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Designing a pool in a backyard with minimal space on a cliff

2012-08-15 16.37.36
The initial site visit started at the front door and ended looking off an upper deck at a cliff where the client wanted to install their swimming pool.

By Tim Valerioti

This project, like any other, commenced with a typical client meeting that started out at the front door and ended looking off an upper deck at a cliff where the client wanted to create a spectacular entertainment space with a pool as the centrepiece. There was a major problem, however. The lay of the land only provided 2.7 m (9 ft) of usable space out from the house to build everything. This was the first meeting of a project that would push everyone who worked on it to think outside the box, to create the ultimate backyard getaway.

The sales phase

After getting a feel for each other (the client was referred through an associate), the customer did some further background referencing on the company to make sure they were comfortable with moving forward.

References are important for builders as they provide third-party validation for their company and the quality of work they perform. The key is making sure the benefits of using references are thought out well in advance. For example, most clients typically look for reference letters, but more importantly, should a past client take time to speak to a prospective customer, a thank you gift is a great way to show appreciation—especially if they allow the prospective client to visit their house to see the completed project.

Current satisfied customers are best; however, the company’s past clients over the years are also good for people to see. Keep in mind, it is good to know what the reference is going to say as some builders have been blindsided during a sales meeting about something a previous customer may have said. Always touch base with the referral and verify it is ok if the potential client contacts them directly.

Portfolio pictures, either printed or digital, are great for the sales process as well. They help the customer see what type of work the company is capable of and gives the builder an early idea of what it is they like.

That said, this project incorporated a couple of site visits to allow the new client to see the calibre of work performed and to give them a sense of stability with the builder. As an aside, keep the site visits short and, if possible, have them speak with the homeowners briefly as well—a third-party approval of the company goes a long way in helping the sales process move along.

With this particular client, they were an out of town customer who wanted a pool for their summer home. They had a general idea of what they wanted, but were really looking for someone who had the experience to pull off such a challenging project, while at the same time bringing creativity into the process as well.

Finally, after several onsite meetings and reference checks, a design contract was completed. This was the first step to slowing working together to create a wonderful backyard entertainment space for their family and friends.

The design phase

Designers always like to create new things and push the limits in terms of what can be built. The hard part for the pool builder is turning the design into reality; the even harder part is doing this on some sort of budget.

For this project, several design iterations where required before the client finalized the look and feel they wanted, in addition to what could feasibly be built on the property. Going through all the features they wanted and incorporating them into a relatively small space was a huge challenge. From a long lap pool with water features, fire, full spa, lounge deck, swim-up bar, kitchen, fireplace, TV’s, lighting, audio, pool house, and on, the list was extensive.

Therefore, due to the limitations the property provided, it was necessary to go through all of the ‘wish-for items’ and narrow them down to the ‘must-have items.’ At this point, the project budget was discussed. Typically, customers have a number in mind they are willing to invest in a project as there are two types of features—investment and love.

Investment features are elements others will see value in should the customer decide to sell their house; love features are those the customer will spend a lot of money on because it is something they really want and like. Either way, it is important to explain to clients, depending on the type of project, which features they have selected are love features. That is not to say these features are not okay, but they need to understand someone else may not see the rational in the money spent in adding certain features.

This is why it is a good idea to discuss the budget during the design phase to avoid wasted time and money on something the client is not willing to pay for. Helping the customer understand that simply adding a waterfall feature to the design is not just a few hundred dollars is important so they can decide if they really want the feature.

Every customer is different and their financial ability to create a pool/entertainment space varies. Therefore, the builder needs to determine as best they can early on what this number is so they can guide the design process accordingly. For instance, windows in a pool look great on paper, but if the customer does not have the means to invest in this type of feature than designing it is not the right step.

By the time the design is completed, the client should know exactly what the finished project is going to cost. Clients need to be informed, not surprised after investing their time in designing their dream backyard because the budget is not always a part of the discussion.

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