First, the economy was ok last winter in Saratoga Springs, NY when the local builders association decided that the housing market was strong enough to showcase 19 houses and condos this month. That’s up from 15 homes last year and none in 2009 when the economy was so uncertain that no showcase was held.

Second, the economy isn’t as good was it was 4 years ago. The difference isn’t the number of homes on display; it’s the homes themselves.

As background, Saratoga Springs might be the healthiest community in Upstate New York. Our county unemployment rate is below 6% and retail sales have rebounded pretty well. Of course, home sales are down dramatically even here, although prices are reported as holding fairly flat.

Regardless, the weaker economy has caused the homes selected for the showcase to be smaller, less expensive and less glitzy…at least most of them are.

  • Two key signals:
    • Most of the master bedrooms were as small as the second bedrooms a few years ago; and
    • Only a few of the master bathrooms had jet tubs and many had a single sink.
    • Other clues:
      • There were more materials that seemed to the standard options at Home Depot/Lowe’s; and
      • They mainly had mid-tier appliances (stainless of course, but very few Wolf or Viking appliances).

One builder, The Michaels Group, did a great job with two of the smaller-to-midsize homes that you walked into and felt like you could move in tomorrow; Straight-forward floor plans and relatable decorating. I doubt that these will win any awards for architecture, but they’ll find buyers who want a home they can enjoy.

Their decorator did a great job coordinating the spaces, probably convincing us that the spaces were a little bigger than a tape measure would determine.

The lessons are:

  • Understand the market place;
  • Know your customers;
  • Good room flow sells; and
  • Staging is as important in a new home as a resale.

Only 4 of the homes were “over the top” this year, which depending on the home is a compliment or a comment wondering, “what were they thinking.”

  • One very large condo that costs nearly 10 times the average home in town could be described as decorated and appointed with an unlimited budget.
  • Another house had rooms that were tacked on in unlikely places. The floor plan seems to have been done using a technique similar to pick-up sticks.

One builder made me wonder if he wanted to sell his homes.

He set rules for entering his homes that literally kept me out. When my friends asked me about which builder they should consider, I will give them a couple of recommendations and one strong negative because he communicated an attitude that he would be difficult to work with.

The lessons:

  • Make people welcome, and
  • Make it easy to experience your product.

About Richard Sellers

Richard is Chairman Emeritus of the Marketing Executives Networking Group, founder of Demand Marketing consulting firm, and former Sr. VP of Marketing for three multi-billion dollar companies: CEC, WLP, and Service Merchandise. His early career was at GE, P&G, Playtex, and Marketing Corporation of America. He’s also a volunteer counselor for SCORE assisting small businesses in upstate New York. You can follow his communications about marketing, job search and careers here and at mengonlineENTREPRENEURS QUESTIONS, and on Twitter at @Sellers_Richard.



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