Selling Stock Plans

Part 19 of 20: Opportunities outside of the design phase

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The stock plan sector – those in the trade call them “pre-designed” or “pre-drawn” custom plans – is big business. According to the American Institute of Building Design (the trade group representing architects and designers who sell stock plans), 128,000 home plan orders were shipped last year for a volume of about $65 million.

The stock plan business dates back to the early 1900s and the days of the Sears pattern books, from which people pretty much ordered their houses by mail. But over the past few years, the industry has snowballed as the trend toward customization has taken hold, and consumers have become much more involved in the building process.

Individual property owners and professional home builders buy plans off the shelf. What began as a print magazine business with projects delivered in hard copy through the email, is now a substantial online opportunity with plans delivered electronically.

How To Find The Work

In this case, you make your opportunities, not actually “find work.” The most qualified designers are adding an average of 50 new plans a year to a library of layouts that runs nearly 800 per firm. But, these don’t have to be original work in the sense that the house is designed strictly for online sales. These “new plans” can come from your existing inventory intended for other clients. Provided your agreements with those clients don’t preclude you from reusing the design.

The American Institute of Building Design publishes DesignerDocs, a compilation of industry contract templates, licensing agreements and licensing certificates. The library is available free to members and for $99 to non-members of the organization. Also, the AIBD publishes a booklet, Copyright Basics For Home Designers and Publishers ($45 in paperback and $19 electronically). The booklet provides case study illustrations helping you to craft your agreements in a way that allow you to design a custom home for a specific client, yet maintain the copyright of the design and use it for plan sales.

Using your existing inventory is simply a quick and easy way to get started. Many designers find it much more enjoyable and faster to create a library of stock-plans by letting their creative juices flow and designing homes for the sole purpose of offering the design for sale online.

Open treasure chest filled with gold coins with text that says "This is what you should imagine, when you think about the hundreds of pre-drawn house plans you already have in your files."

How To Prepare

There are several outlets available for selling plans. Each has its own set of specifications and requirements. Some may require a minimum number of designs to consider for publication.  Others will allow you to begin with one or two and build your library from there. Most offer only a royalty style compensation plan. Typically, designers get 25 to 30 percent of the sale, depending on the stature of the design firm and the publisher’s desire to represent them.

Newer online publishers are taking a different approach by helping the designers set themselves up as resellers, which ultimately creates a worldwide network of resellers where the same plans are made available on multiple websites, and the compensation plans vary when a project sells on the author’s homepage rather an affiliated reseller’s.  It’s possible to earn almost twice the royalties using this model than selling directly through a typical publisher. (Member since 3/2013) and (Member since 2/2019) are two examples; both are Corporate members of AIBD. However, this will require some work, on your part, to set up the offerings online and to market your personal reselling sites. Whereas, the direct publishing company typically handles those tasks on your behalf.

Make sure any arrangement with a publisher allows you to be able to market your plans on multiple websites. An exclusive agreement should only be considered if the publisher is offering you specialized features and benefits not offered generally to other design firms.

The homes you publish should be able to be built. What this means is, the plan set delivered should include some form of foundation and structural design. If further modifications are necessary to make the plan suitable for a lot, it creates an opportunity for you to earn that modification business. Even if your ideas are unique, many consumers would like to modify them or create a new design based off of the layout and design which brings in custom design work, which can be sold again upon completion.

To set up your plans for marketing, you will need a color rendering or photo of each home, stripped floor plans, stripped elevations, and an information sheet that highlights necessary details. Publishers report, home plans offered for sale with photos outsell those with renderings only. The theory is, a picture proves to the buyer the design is actually “buildable.”

How To Handle The Job

In most cases, the publisher will rely on you to deliver the hard copies or the electronic PDF files, whichever is purchased.  Work out this detail in advance, as well as who pays for the shipping (in the case of hard copies). That is pretty much the extent of it unless the purchaser requests a modification to the plan, which is another detail to work out in advance of contracting with a publisher. Some publishers require that they handle all changes. Others will depend on you to manage your modifications. Modifications alone can be another opportunity for building designers. Even if you’re not interested in selling pre-drawn home plans, those who do often look for other firms to specialize in modifications only, and will subcontract those services to them.

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