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Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast Digital Marketing Podcast Hosted by Greg Bray and Kevin Weitzel

210 Creating Connection With Homebuyers - Jessica Fritz

This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Jessica Fritz of J.Cor Architecture joins Greg and Kevin to discuss how home builders can connect with homebuyers by creating unique home buying experiences.

Buying a home is an emotional decision and telling a story helps builders relate to customers on that level. Jessica says, “…buyers make their decision off of their emotions and their feelings. There's a lot of builders out there that have 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath product, but what's really going to separate them is the feeling the buyer gets when they are in the space. So, that gets into storytelling.”

It can be easy to forget the emotional aspect of buying a home, but builders must consider more than just the physical construction of a home. Jessica explains, “A lot of times they'll come to me with we need three bedrooms and this many bathrooms and I try to take everybody a step back and ask them those questions. Who's your target buyer? What's the history of the place where we're designing in? Because all of that starts to roll into the storytelling aspect of the design. If we can get that story put together upfront during the design phase, by the time they get down to their marketing team, marketing really has something to go with when they go out for sale.”

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about how home builders can differentiate their homes through storytelling.

About the Guest:

Jessica grew up in the small, rural town of Dalton, Massachusetts. She comes from a blue-collar family, her dad worked as an engineer, and her mom, a nurse. Growing up in New England she very quickly learned what it meant to work hard and to push towards her goals.

Jessica received her Master of Architecture in 2012 from Wentworth Institute of Technology. She wrote a compelling thesis about urbanism in the Phoenix desert after completing Poalo Soleri’s 5-week workshop at his urban laboratory Arcosanti. Her thesis was how she was recognized by Vernon Swaback and received her first job directly out of college helping his team on a community housing project for the Navajo Nation.

In 2013 career opportunity brought her to work for William Hezmalhalch Architects in Southern California. From 2013 to 2018 Jessica grew from a graphic designer and job captain to a senior associate project manager and oversaw up to three employees and 12 to 15 single-family housing community projects at one time. During this time, she completed projects for The New Home Company in Ranch Mission Viejo, Lennar at the Great Park Irvine, and Pulte Group at LA Floresta in Brea, California. Olvera at LA Floresta for Pulte Group won the Silver Award at the Sage Awards in 2017.

In 2016 Jessica received her Architects license in California as well as reciprocity in all 50 states. She currently holds an active license in California, Utah, New Mexico, Florida, and Arizona. In 2018 Jessica moved back to Phoenix, Arizona to be closer to her family as well as hone her design skills working on custom homes at Swaback Partners. The team welcomed her back with open arms as a Project Architect running a large single-family community job in Sacramento California.  After 2 years of settling in Arizona, Jessica’s ambition led her to found J.Cor Architecture in September of 2020. 

Jessica is currently growing J.Cor Architecture in Scottsdale Arizona. She works with both production home builders and custom home builders in California, Utah, and Arizona. She also takes on local remodels and additions in her community and will be working with Sojourner Center, where she volunteers, to remodel their domestic violence shelter campus. Her favorite part of working as an Owner is all the wonderful people she gets to meet in the process. “What a great feeling it is to be a conduit for homeowners to realize their dreams.” Since opening her firm Jessica was a 2021 Finalist for NAHB’s Professional Young Leader’s award for the Western Region.


Greg Bray: [00:00:00] Hello everybody and welcome to today's episode of The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.

Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse.

Greg Bray: And we are excited today to have joining us on the show, Jessica Fritz. Jessica is the owner and chief architect at J.Cor Architecture. Welcome, Jessica. Thanks for being with us today.

Jessica Fritz: Thanks for having me, guys.

Greg Bray: Well, let's just start off and help people get to know a little bit about you. Give us that quick overview and tell us about yourself.

Jessica Fritz: Yeah. So, I am the owner of J.Cor Architecture here in Phoenix. We're a full-service design and [00:01:00] architectural firm, residential construction. We work primarily with home builders, any projects from 1500 to about 6,000 square feet. And we work both in the production space and we take some customs as well.

