[Image found here, but it’s kind of a crazy website so be cautious]
I read an interesting article (by Katherine Salant, found here) in the Washington Post’s Real Estate section last weekend called “What do buyers want? It can’t be found in a focus group”. Every week I just devour the Real Estate section on Saturdays. It’s one of my favorites. That and the FOOD section which comes out on Wednesdays.
Anyway, the article was about how home builders (the big companies like Ryan Homes, Pulte Homes, KB Homes, etc.) are always trying new ways to figure out what features will bring in home-buyers. Turns out, they haven’t always been too successful with their research. The article explains that information taken from focus groups doesn’t usually affect sales. So what does this mean? Are the builders right in thinking “buyers are liars”?
The problem may not be with the answers, or even the questions asked. The problem may lay with the subject matter and how it is approached. Specifically, buyers may not really know what they want because they aren’t that cognizant about how specific features affect their home environment. Or to put it another way, our homes affect the way in which we behave and live our lives in ways that aren’t always easy to articulate or understand. The article goes on to describe the various new approaches used try and decipher what it is that people want from their homes. Then comes the push and pull between the quantitative and the qualitative. I can just see some executives sitting around a conference table weighing the relative value of larger windows or front porches versus tray ceilings and window seats in order to attract more buyers. It sort of sickens me.
But I’m extremely interested in how we exist in our environments- at home, at work and at play. Its probably one of the reasons I became an architect. I am fascinated by the ways in which we as humans engage our environments and live and behave in them in our own little ways. As individuals and as cultures, we inhabit are spaces according to our needs and desires. If anything, this article reminds me to pay attention to what it is I enjoy about our current living space (mostly its location) and what I deplore (lack of lighting, carpeting, small kitchen) so that I can design for these things once we build or invest in a home of our own.
As Winston Churchill, famously said “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”. How are you shaping yours?