I canceled a credit card. I know, I know. That is completely un-American. I had to. I couldn’t handle them any more. It was a card to a retail store.

I had to do it because no one was willing to listen. Yes, the only reason I canceled my card was no one was willing to listen.

Let me explain. I received a bill that had erroneous charges on it. I called and was transferred to somewhere in the world where English is really not a staple product, though the merchandiser, who hired them, thought it was.

I was able to overcome the barbed wire of the language barrier only to find out no one was willing to listen. The hours I spent on the phone attempting to clear up a simple billing issue were a complete failure due to arrogance. The arrogance of being unwilling to listen.

I’ve learned something recently, in all humility I must say real estate was no different during the boom. In the real estate days of ‘ore, no on had to listen. We just had to show up with a pen that had enough ink for the day. We would brush aside the “petty” requests of the patrons and say, “what do they know, they’re buying one home and we’ve been doing this for 20 + years.”
I remember we were getting requests for brushed nickel and stainless steel items long before we decided to make the finishes an included feature in the home. The sad part is when the economy turned, we all started running around in a frenzy saying “What do they want? What do the need? What will they pay for?” I believe the market was always telling builders, if we are to listen.
I think Calvin Coolidge put it well when he said, “No man ever listened himself out of a job.” These days, anyone in real estate is doing some major listening. Now we listen twice as much as we talk and we parse each word as if to squeeze the last micro-droplet out of what customer’s are wanting and more important willing to pay for.
Getting the right mix of product and price is essential. All those in real estate sit on the edges of their seats with bated breath as if we were listening to a holy person telling us the meaning of life. So what are we hearing?
One of the first things builders are hearing is homes need to be more energy efficient. The easiest way to be more energy efficient is for all the northerners to move south in the winter and all the southerners to move north in the summer. That issue move alone would save all the heating expenses and cooling expenses. Getting past the poor planned jest, this issue alone will take the balance of this post because there are some peripheral cascading domino issues that play and constrict energy efficiency. What are those issues and what does that do to the home?
The first issue that deeply constricts the energy efficiency program is the size of the home. A builder cannot build a 1,000 to 1,250 + square foot home per person in the home (based on a 4 person per home occupancy that would be 4,000 to 5,000 sqare feet) and make a home 30% more energy efficient….unless energy efficiency is a relative term. What benchmark do we use to call a home energy efficient?
Can we say increase energy efficiency by 30% and easily quantify what that means? Windows are a large source of lost energy. If you enjoy natural light does that mean you loose 30% of your natural light? What about insulation? Can we add 30% energy efficiency across the board by increasing the quantity of the insulation? Can we use recycled products if recycled products consume 2x the energy to be produce compared to new?
There is no question that there needs to be balance in how this energy efficiency is benchmarked and arrived at. No one product can be the silver bullet to address the request for efficiency.
I think the more important issue for the builders, those not being run as non-profit industries, is what balance are consumers willing to pay for?
Here is why I state my case. In many of the neighborhoods we build in, we installed what is called “conditioned crawls spaces.” These spaces were green features that cost about $8,000 to $12,ooo per home. The claim by the installer was that the energy efficiency of these crawl spaces would pay for itself in energy savings over the next 3-5 years. Riding the green wave we installed them. We recently had to pull the cost out of the standard home package because no one was willing to pay for them.
Why? No one was willing to see the green feature as a daily benefit, though it was, and would rather buy something that gave them warm fuzzies, features such as Granite Counter tops and Screen Porches.
Where will the trend toward tiny and efficient go? Is it here to stay?
Right now it is certainly headed down the path of being permanent fixture of the recession….time will tell if a tiny foot print and efficiency last past the tightening of the belt.
What are you willing to pay for in a new home?