Kevin Weitzel: Number one, being that you are a female architect and you are a rarity, we're going to get a lot more into that. But for now, our listeners need to know something interesting and personal about you that has nothing to do with work or the home building industry.

Jessica Fritz: Oh, my previous bosses would say that I'm not allowed to do anything outside of architecture, but I have a one-acre mini ranch up in Cave Creek. And I have two horses and two dogs and I spend a lot of time in nature, like to be outdoors a lot. Getting the horses out as much as I can is a lot of fun. I like to train them.

Kevin Weitzel: They scare me.

Jessica Fritz: They're more afraid of you than you are. Trust me.

Greg Bray: But they're bigger and they can kick hard. [00:02:00]

Jessica Fritz: Yeah, that's true.

Greg Bray: Well, Jessica, tell us how you kind of made the decision to get into architecture and work in the home building industry with that. What was kind of your career path that got you started?

Jessica Fritz: So, I decided to be an architect when I was in high school. I loved to draw. I was pretty talented at sketching and I had a good math brain. So, my 16-year-old brain said, Oh, I want to be an architect. Loved design school. It was kind of random, honestly, that I got into the home builder space.

Right out of school, I took a job out in Southern California, which is kind of the hub of home builder, architectural design, and residential construction. I, right off the bat, started working with companies like Lennar, DR Horton, Pulte. Honestly, I fell in love with the home builder industry. There's a lot of networking events. The BIA in Southern California was a great introduction and I really liked the camaraderie and the teamwork.

I liked the efficiency [00:03:00] of it. My mom likes to tell the story of when I got out of design school and I said to her one day, I was like, man, I really hope that I learn how to build a house someday. You know, you go to five years of school and I don't know what came from that. But that was the really great thing of working with homebuilders is you're doing volume and you really understand after a few years and multiple projects, the best way to put a house together.

Kevin Weitzel: I'm only going to ask this question just out of morbid curiosity, but you're kind of a unicorn. Because not only do you work in an industry that, especially on the construction side of things, is very male-dominated and the ownership side is usually very male-dominated, but you're in an industry on the specialty of architecture that is also very male-dominated. Is it getting better? Have you run into the mansplaining and clients trying to tell you that you maybe don't know what you're doing when you do? Have you run into that? I'm just more curious than anything else.

Jessica Fritz: So, honestly, I had a lot of professors in college tell me [00:04:00] to move out to the West Coast because of that. So, I actually grew up in Massachusetts, went to school in Boston. I was advised to come out here. From what I've seen was good advice. Southern California, especially, the firms are more 50/50. They did have women principals, and it felt more accepted.

I'm young, or was young when I started. This is kind of part of what we offer at J.Cor is that I came into it and I never came in saying I am the know-all of architecture and home building specifically. So, where I would see some of the older principals as architects feeling like they were in charge, everything had to be their way. That's pretty mainstream in that world. I approach it as I'm an expert in architecture, but homebuilders are experts in building homes.

Whenever I meet with a new client, we start out with, how do you build a house? What are your detailing practices? That really allows them to feel confident that we're going to work as a [00:05:00] team and we're going to provide the detailing and the drawings that they really need. So, I tried to flip it around when I was really young and I didn't expect anybody to treat me like the know-all. You know, I decided I was going to commit to really learning and understanding how construction's done.

Greg Bray: So, Jessica for a builder who does want to work with you, how does that process look? What is it exactly that you're offering, at J.Cor, and how does working with you guys flow?

Jessica Fritz: Sure. So, we start out in the design phase or even in pre-design. We do work with some builders that are just getting into home building or looking to expand. So, it starts with that pre-design phase of what are we offering. What are the three or four-floor plans that are going to be included? What's the demographic and the buyer? We work through that till we get a really good program set in place, and then we start in schematic design, and we do floor plan elevation design.

