Real Estate Opportunities for Interiorscapers

Back when Bill Clinton was in office, I landed a huge residential design project worth six figures. It was a time when real estate values were rising higher and higher with no end in sight.

Toll Brothers, one of the country’s top land developers of luxury homes, wanted to use a non-traditional landscape designer to create garden areas that rivaled Disney World for their newest premier community called Nocatee.

Having worked on small projects with Toll Brothers, this was my chance to create the wow factor of my fantasies.  Although this was the most intense pressure I’ve ever felt while working on a design — the idea of seeing my vision transform from paper into reality was worth the pain. After putting in over a hundred super-stressed-out-hours, can you guess what happened? The real estate balloon with the small leak seemed to burst overnight and my project was scrapped. Not only did projects like that vanish – so did every mortgage, bank, engineering or construction company. Out of the 15 mortgage companies, 12 bank branches and 1 construction client I had, only one bank’s corporate office didn’t cancel their interiorscape account due to the housing crash.

A decade later, I’m amazed to see real estate is climbing out of their pit and approaching the peak it used to reside. Once again, it’s becoming a seller’s market (I know firsthand as I’m currently trying to buy another house). With home values rising, so is the opportunity to regain that horticultural business we once had. Here are my top three avenues for attaining that work.

Home Builders & Land Developers

Marketing to new home builders can lead to different projects; such as garden designs for courtyards, hanging baskets for porches, lanais and flower boxes for balconies. While some builders may try to get by with picking up these items at the local box chain; it’s up to us, the experts, to show them how investing in the right containers with sub-irrigation can save time and money while keeping a consistent professional appearance. Although landscaping has top priority, taking most if not all of the horticulture budget, the high-end luxury developers with big competition will want that perfect foliage appearance to reflect on the inside as well. Just like five-star hotels have impressive interiorscapes to maintain their status, the same clientele expect that five-star appearance in their homes. This is why the head interior designer at Toll Brothers wanted live plants to highlight the architectural cut-outs, flowers for the foyers and impressive containers to soften the entrance and veranda inside their model homes. Relying on the real estate agents to maintain plants turned out to be a bad idea. That’s how I came in. Soon after staging the first model home with high-end foliage, containers, orchid bowls and a fresh flower arrangement, I was getting a call every other month to stage a different model at a new community. Even if it’s a very small project, with the right builder, there are many possibilities to literally grow with them.

Home Owners & Associations

In North Florida, homes selling three hundred thousand and above are good candidates for staging and have the broad financial base to afford it. Creating flyers of before and after photos of my home staging projects is one tool I used to get a home owner’s attention. Below the pictures, I would bullet all the benefits of using live plants such as they help keep the air fresh and clean. The smell of a home becomes extremely important when you have strangers inspecting every room. This fact alone, got me clients who would rent plants until their house sold. Attending home association meetings, advertising for free on Facebook’s Swip/Swap or using apps like Nextdoor are a cost effective way to reach many home owners in your area. People tend to trust companies that they know are local, can see your work and done business with people they know. Property manager’s and associations’ top priority is to maintain and increase everyone’s property value. The more inviting atmosphere potential buyers experience, the more likely they are to buy that condo or home. Showing the association how live foliage can enhance their clubhouse or pool, will increase the odds of them finding money in the budget to do so.

Relators

I’ve met many realtors through networking groups, social events and soliciting local offices with my marketing material that focuses on plant staging and curb appeal design. Developing a relationship with an agent who specializes in the high-end market can be very beneficial for both. While the realtor has the most influence of the home selling decisions, it’s normally the home owner that pays for your services. Sometimes, with the owner’s permission, a relator may pay all or part of the cost because they have seen the difference from past experience. I’ve had some agents tell me, that a house that has sat on the market for months will sell in days after being staged with attractive furniture and plants. Other realtors experienced more offers which usually result in higher sale prices. I once asked an agent why they would invest in staging a property and he replied, “Homes sell five to ten thousand more, especially the large empty ones.” Once a home sells, there is a second opportunity to market your plant or flower arrangements as house warming gifts. Most agents are so busy, if you provide them with a choice of client gifts, you just did both of you a big favor. They don’t have to spend valuable time searching for something– and you just exposed your product and services to a new resident and potential future client.

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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