State of the Industry 2017

With the Spring of 2017 coming upon us, we thought that we would ask several industry insiders about the current state of the high-end residential market of Fairfield County (CT) and Westchester County (NY).   We thought that this would be valuable to homeowners considering a construction project, and we honestly wanted to test or confirm our own thoughts on this as well.  We wrote a similar blog post back in 2014 (has it really been 3 years?), but in that post we interviewed 4 General Contractors to dip our toe into the pool and understand the state of the industry at that time.  For this State of the Industry blog post, we decided to mix it up and ask one General Contractor, one Interior Designer and one Landscape Architect.

Here are the experts participating this year.

General Contractor:
Julio DiBiase Jr. is second generation builder and  President of Dibico Construction. Dibico is a family run business which has been building, remodeling and maintaining custom homes for over 26 years throughout Fairfield, Westchester and NYC.

Landscape Architect:
James Doyle is a principal at Doyle Herman Design Associates and founded the firm in 1993. He has developed an award winning landscape design business with projects across the United States and in Europe.

Interior Designer:
Meg Gabriele is a Senior Designer at Christina Murphy Interiors. She has been with the company for 10 years. They've worked all over the country, but primarily in New York City, Connecticut and Westchester, The Hamptons, New Jersey, and Florida. Meg specializes in large scale high-end residential interior design, but takes on projects of all sizes and budgets.

 So, here is a peek into the current industry climate for the Spring of 2017.

Topic #1:  How busy are you?
Julio DiBiase Jr.:  2016 was the busiest year for us since the peak in 2006 for our New Construction and Remodel division. Our Home Maintenance division seen a 35% increase in customer base as well and continues to grow. So far for 2017 the trend is continuing.

James Doyle:  2016 was a busy year and we have had steady growth in our business each year.  My business partner, Kathryn Herman, and I are always cautious and we hit the reset button at the beginning of each year.  We evaluate each year and set targets and budgets for the coming year.  January is a difficult month for us to figure out how the year will be but we do have ongoing projects from last year and before that.

Meg Gabriele:  Being busy is an understatement! Luckily we are incredibly busy with projects of all shapes and sizes. It's best when we can try to stagger projects so that we are focusing on different stages of different projects at different times, but we don't always have that luxury. Since we are in a high-end luxury business, we find there are always people who are willing to spend money investing in their homes. 2016 was one of my busiest and most profitable years, and 2017 thus far is shaping up to be the same. Being based in New York City, even when the recession hit and home values plummeted, we still had clients who were not terribly affected and took advantage of the low prices to purchase homes and apartments they might normally not have been able to afford and helped to design them.

Topic #2: How are current prices as compared to previous years?

Julio DiBiase Jr.:  Material and labor which have were more or less stagnant since the down turn have been creeping up over the past 2-3 years. Insurance though seems to be the one expense that has steadily climbed and continues to climb. We are also required to carry more types of coverage as well as higher limits these days. I find myself needing to explain to clients, especially clients of new builds, why the cost of the house we budget 18 months ago during preliminary design, is now costing more when we start to buyout the trades. Today if we are providing budget numbers I explain to the Architect or Client that we need to build in a larger contingency than in the past to compensate for the faster rise in costs.

James Doyle:  We like to have pricing/budget discussions at the beginning and all the way through a project.  We will do Pre Design Budgets if necessary and explain that these are guidelines and not exact costs.  We find that clients may know square foot costs for construction of homes and interiors but are not that well educated about the exterior costs.

Meg Gabriele:  Each and every year, pricing on goods and services we are purchasing for our clients goes up. There is nothing we can do about that, we have no control over what our vendors charge. I wouldn't say that prices go up an insane amount though, it's pretty standard year to year. We are always on the hunt for vendors who might charge less so that we can pass along that discount to our clients. My favorite phrase is "you get what you pay for" (most of the time). You can't expect to hire the least expensive tradesman and also get the best quality and the fastest turnaround. You can't expect to purchase fabrics or furniture that aren't made well and expect them to last forever. We tend to do lots of highs and lows in our business. We encourage people to spend money where it's important, and maybe skimp a little on something that doesn't need to last forever if they have a budget.

