It’s been a few years since residential design/build contractors could feel good about the business environment. Although the housing market remains relatively weak as a whole, several glimmers of hope began to emerge earlier this spring that have contractors feeling as optimistic as they have in a while.
“We’ve seen some things loosening up since early in the year,” says Matt Kulp of The Showcase Group in East Pearl, PA (western side of the state). “There is a lot more interest for small design/build projects once again.”
Out in Las Vegas, one of the hardest-hit housing markets in the country, Rob Diaz reports similar improvements. While new home construction remains virtually non-existent, Diaz says more homeowners are looking to do landscape renovations and upgrades. Diaz is president and CEO of Land Care Inc.
March uptick the real deal?
According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), housing starts were up 7.2% in March after a surprisingly dismal month of February. Both single- and multi-family dwellings improved. Growth in the issuance of building permits was even more impressive as that number jumped 11%. Permits specifically for multi-family units, which represent apartment buildings and condos, increased 25%.
Still, builder confidence remains fragile, and even took a step back in April, according to the NAHB. That’s the type of uncertainty many landscape design/build contractors continue to wrestle with.
“Home builders are looking for price and price alone,” Kulp relates. “There is no value sell anymore; it is strictly a numbers game.”
On Pennsylvania’s eastern side, Mike McShane of Plantique Inc. in Allentown says that homes under construction are still few and far between. “The only home building of any substance in our area is the national builders that are trying to finish large developments started a couple of years ago,” McShane says. “They have had to reduce prices and typically don’t include any substantial landscapes. Fortunately, we’ve never been tied to any builders so we don’t have any exposure.”
For those custom builders that are feeding Plantique work, McShane says his company’s experienced staff of designer architects, not to mention his company’s overall strong command of stormwater management and other regulations, is playing a big role in instilling confidence in both builders and consumers, ultimately resulting in new projects.
Roughly 165 miles away in Monroe, CT, Craig Kopfmann of Get Green Acres Landscape & Design is seeing a similar pattern. “We have always done very little work for home builders, but it seems to me that builders are looking to leverage the knowledge and experience of their contractors,” Kopfmann says. In other words, while new home building activity remains spotty, and home builders are placing a great deal of emphasis on price, they are also looking for some serious credentials from their landscape contractors.
What homeowners are looking for
Homeowners continue to look for that “staycation” environment, according to Kulp. “They want to create a relaxing atmosphere to de-stress and enjoy time with family and friends, and to some degree keep the outside world away,” Kulp says.
About 10 miles south of Wichita in Derby, KS, Kevin Payne of TenderCare Lawn & Landscape, a 2008 Pros in Excellence Award winner, says homeowners are also looking for outdoor living amenities—they’re just looking to spend a little bit less than they were willing to spend four or five years ago.
“People haven’t been looking to spend much money on pool installations lately,” Payne relates, “but they are looking for things like fire pits and pondless water features. I’d say that the dollar value on landscaping projects has definitely dropped, and that most homeowners are looking to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 to $15,000—which is fine because these are still great jobs.”