Production builders that offer homes in the higher price ranges tend to be of two minds when it comes to customization. They can upgrade the home to the fullest, leaving only minimal selections for the buyer to make, or offer more of a semi-custom experience, where buyers can feel as if they’re designing their home from the ground up. “We tend to build a lot slower than the publics,” says Melissa Hazlett, vice president of sales and marketing for Baldwin & Sons in San Diego. The homes range from 3,800 to 5,000 square feet and sell for, on average, $1.7 million. Baldwin’s customers come from its base in Southern California, stretching from Los Angeles to San Diego. Hazlett estimates that its buyers spend, on average, between $150,000 and $200,000 to customize their new homes. To prevent customization from becoming a logistical nightmare, Baldwin starts early. “Depending on how much time we have, I like to release our phases 60 days prior to pouring the slab,” Hazlett says. “Once a buyer is on contract, there are three stages at which they can customize. Stage 1 is prior to slab; Stage 2 is after drywall; and Stage 3 is countertops and flooring. That’s three separate appointments.” She has taught her 20-person sales staff to set expectations up front with buyers and emphasize the importance of adhering to cutoff dates.
ROOMS FLEX THEIR MUSCLES
The most often-requested change that Baldwin buyers make is a room conversion, says Hazlett. They’ll use the third bay of a three-car garage to expand the kitchen or create extra storage, or they’ll convert a bonus room to a bedroom. Mixing two different materials in the kitchen is popular, along with full-wall backsplashes and elaborate lighting packages. “Our average kitchen island is 4 feet long and 2 feet wide,” Hazlett says. “Buyers can enlarge it to 11 feet long and 5 feet wide.” Baldwin offers a California Room option that customers often embrace, upgrading the space with fireplaces, outdoor kitchens, and flat-screen TVs. The master bathroom is regarded as adult escape space and is tricked out accordingly—heated floors, oversize showers, and towel warmers being a few of the options. The customization program clearly works for Baldwin. At The Oaks at Portola Hills, five phases have been released to date and there have been only two cancellations, says Hazlett. That’s a 97 percent capture rate,” she notes.