Jun 30, 2006

Dressing Up To Go To The Dance

Considering selling your home? Don't join the dance without getting dressed up first.

Joy Valentine of Coldwell Banker Realty wrote:
"In discussions with colleagues and based on my own experiences with staging, I suspected that staged homes sell faster and for a higher price than those that are not staged. Wanting to test that theory, I analyzed 2,772 properties sold between March 1 and September 30, 1999, in eight cities: Atherton, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Portola Valley and Sunnyvale. Out of that group, I took a sample of 129 properties that had been staged, or 4.7 percent of the total. This sample represented condominiums, townhouses and single-family residences. They ranged in list price from $229,000 to $4.8 million. The following results show marked differences between the sample of staged homes and the total group, which consisted of both staged and unstaged properties. For the group of 2,772 properties, the average number of days on the market was 30.9, and the average difference in sales price over list price was 1.6 percent. For the sample of staged homes, the average number of days on the market was 13.9 -- about half of the time for houses in the general sample. The average difference in selling price over list price was 6.3 percent, nearly four times as much as for the other group of homes."

So, class: let's say you want to enjoy that 6.3% increase, so you decide to stage your home. You do want to retain some of the profits, so you spend less than the full 6.3% -- let's say 4% -- on staging.

Now if landscaping were, say, one-quarter of your staging budget, that would be .25 x 4% = 1% of the list price. Which means an $800,000 property -- the median home price in Silicon Valley in May-- could invest up to $8,000 in landscaping and be pretty confident of earning that investment back.

Not too shabby, but wait! There's more!

As I will write next time, dressing just a little fancier -- go ahead, bust out the pearl earrings or mother-of-pearl cufflinks -- can make your time at the dance significantly more enjoyable.

Jun 21, 2006

Happy Solstice


I can tell already... it's gonna be a long day.

Jun 19, 2006

Hiring a Designer: Part 3

A friend recently wrote me to ask:

"My wife and I are thinking about changing around our backyard a bit... She has some grand ideas and wanted to see how this process works. If we wanted to work with you, what are the fees, how do we find a contractor to do the work... you know the usual stuff..."

I recently shared my answers about selection criteria and fees for landscape design. Here, I'll briefly describe how the design process works:

The process itself usually has 5 distinct phases:
1) Discovery - interviewing you, measuring and documenting your site, researching municipal ordinances (e.g. drainage requirements) that can affect the design, etc.

2) Functional Planning - abstractly determining how the various areas of your site should work and interact, e.g. where the BBQ should live relative to the swingset.

3) Preliminary/Schematic Design - giving general form to the functions determined above; this is the color drawing that people drool over. See one example of mine -- notice that the circular deck (lower left) isn't described in any more detail than "Wood Deck"; this is typical generality for this phase. Start talking to contractors now.

4) Final/Construction Plans - the "blueprints" that your site gets built from, including specific plants/locations, hardscape dimensions & finishes, irrigation & lighting recommendations, and other details; for instance, that "Wood Deck" might now be called out as "Redwood 2x4 flooring, countersink screws, stain Mahogany & seal". Contractors develop bids from this. Note that unless your professional is licensed (as an architect or contractor), they are legally prohibited from providing dimensions, grading or drainage specifications, or other construction details.

5) Installation - The contractors' time to shine, but you might still want your designer around in a supporting role, e.g. inspecting and placing plants, checking that the finished work matches up with the intent of the design, making substitutions and judgment calls on the inevitable issues that arise.

The first 4 phases usually take me at least 6-8 weeks, again depending on the complexity of it all. The installation can take weeks or months depending on the contractor. For best prices and availability, start your planning around December and your construction as soon as weather permits. Also, have a firm budget for design and construction, just as you would for buying a home. Don't hire someone to provide a design and then ask "how much will this cost?" You're wasting your money and everyone's time. Current thinking is to spend 5-10% of your home's value on landscaping, for a 1-3x ROI when you sell.

Jun 12, 2006

Hiring a Designer: Part 2

A friend recently wrote me to ask:

"My wife and I are thinking about changing around our backyard a bit... She has some grand ideas and wanted to see how this process works. If we wanted to work with you, what are the fees, how do we find a contractor to do the work, are you modern, do you get it... you know the usual stuff..."

I recently shared my answer for determining the type of professional you need. Here, I'll discuss how much to budget for a landscape design:

Fees are all over the place. Some people charge for time (hourly rate) + materials (usually purchased at a discount & marked up); others charge a flat fee; others use a combination of these. Personally I don't enjoy record-keeping, so I work for a flat fee that I determine based on the size and complexity of the project. I'm finding that $1 - $1.50 per designed square foot is a useful starting point, then scale up or down if your project is more or less involved.

If someone wants to hire me for services that normally aren't covered by the flat fee (for instance, buying pots or plants or making a presentation to your neighbor), then I charge hourly + materials.

Often "design-build" firms -- i.e. contractors that also provide design services -- will use the design fee as their loss-leader to make money off the installation. In other words, they'll discount their design work to reel you in… then take a handsome profit on their construction costs. Obviously, this depresses the market value of my work, and it also deprives you of reliable checks and balances on the quality of the installation. That's why I generally don't like d-b firms.

Next up: The Process…


Jun 5, 2006

Hiring a Designer: Part 1

A friend recently wrote me to ask:

"My wife and I are thinking about changing around our backyard a bit... She has some grand ideas and wanted to see how this process works. If we wanted to work with you, what are the fees, how do we find a contractor to do the work, are you modern, do you get it... you know the usual stuff..."

My answer is worth sharing:

Depending on what you want to do, there are different areas of expertise to look into:
-At the top of the food chain are landscape architects, who are licensed to design structures and complex systems that have health & safety implications, as well as plantings, irrigation, and lighting;
-Landscape contractors are (well, should be) licensed to build structures and install hardscape and irrigation, and design anything they build;
-Landscape designers (like me) legally can't do anything more than develop plans for planting, irrigation, & lighting; we can call out general hardscape locations and finishes, but can't specify how they should be built. Because there's no requirement for licensure or even education, any hack can call themselves a designer... obviously. ;-)

You can check out the following industry associations' sites for more information on each:
- Landscape architecture
- Landscape contractors
-Landscape designers

Next up: Fees…