We do a lot of our drawings in 3D modeling software [00:06:00] so that clients can see the design in 3D and marketing can understand the plans and people who aren't always looking at blueprints can really understand what we're providing. And then from there, once we have design sign-off, we go straight through building permits. We do all the construction drawings and a little bit of CA. It's not a huge portion of what we do, but if builders require it or they want us to help out during construction, we stay along for the ride with that as well.

Greg Bray: When you talk to somebody about new plans, obviously, the builder comes with ideas of who they're interested in working with as a customer base, you know, they've got a particular location in mind, some of that. How involved do you get in that marketing level discussion of if you want to target this kind of buyer, this is what they're looking for, this is what we need to have in the home, in the product, this is what it needs to look like? Is that something that you guys do, or is that something they need to come [00:07:00] prepared to tell you how they want that to go?

Jessica Fritz: So, the builders that are building all the time, the national guys, they're very well versed in what they want and they kind of can just say, hey, here's the new product, here's our program, this is what we need. But I do work with a lot of builders who are newer to the space or who are looking to expand and become more on the production side. A lot of time they don't know what they don't know and we have to have a lot of those conversations.

A lot of times they'll come to me with we need three bedrooms and this many bathrooms and I try to take everybody a step back and ask them those questions. Who's your target buyer? What's the history of the place where we're designing in? Because all of that starts to roll into the storytelling aspect of the design. If we can get that story put together upfront during the design phase, by the time they get down to their marketing team, marketing really has something [00:08:00] to go with when they go out for sale. Sometimes we do have to coach the builders a little bit on that.

Kevin Weitzel: So, it's not just room count, bathroom count, two-story, single story, it's not just the basics because you're a price per square foot. It really does come down to a lot more of that why is somebody wanting to live here, what kind of emotion is going to be elicited from this design versus that? Is that correct?

Jessica Fritz: Yeah, because as you guys know, in the sales space, buyers make their decision off of their emotions and their feelings. There's a lot of builders out there that have 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath product, but what's really going to separate them is the feeling the buyer gets when they are in the space. So, that gets into storytelling, it gets into this concept I talk about called our rituals of living.

An example of that would be you can show a buyer a master bedroom suite and show them the views and maybe it's got a door out to a patio. Cool. But if you bring them into that space [00:09:00] and you talk about how there's coffee's going in the morning and you can wake up to that. And then you can go out on your patio and experience the sunlight and this is the feeling you're going to get. And you can start to story tell how that home provides a great experience for the buyer. I think that getting into their brain in that sense will give them that at-home feeling.

Kevin Weitzel: You throw a wine fridge and a pizza oven in that room that you just described and I'm sold. You don't even need to build the rest of the house. Just build me a bedroom with a view to the pool, with the coffee bar, the wine bar, and the pizza oven. Sold.

Jessica Fritz: And you're all set.

Kevin Weitzel: I won't even need the house. Give me internet. Oh, I need internet too, a good internet connection.

Greg Bray: Jessica, have you ever put a pizza oven in a bedroom? I need to know.

Jessica Fritz: I have not, I have not, but I have not designed Kevin's house yet, so.

Kevin Weitzel: Oh, okay.

Greg Bray: Well, Jessica, as you have described this, I'm sitting here listening to your insights in gosh, we need to make emotional connection, [00:10:00] we need to understand what these buyers are looking for, and I'm not sure that I always think of the architect as being the one that helps drive some of those insights. Is that common for you or are you kind of unique in the fact that you're having that level of conversation with your clients?

Jessica Fritz: So, I don't think it's unique in the custom home space. I think it maybe is unique in the home builder space depending on the client. Sometimes you get a home builder who they have those values that are really rooted in design and they're working with top leading design architects, and I think at that level you are having those conversations, but it's probably more so on the custom side.

I spent some time during my career working for custom home architects as well, because I wanted to be able to bring that higher level design and storytelling to my builders. Again, the national guys that have this down to the science, they have that in the [00:11:00] back of their mind. It's what they're typically doing. But some of the smaller builders that are getting into it, they don't always think about all of that stuff.

