Plan your merchandising before working drawings are done.

By R.E. Blake Evans

Profit lies in the details. Lee Wetherington Homes (LWH) of Sarasota, Fla., improved its home designs by adjusting schedules to get up-front design input on these money-making details. "We start planning the interior merchandising, drywall details, and built-in units long before the final architectural drawings are finished," says Christine McKinlay, chief design coordinator for LWH.

McKinlay works with a merchandising team or interior specialist at least six months before starting construction to review conceptual plans and add interior touches that don't change the home's initial footprint or architectural concept. "[The team] is a great resource," McKinlay notes. "Working with them, we find ways to improve space planning and zoning, and pop out extra windows for light. And their built-in ideas can add profit to the sale."

Marnie Sorensen, a senior designer with Romanza Interior Design in Orlando, Fla., who consults with McKinlay on various communities and models, says detail drawings can solve merchandising decisions in the field and may save the builder money. "We can easily find ways of adding sizzle that buyers want for less money, and we can also find ways for the builder to make more profit by offering interesting built-in cabinets, sculpting, desks, or even mirrors."

This concept helps stretch the merchandising budget for furniture and accessory purchases because the builder can pass the cost of these "fixed" interior details to the home buyer. Also, the builder can offer interior drawings to buyers for a fee, ranging anywhere from $500 to $1,500 depending on the size of the home and the level of detail required, which gives buyers the option to add details later, Sorensen says.

LWH builds single-family homes on Florida's Gulf Coast. The highly detailed homes, targeted to move-up families and empty-nesters, are priced for the $200,000-plus market.

Campaign details

Program: Pre-construction design details and interior merchandising; Builder/Developer: Lee Wetherington Homes, Sarasota, Fla.; Project: The Florenza at Riverwalk Ridge in Lakewood Ranch, Bradenton, Fla.; Price: $619,000 and up; Merchandising budget: $29 per square foot including pre-construction designs totaling $99,006; Interior merchandiser: Romanza, Interior Design, Orlando, Fla.; Sales: 66