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Better stock house plans?

Aardvark

I'm a registered architect with a few years experience, currently working for a corporate firm in the Pacific Northwest. I like my job well enough, but don't want to spend the rest of my career in corporate practice, and would eventually like to start my own practice working on projects with a more intimate scale and attention to detail. I've recently begun exploring the idea of filling a gap I see in the residential design market.

At one extreme, you have the vast majority of new homes, which are generally designed by developers and contractors, cheap and easy to build, and designed for maximum curb appeal rather than to actually be lived in. These homes are generally pretty badly-designed and shoddily built, with a very short shelf life. Consider this the Wal-Mart option.

At the other extreme are the high-end custom homes seen in Dwell and Architectural Digest. Many of them are beautiful and nicely crafted, and are the type of structures I aspire to design at some point. But they're also out of reach for the vast majority of people out there. Consider this the Prada option.

I'm wondering if there's an opportunity to serve this "missing middle" portion of the market by offering a portfolio of modernist stock plans that are well-designed and relatively easy to build by a residential contractor, yet without being alienating. While I'd be open to selling the plans to people in any location, the houses would be designed with the climate and design culture of the Pacific Northwest in mind. This guy in New Jersey has a very similar business model, but I'm not sure if any similar models of practice exist here in the PNW.

I figure I could start putting together a portfolio of maybe five houses to start, and offer them for sale online. Various plans would be offered for a variety of conditions and uses (urban, suburban / rural, primary residence, backyard cottage, vacation cabin, etc.) This is something I could easily do on my own time while continuing to hold down a full-time job; I already have most of the resources I need at home, so there'd be very little in the way of upfront investment other than my time. Of course, I'd also offer full architectural design services if somebody wants to go that route. (My current employer discourages moonlighting, but doesn't explicitly prohibit it as long as there's no conflict of interest and it doesn't involve firm resources.) And I figure even if I don't actually sell any of these stock plans, they'd still look good in my portfolio if/when I pursue employment with another firm or start my own practice in a few years.

Thoughts? Are there any major potential pitfalls that I'm perhaps not considering?

 
Jul 23, 16 9:42 pm

Moditect,

Greg La Vardera has a fair model but he would need a better online "store front". I'm a building designer working along this model in addition so if you like I'd look forward to talking with you about it privately. 

I'm based in Astoria, Oregon. 

You can PM me or send an email to rickbalkins AT gmail DOT com 

Jul 23, 16 10:47 pm  · 
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There are obviously inherent pitfalls with stock house plans. Part of the challenge is designing 'green' with a house that is not designed geographically to the site for optimal sustainable design as well as to the context of neighborhood, etc.

How stock house plan market works (TYPICALLY), is a customer buys a set of plans they happen to like (be it the end-user client, builder, developer, etc.), then they will attempt to submit them for permits and build. 

Most of these clients literally do not give a sh-t about whether or not the design fits the neighborhood. Especially the end-user clients. They care about only themselves like most American households. They usually don't care if their neighbors like it but they are also the first ones complaining if someone else builds something they don't like.

How does one address these potential issues that as 'architects' (speaking loosely not statutory definition) are expected to consider as part of the local/regional professional standard of care. In this age, architects (and building designers) in the pacific northwest are expected to be more environmentally conscious about the environmental and contextual impact.  

This is the basic ethos of the architecture profession in this region. Architecture schools teaches this ethos. This ethos is by no means limited to the pacific northwest.

Since every plan bearing your stamp will be expected to be properly prepared to the site.

Stock house plans typically requires the same plans to be sold many times and house plans are usually sold for less than $2500 for each customer. Each package of plans will typically have the minimum required number of sets typically required at building departments. The standard is usually 3 or 5 sets. Customers would be paying less than $2500 for 3 to 5 sets of a chosen plan to be mailed to them.

A pitfall is one design can often take a lot of time to design so it would require many sales of that plan to pay for the original amount of labor. Variant plans often involve only a little amount of time and for it's prices would pay itself off faster.

Stock house plans market are viewed upon dimly your licensed peers.

In that regard, that is a potential pitfall.

Jul 23, 16 11:30 pm  · 
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no_form
While you have identified a market, your offer is nothing unique. There's no reason why I'd go to you instead of anyone else.
Jul 24, 16 12:02 am  · 
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Gloominati

When something has "obviously inherent pitfalls" it is not necessary to describe them in 400 words - or any words at all for that matter.  They're obvious.

Jul 24, 16 12:08 am  · 
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The Modernist idea of a building that can placed anywhere (i.e. Stock plans, prototypes, International Style, etc...) is a fallacy that needs to die out.