And they may not even have marketing teams, right? So, I feel like it's important on my end. And I like to have that when I'm designing something. It's not really that exciting to just design a 3-bedroom house. But when I have a story and a place and all of this emotion behind it really helps to evolve the design of the plan.

Greg Bray: So, as you now are working on that type of a story, we've got challenges right now in housing with affordability. We've got challenges with costs continuing to go up and trying to balance. Everybody wants the million-dollar home at the $200,000 price point, so how do you come to that challenge of how do we give these buyers their dreams, but yet allow them to actually afford those dreams?

Jessica Fritz: Sure. That's a big question in the home building space too, because we're working with volume.[00:12:00] If we start out with the exterior of the home, first of all, I'm going to ask the builder and we're going to work through construction detailing aspects. So, a lot of the construction detailing and the structural elements can be the behind-the-scenes where we're saving costs.

So, we're not putting steel in the homes. We're making sure we use wood beams. We can kind of hide some of those efficiencies, not in a malicious way, but if we can be more efficient in the structure, the homeowner doesn't relate to that. And then we can spend more money on finishes.

Greg Bray: You're saying that framing doesn't excite the emotion?

Jessica Fritz: It makes me excited. I think the framing is exciting. But it gets into that storytelling concept. So, another thing I like to work through with builders is where is the space and what is the heritage of where we're building. That's where the story starts. It starts with the site. It starts with the heritage of the place where you're building in. So, we're in the [00:13:00] Southwest. Everything is stucco out here and that comes from the region and the way homes were built a long time ago.

Nowadays, you can kind of build anything anywhere. But when we can stay to those roots, that allows us to save cost as well and still provide that home feeling of the residents. You can design a big, fancy custom home that was really expensive, but if your buyer doesn't have any way to identify with it, it's really no better than your $200,000 house.

Greg Bray: So, as you are working on this storytelling, how do you help builders potentially differentiate between their 3/2 versus the other 3/2? You know, what are some of those places to look for how we are different from the house down the street?

Kevin Weitzel: To expand on that, especially here in Arizona, because not only is it just a stucco house that's the 2/3/2.5 or whatever, it's also they're all [00:14:00] beige. They're all beige, they're all stucco. They all have the same landscaping plan, every one of them. They have a 15-gallon here, a 15-gallon there, and a couple of bottle brushes up front. So, how do you differentiate that?

Jessica Fritz: They don't have to all be beige either. You can look at massing and architectural character elements and we don't always do all that well at this. Where, if you look at the traditional styles of architecture, they all have specific components that go along with them. So, if you're using stucco, design a Spanish Monterey-style house. Pull those elements together. Trying to design a craftsman house. Like, it says it's craftsman, but it's all stucco, and it's got stucco board and bat, and it's pretty strange.

What I tell builders is if we need to pay attention to cost, let's really focus on the styles that will make that possible. So, if we're going to design something in the Southwest, it's Spanish. We can use all of the Spanish design [00:15:00] elements that will be more cost-effective and fit into the region.

So, compared to if you're going up North. Up North, there's different building materials that makes sense. So, like, wood doesn't do well here in Phoenix, which is why we use stucco. But up north wood is better, it's more available. So, let's get into the design more of a craftsman-style house there. And that's how you offset those costs by using local materials.

Roof design and massing. So, roof design up north is a lot different than it is here in the valley. So, designing for weather, making sure you're not designing a flat roof in northern Utah. Anything that's going to increase snow loads or water pressure is going to cost you more money in that space. So, we try to stay to the region. That's super important. Pick a style and stay to that style because the house is just overall going to feel better if we're using those traditional style [00:16:00] elements.

And then even thinking about buyer heritage and where people are coming from and cultural values. So, feng shui is a good way to talk about that depending on who your target buyer is. That can be really important for some buyers. I know it was always really important in Irvine because of who was buying the homes. And so, they would incorporate some of these feng shui elements. It doesn't cost any different to set the range and the sync up in a different way, but it does speak to the buyer. So, understanding those types of components as well.

