These questions have been submitted by people interested in bidding on the Market Analysis for High Performance Homes:

Q: The Cover Sheet was not circulated with the RFP.

A:  It is now available on the High Meadows Fund website, here.

Q1:  What is the maximum budget allocated for this analysis?

 A:  $25,000.

Q2:  Do you expect the contractor to conduct primary research, or use secondary sources?

A: We will leave that to the contractor to determine within their budget.  Any research or surveys that have been done to date would be available to the contractor.   That includes a couple of focus groups that were conducted in preparation for the pilot home construction project and surveys distributed at the recent open houses. 

Q3:  How to Apply, item # 3 lists Scope of Work items 1-8.  Should we assume this is a typo and it should really be items 1-10?

 A:  Yes, that is a typo.  It should have referenced items 1 to 10 in the Scope of Work.

Q4:  Is this project focused exclusively on Vermont, or are you also looking for recommendations to reach potential buyers outside the state, as well?

A:  The focus of this analysis should be on Vermont markets.  However, we recognize that Vermont based builders and manufacturers may pursue markets outside, but within reach of, Vermont and we would welcome consideration of those markets if it doesn’t compromise the quality of the analysis given to markets within Vermont.  The homes in question have been designed for cold climates, so a national market analysis would not be appropriate. 

Q5:  Given the limited budget, do you expect equal emphasis and effort in addressing all of the market analysis deliverables for both the manufactured homes and the Irene Cottage, or should the priority be towards the manufactured home, as it appears the efforts have been to date?

 A:  We’re looking at both high performance mobile home replacement and high performance homes  of less than 1,600 square feet, not specifically the VerMod units or Irene Cottages.  The Irene Cottage is a product, as is VERMOD.  We want to examine the market for two high performance housing types, not those specific products, though they each fit into the two niches.   But between the two, which was your question, we don't put more emphasis on one over the other. 

There has been more work on the manufactured home to date because there was particular interest in them as an option for mobile home replacement in mobile home parks and among the low income community.  For the market analysis, we are looking beyond mobile home parks and low income buyers.

Q6: The “January 2014 Progress Report” posted on your website states at the end that “the project partners plan to create a team that will explore financial instruments for the manufactures home…”  Since financing is anticipated to be identified as a significant barrier in the current Market Analysis RFP, what are your expectations for how far the discussion of financing findings and recommendations goes in in the current RFP vs. the future work that a “finance team” will be exploring?

A: We welcome characterizations of the nature of the financing barrier and approaches to overcoming this barrier as requested in question 5 of the deliverables in the Scope of Work of the RFP. The “team” discussed at the end of the “January 2014 Progress Report” will look to the recommendations provided in the report to inform its work.  We would expect the report deliverable under question 5 to articulate a comprehensive range of barriers and options to address them, but not necessarily articulate the full range of operational, legal and other work involved in their implementation.  

Our primary interest is in understanding which markets have the most potential so that as we approach the financing challenge, we can focus first on the needs of those markets. We recognize that, despite the long term affordability of owning a home with low energy and maintenance costs and a home that is recognized as an asset that can hold value, the upfront cost of the homes is very likely prove a barrier for Vermonters below 80% of median income.  However, we believe there are Vermonters whose incomes are between 80% and 120% of median income who could qualify for financing that would enable them to purchase this home.  We are interested in understanding the characteristics of those potential buyers and what they would value in a home.

Q7: On page 4 of your RFP, you noted the following paragraph:  “Project partners can provide information from prior research, focus groups, surveys at recent open houses, and the MHIP pilot project regarding what Vermonters look for in a mobile home or small cottage style home and what features of these homes appeal to them. In addition, project partners will be able to provide feedback regarding perceived difficulties and challenges in advancing market penetration to date. And, with active monitoring of homeowners’ experience, Efficiency Vermont will be able to provide ongoing feedback about the performance and customer satisfaction with the homes.” Do you have information you can share now, or give a sense of the extent of research already conducted?  Can you share the logistics of the prior research? It would be helpful to know the perceived strengths and pitfalls of that prior research, and likewise, where we would want to confirm and supplement that research, while avoiding duplication of effort.