However if you can differentiate yourself from "professional" building designers who are oblivious to following codes, then go for it.
Jul 24, 16 12:30 am  · 
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x-jla

Stock plans will never fill the "missing middle" because urban/suburban raw land costs are high for single lots and financing for new construction is difficult for the average home buyer.  Have you thought about designing and developing your own residential projects?  It's a much more realistic way to affect the middle market.  Just takes some investment $$$

Jul 24, 16 1:26 am  · 
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FormerlyUnknown,

374 words is small. That's about a 3 minutes speech.

Jul 24, 16 1:28 am  · 
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curtkram

i <3 international style

Jul 24, 16 1:31 am  · 
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jla-x,

Most housing projects are never designed or built by the average middle income families. 

In this day an age in the United States, we need to stop designing houses and design apartmentsbecause Americans do not live in any place long enough. They are better off renting or leasing than owning because they move every 5 to 10 years. When people decide to finally settle in a location for at least 30 years, maybe buy but until then you might as well just rent. Why own a house if you are just a vagabond or a glorified itinerant worker?

I do have a question or two, where the hell are you going to get investment money. Investors invests in technology not  single family housing. Who the hell is putting money into investing in single-family housing?

Jul 24, 16 1:34 am  · 
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gruen
I've given this a lot of thought also. It's a business, like any other. It's saturated with bad designs, and some decent (but traditional) ones too. The public generally purchases traditional designs. Often "the public" is a contractor/developer. There is a market for modern designs but it's a business like any other-a lot of work. I think there is a market and the PNW might be a great area.
Jul 24, 16 7:44 am  · 
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tintt

I think it is a great idea. 

Jul 24, 16 8:29 am  · 
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xian

Remember that with stock plans, you are trying to sell people somebody's else's floorplan, so the buyer is usually someone who just wants a functional house and is not too picky about the design. People who want a specific design hire their own architect.

Most stock plan buyers own several acres of land out in the country, and they just need a structure there. People in the city or suburbs who just want a house has plenty of existing houses to choose from, but if you just want a house on your 10 acre ranch, you need a stock plan.

Also I'd be concerned about trying to sell modern designs. Architects have been beating the public over the head for years trying to convince them that modern is cool, and the public isn't playing along. Stock plans depend on bulk sales, and the market for modern is pretty narrow.

I think there is a market for people who like modern houses, don't want to spend millions, but would want something designed specifically for them, that's probably the route you need to go, and use the stock plans as marketing material to hook jobs.

Jul 24, 16 9:11 am  · 
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bowling_ball

I just want to point out that modernist is not the same thing as modern.

Being in the PNW, you might be familiar with Darcy Jones out of Vancouver. He offers stock cabin plans designed for the climate but I'm not sure he's ever sold one.

Jul 24, 16 9:29 am  · 
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BulgarBlogger

As long as there are covenants in certain townships, introduction of a nee housing model can never occur.

Jul 24, 16 9:59 am  · 
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proto

"Stock plans depend on bulk sales"

xian has it; the implications of this are multivarious

Jul 24, 16 3:37 pm  · 
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shellarchitect

given the financing problems most of the missing middle will have with sfh, perhaps it would make more sense to focus on "tiny homes?"  

The only issue there is that there is a strong diy ethos...

Jul 25, 16 12:34 pm  · 
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Non Sequitur

Tiny homes is just another hipster rewording of the typical travel trailer... but now with dedicated record player storage and recycled bamboo flooring! yay! Tiny homes/trailers still need land and utilities. Can't just park it anywhere.

Jul 25, 16 12:48 pm  · 
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Dangermouse

"investors invests in technology not  single family housing. Who the hell is putting money into investing in single-family housing?"

lets see...local investors, contractors, architect/developers, REITs, Blackstone Group and other hedge funds...tangible assets are hot investment items right now.

 

stop discussing things you know nothing about, balkins.

Jul 25, 16 12:58 pm  · 
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N.S.,

Tiny Homes are not necessarily trailers.

Just saying.

Jul 25, 16 1:03 pm  · 
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Non Sequitur

^ correct, but the current reality-tv generated phase is heavily skewed towards re-invented travel trailers. Land ownership still remains the main hurdle.

Jul 25, 16 1:19 pm  · 
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x-jla

Tiny homes can be effective when the dumb zoning allows for greater subdivisions of parcels.  The ultimate way to translate "freedom" into space is to allow for smaller land division within suburban and urban areas...imagine how that would democratize land ownership...lots available in 10'x10' parcels...used for small retail, housing, food truck, etc...

