Time for Design

A slower pace, streamlined choices, and more education lead to higher options sales at Ryland Homes in Phoenix.

It's 8:30 a.m. on an unusually chilly Friday morning in Phoenix, and Kevin and Tiffany Kucifer are due to arrive shortly at the Ryland Homes' design center to select options and upgrades for their new home. They're buying the Sonora, a two-story, four-bedroom, 2 ½-bath model with a large upstairs bonus room and a first-floor den, in Ryland's Sunset Farms Vista in Tolleson, Ariz. At 2,886 square feet, it's the largest home available in the community. They're also installing a pool.

Designer Wade Van Dine has told them ahead of time to plan on being there for the day—and they'll need every minute of it. They are concerned that they haven't met with their mortgage counselor yet to know how much money they can spend. This is an anomaly in the process, but the Kucifers had been called out of town suddenly with a death in the family and couldn't meet with him before their appointment. Van Dine knows this, and says that they have a sizable budget with their incentive dollars. Their mortgage counselor works in the same office suite and will stop by to see them later in the day.

He recommends that they pick out what they want, and they can make adjustments as needed. He also explains that for each option category, he'll show them standard items and the available upgrades, grouped into price points from low to high. He'll also point out the pros and cons of the choices, including upkeep and impact on resale value. They're comfortable with that, and they're ready to start.

WHOLE NEW BALLGAME It's a big change from the crazed days of the real estate boom, when four designers each juggled two appointments a day, gently but firmly pushing buyers through their selections.

“In 2005, it was almost a factory line,” says Ryland sales manager Emilio Garcia. “A market like this is beneficial to buyers. They get a lot more time to make their choices.”


Now, while sales are down, the amount of money that customers are spending on options and upgrades is up, says design center manager Virginia Richards. On average, customers are spending 10 percent more in the design center than they did when the market was booming, she says. In the boom times, many of the buyers were investors who chose standard grade on everything. The buyers now are buying for themselves, and they recognize that they're creating their dream home. They're thoughtful about their choices and willing to spend money to get their heart's desire.

They're much more focused, Richards says, and, thanks to cable networks such as Home and Garden TV, they want more for their homes.

With the relaxed pace, Van Dine and fellow designer Carla Arger each do no more than one appointment per day. (The other two designers have moved to other divisions or departments at Ryland.) They can take their time, get to know their buyers' lifestyles, and help them make decisions that customers will be happy with for years to come.

The Kucifers are new in Phoenix, having moved here from Virginia Beach, Va., the previous summer. She is a registered nurse in a pediatric cardiac care unit; he is in medical equipment sales. They have a 6-year-old daughter and cats. This is the first time they've ever bought a new house.

It's all important information for Van Dine, who has worked at Ryland for five years. The first and most important decision of the day is flooring because it costs the most money of all their options (except for the pool) and is the most permanent. If they'd said they had dogs instead of cats, for example, he would have strongly suggested they rethink their choice of hardwood floors. As it is, he takes time to explain how the floors will wear and how they could be damaged. They spend a long time choosing carpet, with a discussion that includes Kool-Aid cleanup. Van Dine, a dad with three young children, has been there. The couple ultimately chooses the same style of carpet he has in his own house.

“It's like they have a family working with them,” Richards says.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Phoenix, AZ.