Topic #3:  How are the current state of design/construction schedules?
Julio DiBiase Jr.:  Most clients start off with an understanding of our proposed schedule and agree to it. The problems always come when things are changed after construction starts. I always warn a new client that the biggest obstacle to meeting the completion date is changes made during construction and the more changes made the harder it will be to keep to a deadline.

James Doyle:  Our schedules revolve around construction schedules for the most part. A lot of our work is aligned with new homes being built or renovated so we are at the mercy of architects and General Contractors and their schedules.  We also have to work with mother nature and be smart about the planting installations and their schedules.  Client expectations need to be managed with regard to schedules and budgets.  Honesty is the best policy!

Meg Gabriele:  Clients are always in a hurry! We are always put on tight time lines and deadlines. People purchase their homes and want to move in and be comfortable there (understandably). That being said, we really try to be upfront with our clients from day one about how long things can take. There are always lead times and to get the job done right, we all must be patient most of the time. If a client has never gone through the interior design process before they find it hard to believe the kind of time it can take to get the results they want. If they've worked on a previous home or homes, they typically understand. We always say it's worth the time to get it done right the first time. Once the process starts clients typically tend to start to understand the process and why it does take the time it does.

Topic #4:  Any current trends that you are seeing?

Julio DiBiase Jr.:  We are seeing and have been for the past few years, a trend towards more modern style be it in the interior of the home or even to a more modern style of architecture throughout. We also see a more recent swing toward a mix of modern and natural elements, a lot of natural wood floors, built ins, millwork and furniture.

James Doyle:  We tend to stay away from design trends and want our landscapes to be timeless.  But, we are seeing an upturn in clients wanting vegetable/kitchen gardens and the creation and restoration of natural environments such as meadows.  We are excited at the prospect of creating habitats for birds, bees and other insects and having this juxtaposed with designed outdoor spaces that are more sculptural.  Also, we are trying to educate our clients about the value of landscape lighting as it adds a whole other dimension to the outdoors.  In the Northeast, it can bring a winters landscape alive even if you are indoors looking out.

Meg Gabriele:  Trends are hard. In interior design, everyone has different taste and different definitions of what they believe "traditional" and "modern" mean. I'd say the majority of our clients are tending to lean towards cleaner lines and less fuss, but then again I have a lot of clients who are also heading back towards what I like to call "granny chic". Trends are always shifting and being recycled year to year. I am always a fan of staying relatively classic with the architecture, mill work, kitchens and bathrooms, and flooring, but then playing around with the textures and colors and soft materials that they can easily change down the road if they want.

Topic #5:  What are your current thoughts on sustainability in your work?

Julio DiBiase Jr.:  Since 2010 all the new homes we have built have all had geo-thermal and some also have solar. This is a good trend that I hope continues even if the Federal tax credit does not get renewed. These two things combined with the very high efficient boilers, water heaters, windows and insulation provide for homes today to function much more efficiently.

James Doyle:  We have just completed a LEED certified project that was a large team effort with the client and their architect.  This was a discussion initially brought about by the architect and her design wishes for the house.  We were really interested in learning how we could add to the certification of this project and it influenced our choice of materials, both plantings and hardscape. We used more drought tolerant and native plants, less lawn areas.  We received credits for having a weather sensor on the irrigation system and specified pervious materials vs impervious when possible.  We will look to discuss LEED with our clients for future projects and we definitely see a larger interest in this approach.

Meg Gabriele:  I think clients always would love to be as green as possible if the budget allows. We love to use natural materials. But being green or sustainable can cost a lot of money, so although we'd love to be sustainable in every area of our job, it doesn't always happen due to budget constraints.  

So that’s it, check back in early 2018.