A:  There isn’t a substantial amount of information directly related to this effort available.  The results of a small market survey with mobile homeowners (a few hours with 16 people), research done at UVM, mostly among residents of mobile home parks, feedback from current homeowners living in high performance small homes and other relevant information will be organized and made available to the chosen firm.  The Pilot home design also reflects an assessment of what are popular floor plan options and amenities typical of the “single-wide” manufactured home industry. As we move beyond the pilot phase and seek to identify Vermonters for whom the upfront cost of the home is not an insurmountable barrier, we imagine that we need to better understand the needs of Vermonters who do not currently live in mobile home parks.

The only research we have conducted beyond the park residents is through speaking with visitors to the recent open houses in Hardwick and Wilder and inquiries to VerMod and those who are promoting the Irene Cottages.  At the open houses we made available a short survey for those who expressed interested in the home.  We do not have a way to summarize that input prior to awarding the contract for this market analysis.  

As indicated in the progress report, owners have occupied two of the homes through this past winter and have reported high satisfaction.  The energy performance of the homes has been consistent with what was anticipated, with comfortable inside temperatures throughout this past winter’s cold snaps. 

Q8: How would you prioritize the general category of buyers, as listed under the scope of work? We could examine the potential for all five categories of buyers, but knowing that market research dollars and program pursuit are relatively finite, there would be a tradeoff between going a mile wide and an inch deep on all five categories, or a mile deep into one of them (or somewhere in between).

A: The categories of potential buyers identified in the RFP only represent our current impressions.  We are hoping the market analysis will better refine these.  It may eliminate one or two and it could identify others we haven’t thought of.  Of the 5 categories we have identified, however, we would anticipate that the first three represent the greatest opportunity but since we don’t know that for sure we are hopeful this report will help to flush that out. We would therefore expect the consultant to make a determination pursuant to question 1 of the deliverables to define the “full range of market segmentation” and after defining these to work with the committee, if necessary, to prioritize further market analysis of each category of potential buyer.    

Q9: Regarding this description of a category of buyer -- Vermonters who have the cash to purchase a home, either because they have recently sold a larger home, or because they have enough savings to pay for it – can you provide an upper range of home price you have in mind?

A: The two bedroom version of the VerMod unit costs $103,000, and requires in the range of $15,000 to site it.  A 1,700 square foot, two story VerMod modular home is anticipated to cost $220,000.  Depending on the model, the high performance Irene Cottage, if manufactured as a modular home and then constructed with paid labor, is anticipated to cost between $150,000 and $200,000.  As stated earlier, we are not looking for a market analysis for these two products only, but they represent two options in the niche of high performance homes of modest scale.                                                                                                                                 

Q10: How ambitious is the goal? For instance, is the goal to place 20 more homes, such as in being done in Wilder?  Sell 100 homes over 3 years? Or…?

A: Our ultimate goal is to transform the design of homes of modest scale and for the replacement of manufactured homes in Vermont.   We have not articulated more short term goals.

Q11:  Has the High Performance Home Working Group worked with private sector builders/dealers of modular homes? Why or why not? To what extent would the Project Goals be considered successful if the members of the Working Group were not successful in selling these homes, but were successful in changing the private sector such that the private sector began providing such environmentally friendly homes, including to the five categories of targeted buyers as presented in the RFP?

A:  The goal is to transform the market for these homes.  None of the working group members are interested in selling the homes themselves.  We envision the project’s success would entail private businesses selling the homes, as is currently the case with VerMod and the Irene Cottage.  The Irene Cottage can be built by an individual private contractor as a stick-built home, or as a modular home.  Although our current building partner VerMod is the only manufacturer we are aware of with a commitment to exclusively build lower cost modular High Performance Homes, PBS in Clairmont, New Hampshire, has expressed interest in selling the Irene Cottage as a High Performance modular home and has worked with project partners to date.  Project partners also consulted with dealers of traditional mobile homes in designing the VerMod unit.

Q12: Can you describe the ideal amount and type of participation for Working Group members during this research phase? 

A: We imagine that Working Group members would meet with the contractor at the start of this project and then again before a final report is drafted, with perhaps weekly progress reports by email.   Individual members of the working group could be available by phone or in person meetings on a more regular basis.  But, we are willing to work with the contractor to develop the most productive approach to interacting during the course of the analysis.

Q13: To what extent should Working Group members be viewed as individual clients so that the consultant’s research can maximally meet their particular needs, including the potential for customized research for some of them vs. having the consultant focus on creating a singular research report designed to meet various groups’ needs?

A: The client for this project is the High Meadows Fund.  High Meadows intends to rely on input from the High Performance Working Group as the research is developed.  But, there is no need for customized research for individual members of the Working Group at this point.