Jul 25, 16 1:50 pm  · 
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curtkram

you would have to retain storm drainage on that 10'x10' parcel and have sanitary run to it and water and power.  most of the 10'x10' lots would apparently be covered by utility easements.  you would need review and approval from all of the public/private utilities run to the lot.  the fees to build on the lot would be the same as the fees to build on larger lots, due to the fact that the scope is essentially the same if not greater to get those utilities to the site and maintain that infrastructure.

Jul 25, 16 1:58 pm  · 
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In my locality, I am looking at options like accessory dwellings and possibilities.

Jul 25, 16 2:17 pm  · 
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^ correct, but the current reality-tv generated phase is heavily skewed towards re-invented travel trailers. Land ownership still remains the main hurdle.

I never really follow the reality TV bullshit. One of the classes I took did pertain to the topic of tiny houses. 

Aside from that, I have no disagreement with what you are saying about land ownership and nothing much about anything else other than a minor but now mutually agreed point. 

Jul 25, 16 2:21 pm  · 
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tintt

"Why deny yourself the pleasure any longer?" < this is what my philosophy professor says about reading philosophy. 

Jul 27, 16 2:26 am  · 
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archiwutm8

"In my locality, I am looking at options like accessory dwellings and possibilities."

 

Look into doing something productive instead.

Jul 27, 16 4:24 am  · 
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tduds

"I am looking at options like .. possibilities."

Jul 27, 16 11:33 am  · 
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greatescape

This post should die. No such thing as Better Stock House Plans. 

Market yourself, put yourself out there. Don't devalue yourself and your profession.

You make yourself and the rest of us look bad son.

 

And please, don't listen to balkins he is a drafter. Not a Architect.

Jul 27, 16 12:35 pm  · 
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Volunteer

Check out 'connorbuilding.com' up in Vermont. They provide plans, alter existing plans, or create entirely new plans to suit their client. They make subassemblies in their factory and ship the whole house to the owners site.

Jul 27, 16 3:04 pm  · 
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Bench

Seems very patriotic.

Jul 27, 16 3:52 pm  · 
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x-jla

Don't know if stock plans is best approach, but certainly must make housing more of a product than a service to reach the average residential buyer.  We don't all need, and can't all afford custom hot-rods...the majority of buyers are in the market for a Camry...

Jul 27, 16 4:14 pm  · 
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gruen
Tiny houses are trailers. Because not just zoning but also building code. Otherwise too big to be tiny. Because, stairs, etc.
Jul 29, 16 10:00 pm  · 
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gruen,

Don't be too presumptuous. Different locations. Different codes. Don't just think U.S. only. In addition, stairs are not necessarily required in a design.

Trailers implies it can be 'rolled away" by hooking it up to a trailer hitch. 

This implies the so called tiny house has wheels under it. That's not always true.

Even N.S. agreed.

Jul 29, 16 10:05 pm  · 
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no_form
Hi, I'm doing a thesis on parametric vinylism. I need to come up with a stock plan for geriatric housing located on Mars.

Any ideas? Thanks. Oh this is due on Monday so I need responses fast.
Jul 30, 16 1:57 am  · 
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Aardvark

Thanks for all the responses, especially jla-x. The article links are very helpful, and demonstrate that a market exists for this kind of idea. On the west coast in general and the PNW in particular, there seems to be more of an appetite for modernism than back east. The traditional styles never gained as much traction here, and many multi-family projects are still being designed using modernist language.

And as xian mentions above, even if I don't sell a single set of plans, having the projects in my portfolio would at least be good for marketing purposes. Most of the current projects in my portfolio are those completed while working for employers and often with somebody else as the lead designer, so it would be nice to have some small projects that are of my own design.

no_form implies that I wouldn't be offering anything unique, but I'm not sure I agree. I'm a registered architect with experience at some good firms. I don't claim to be the next Peter Zumthor, but I have above-average design skills and I have the technical know-how to produce a pretty airtight set of documents. Most houses by suburban builders are horribly designed and badly built, but most homeowners can't afford a custom home designed by a signature architect. What I'd be offering is something between those two extremes, while also offering the usual range of architectural design services for those who wish to modify a stock design or go the full-custom route.

Aug 10, 16 12:29 am  · 
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proto

lindal cedar homes offers architect designed plans, including marmol radziner & bates masi

Aug 10, 16 2:01 pm  · 
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randomised

Stock house plans to house stock people.

Jul 27, 17 11:45 am  · 
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