Or, you know, indoor/outdoor feel, that's important too. It's much different designing, indoor/outdoor here where you can be outdoors. Whereas up north where people are looking for more of a cozy environment and relief from the elements, from the outdoors. You can take those all into consideration. I think it's just really being thoughtful about each step along the process.

Greg Bray: So, Jessica, as you mentioned before, you talked about using [00:17:00] a 3D model to help builders kind of get a sense of the home because even some builders can't read blueprints, right? So, what are some tips you have for builders as they communicate to their end buyer, their customers, about helping them really get a sense of a space when there's no model to tour? It's something that isn't built yet. Any recommendations or tips for how they can help people who have never really looked at blueprints and never had a class and what a blueprint is, to really understand a space better?

Jessica Fritz: There's so many options nowadays for 3D digital virtual reality. On my end, it seems a lot more cost-effective to design some plans and do the 3D models, put them online where a buyer can go on the website and zoom around and look through the house and do the virtual tour compared to actually building a physical model. Especially if you're a young builder, and you're just getting started, putting this really [00:18:00] nice design package website together and have the virtual walkthroughs of those homes.

That was a big component to why we wanted to move into 3D modeling for our drawings so that we can offer that. So, you get the full CD package, but you can also see the home in 3D and we can take that model, it can go right to a renderer who in real-time is putting the virtual reality together. And what's great about that is as you're making changes throughout the process or over the years that model changes as well, so you don't have to go back to another rendering service to get that done. It's kind of all integrated. For buyers to be able to go online and be able to see the plan, but also be able to go and see what the rooms look like. And there's so much software out there that can create that.

Greg Bray: Now, Jessica, you may not know this, but there are builders who are still putting on their websites, black and white, 2D [00:19:00] architectural elevation drawings. I don't understand why architects are still allowing that to happen. So, help us understand why architects even give those to people when they have no business being published on a website.

Jessica Fritz: They don't make any sense. I think there's a lot of architects out there that have been doing it that way for a long time. So, when I first came into the space, there was a lot of pushback on 3D. I learned how to do drawings and 3D in school, all my colleagues did, the commercial world has switched over to 3D drafting.

The home builder industry, I don't know what's happening, but I've gotten a lot of pushback from firms that they don't want to switch. They want to do the 2D thing. It's part of their business model. And then it goes to the graphics people and they draw in the shadows. I was that person when I first started, I was drawing shadows on the front elevations and color-blocking them. And my friends back in Boston were working at these big commercial firms and they're doing everything in 3D. And I'm like, what is [00:20:00] happening? What is going on here?

I don't emotionally connect with a black-and-white pencil drawing of a house. I'm sorry. It just doesn't speak to me as a home. I want to live in.

Kevin Weitzel: No, Greg, trust me. It pains my ears and it hurts my soul when I see builders that still use stick drawings on their website or static collateral. It crushes me as a human being to even see that. So, the fact that you reminded me verbally just now being my friend, Greg, it hurt me, bud. It hurt me.

Greg Bray: Well, I thought Jessica could tell us why those even come out somewhere. You know, they shouldn't even exist anymore. Stop it. Stop it.

Jessica Fritz: Architects don't like to retire. This is what they do. And a lot of times, like, again, I got into the field because I love to draw. When I first do a design, I usually draw it by hand, especially the floor plan. Sometimes the elevations I'll do by hand and that's how I think through the design. So, as a design tool, I think it's [00:21:00] critical to do things by hand. There's something about the brain/hand connection and the artistry of that. But yes, if you're connecting to buyers, once you've gotten through the design phase, there's so many tools out there to render and do 3D walkthroughs. And I think that should absolutely be the baseline of how we're presenting to clients for sure.

Kevin Weitzel: It's funny you mentioned that, especially the passion of drawing because I remember way back a long time ago, in high school. One of my friends, Laura Serban, it's her new name, she was married. You should get married, Jessica, and marry a Lloyd Wright. And then you could be Jessica Lloyd Wright. That'd be amazing.

