By Amy E. Lemen. Both experts and builders had plenty of advice on what to do -- and what not to do -- when conducting market research. Here's what they found to be the best of the best:

Can't Miss...

Talking to buyers, especially after they've lived in the home. "It's cheap research, gives great product insight, and wonderful ideas on how to market -- and helps you focus on the things that people really connect to," says Kulli.

Avoiding the status quo. Green, of Pinehills, had 200 approval-not-required lots but chose not to build. "It was near a dirt road used by the Pilgrims, so there's a 300-foot no-build zone around it. It's an entirely different place, and people appreciate that."

Looking at upcoming market activity. "What will your world look like by the time you go to market?" asks Rosenstein.

Don't Bother...

Checking off the box. "Don't say you'll take a pound of focus groups, three ounces of exit surveys, and call it a day," says Kulli.

Paying for excellent research. "The big payoff is interpretation of the findings and then acting on those insights," says Kulli. "It requires that the builder partner with the researcher and make them a part of the team driving strategic positioning."

Falling in love with a piece of ground and buying it anyway, even though research tells you to avoid it. "Builders also make the mistake of not adjusting absorption levels to fit where prices have gone," says Deborah Rosenstein, of Rosenstein Research Associates Inc.

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Published in BIG BUILDER Magazine, January 2003