conditions, is costing builders and developers in the high hundreds or even thousands of dollars each.The least we can do, from the marketing and sales side, is make sure someone invests in at the minimum a phone call and a personal email.

If anyone mentioned above has some lame excuses to offer or would like to bust my chops, that’s what the comment box below is for.

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Is Big Better? Today There’s a New #1!

pultefreshstart1 300x281 Is Big Better?  Today There’s a New #1!

Will Pulte and Centex Go Fresh?

Below are links of some of the best articles on this news:

Bloomberg

Chicago Tribune

PR Newswire

Number Four ranked Pulte just pulled off a stock swap netting for itself #3 ranked Centex to become the new #1, overtaking long-time leader D. R. Horton who slipped to the new #2.Last year, Pulte and Centex combined closed 39,000 sales.To put it in perspective, that’s 150 homes per business day in the worst housing market since 1930!

What are we to think?At first blush, Wall Street Journal reported that the stock market smiled on the other large national public builders—Beazer, Lennar and Hovnanian shot up in midday trading, while Moody’s pondered a credit downgrade on the new entity.  Centex was the Old Skool queen.Cheap. Efficient. And unimaginative.Pulte was the steady Eddie who also lucked out by a big presence in Texas and the Carolinas, where the housing dive hasn’t been quite as bad.

What I’m waiting for is the Apple of the home building industry to make its appearance and take us into New Homes 3.0. We need a design and innovation revolution to create new products for a new generation.We need to see homes that are way greener than the current green-wash approach used so much. We need homes close to public transportation.We need the Del Webb (Pulte owned) for the new generation.

I have two young adults in my family who are within a few years of their first home purchase.Who is listening to this generation?They will trade square feet to live near friends…to be less dependent on cars. And they will trade mom and dad’s oversized suburban box for coolness.

If this innovation comes from the new #1, I will be both shocked and thrilled.But believe me, I’m not holding my breath.

Who do you know out there who are building a new, exciting and appropriately priced products for the Millennial generation?

And who’s building smarter and greener? We need to get the word out and keep the heat on the big boyz.Leave your comments or rants in the handy space below.

Right now I’m thinking small is the new big.

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Seattle in Forbes “Top 10 Home Markets”

David Letterman has hooked us all on “Top 10″ lists! (By the way, did you see Bono U-2 all this week on Letterman?). Recently Forbes published their Top 10s for ‘best’ and ‘worst’ housing markets in the US.

New York City was #1 for best market with values holding strong!

Seattle squeaked in at #10.

Forbes’ source was the S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index, released Feb. 24, 2009. with the rate of home price increase or decrease was calculated by examining data covering the time period between November 2008 and December 2008 for month-to-month results, and December 2007 to December 2008 for year-over-year results.

I won’t repeat the entire list here, you can catch it on Forbes web site:http://tinyurl.com/cujnjl.

I will, of course, tell you who was # 1 in “Worst Housing Markets”. It was Las Vegas with a nearly 33% drop in prices. Is this the same city where they say “the house always wins!”

But, maybe not the “home”?

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“Are We There Yet” (bottom, that is)?

This morning’s Seattle PI (2/10/09) devoted some front page ink to the discussion of whether or not the Puget Sound market has hit bottom.

It’s fascinating to predict the future. Even more thrilling to put your money on the table while the dice roll. But, really, isn’t this kind of speculation what pumped up the bubble in a bunch of industries. The market a willing buyer and a willing seller will eventually rule. A house is a home, a neighborhood is where you want to plant yourself. So evaluate your agents and your home purchase more through the long lens of where you want to spend your life.

“Bottoms” make good topics for deep sea divers and rappers.

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