A century ago, a family on the hunt for a new home had a fairly simple way of choosing a home design: pick your favorite from the Sears & Roebuck kit home catalog and go on your merry way. Artist renderings of the homes showed you the style concept and basic structure, and they were often given specific names such as “The Hamilton” or “The Chelsea” – a testament to the artistry that went into the design.
As the years went on, other players such as builders, developers and lumberyards joined the game and offered their services with their own design catalogs. The industry moved swiftly into promotion and marketing in newspapers and magazines, so that families of all sizes could find a plot of land advertised in the newspaper and at the same time could choose a home design to go along with it.
But nowadays, shopping for a home plan is not as easy as picking out your favorite from a catalog. The options are endless – and overwhelming. From the half a dozen Sears kit homes, there is now an explosion of designs available through a single Internet search. What families must now wade through is an overload of information provided by a mix of conglomerate marketing sites and websites hosted by individual designers. And each has its own set of benefits and challenges.
“If you choose one of the larger sites to peruse, and depending on how far you narrow or filter your search, you’ll still have to be patient,” said Rick McAlexander, CEO of Associated Designs in Eugene, Ore. “These websites are essentially a giant marketplace for thousands of designers to bring their ideas to consumers. You have more to choose from, but it’s what I would call ‘variety overload.’”
Many believe that they can pick a plan and start building their home when all they have really achieved is step one: choosing their favorite design from the online catalog. Because these large websites bring designers from across the U.S., your dream design that fits your family’s lifestyle may not be drawn with construction methods or specifications for your area. When the time comes to get the plans reviewed for your local building conditions, you might find yourself in a maze of difficult design questions.
“The designer is often kept at arm’s length with the larger websites,” said McAlexander. “The process to get your home from paper to brick and mortar becomes tedious. And if a plan needs to be customized, you will often be referred to a third party service instead of the original designer of your plan. The process can very easily become a nightmare.”
On the flip side, if you have the patience to scroll past the first couple of pages in your online search, you will find websites hosted by professional home designers who specialize in home plan marketing. You’ll have fewer design options but a personal connection to the designer who will help you modify an existing plan or even create a custom home. Additionally, direct from the designer sites often feature plans that are tailored to a specific region, which can further streamline the process.
“Working with a local design professional will give you the inside look at building recommendations and requirements for your area,” said McAlexander. “Rather than drowning in a sea of questions and construction concerns, you are given a life preserver. Suddenly, you have insight into local construction techniques, and you are better able to dial your set of plans into the style that works for your area.”
There is always the opportunity to find your dream home online, but the process requires patience. The Internet offers a wealth of options both in the products and designs offered as well as the places and companies to buy them from. It is important that you understand what it is that you’re looking at and what you’re hoping for before you pick a home plan. The better informed you are, and the more help or individual attention you are given, makes the experience not something to dread, but something to enjoy.
Next Month: You’ve found a home design online that’s close to what you want—what’s next to choosing a designer and getting your design customized.