Jessica Fritz: My office is on Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard.

Kevin Weitzel: Boom, see, there we go. But anyway, so yeah, Laura Serban did the same thing. I think she got a purse design and everything else. She's also an architect, so kind of crazy, a little full circle. Do you mind if I hit you with a little rapid fire?

Jessica Fritz: Go ahead. We'll give it a shot.

Kevin Weitzel: Alright, so how about this? Could you tell me your favorite architect, living or dead?

Jessica Fritz: Mies van der Rohe.

Kevin Weitzel: Ooh, that's a good choice.

Jessica Fritz: Barcelona [00:22:00] Pavilion.

Kevin Weitzel: How about this? What architectural style are you most passionate about?

Jessica Fritz: Definitely modern. More modern than contemporary, but I like to do this mix of desert modern, simple, clean lines, glass and stucco, and wood really simplified.

Kevin Weitzel: And question number three is, what do you see as the next big thing?

Jessica Fritz: As the next big thing? Well, I'm going to design my house and it's going to be the desert modern, cool, flat roof, contemporary. That'll be the next thing.

Greg Bray: All right. How in the world does an architecture firm get an address on Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard? Is that an accident or a conscious decision?

Jessica Fritz: That is a complete accident. I went out with a friend one day who was looking at office space. I wasn't even looking at office space yet. I just went out with them. They were like, I have a couple of places to look at. Do you want to come with me? At the time, the name of their potential business was Oopsie. When we walked in the door of this office building, [00:23:00] the receptionist dropped something and looked up at us and went, oopsie.

And at the time I was like, this is your office space. They didn't end up leasing here. But when I went out to look at office space, I came here immediately. I was like, it's on Frank Lloyd Wright. Maybe that was a sign for me that this was actually supposed to be my office space,

Greg Bray: Awesome. Well, Jessica, we appreciate the time you spent with us today. Just as we kind of wrap up, I want to invite you to give us one last piece of marketing advice that you want everybody to remember before we finish today.

Jessica Fritz: One last piece of marketing advice. So, really creating the experience. I love walking models. I love walking model homes and I have yet to meet somebody in the model home sales office that can walk me through a plan and really speak to my emotions when they're describing things. They can describe its open concept and it's got all of these [00:24:00] features and all the features are great, but being able to really story tell.

Having that client avatar, being able to identify the client avatar with the person walking into the house and say, I'm going to tour them around this house and I'm going to speak to the experiences of the space. I'm going to give them examples of what it would feel like living in this space and get them to imagine that. Imagine their kids running through the loft and movie nights and coffee in the master bedroom when you wake up in the morning and...

Kevin Weitzel: With your pizza oven.

Jessica Fritz: With your pizza oven. Evening wine with your spouse in the kitchen with the view of the pool and the sunset and really being able to speak to someone's heart and how they live in the house is my biggest advice for marketing in home building.

Greg Bray: It's an emotional purchase. We gotta help people connect. A home's a big deal, right? Our homes are special.

Jessica Fritz: We spend a lot of time there, cooking pizza. [00:25:00]

Greg Bray: Jessica, if somebody wants to learn more and connect with you, what's the best way for them to get in touch?

Jessica Fritz: Sure. So, they can go to our website is www.jcore-architecture. com. We're also on Instagram, Jessica Fritz Architect. Those are really the best ways to reach out. There's plenty of options. We've got really great guides, free guides on the website. One is for home owners who are looking to build a custom home and the other is for home builders who are looking to become more efficient in their construction techniques. You can read through the guides, you can join our email list. Maybe you're not ready to move forward just yet but you want to kind of join our community. That's the best way to do that.

Greg Bray: Awesome. Well, thanks again for spending time with us and sharing so freely. We really appreciate it.

And thank you everybody for listening today to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.

Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse. Thank you. [00:26:00]

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