Builders who use interactive floor plans say that while there's no measurable effect on sales, they do strengthen the company's brand. By BUILDER Magazine Staff

A number of builders are putting interactive elevations and plans on their Web sites. The technology, which has been available for nearly two years, lets buyers see how a home will look with and without various options (a breakfast nook, a side-entry garage, an extra bedroom) then prints a custom brochure of the home they've configured. The leading provider of the technology is Media Lab in Tampa, Fla. The technology has been a hit with large builders such as Pulte, Ryland, and Village Homes.

The cost to create an elevation can range from $275 to $600. For builders with lots of designs, this can add up. Blair Kuhnen, vice president of Internet marketing at Centex Homes in Dallas, says that while he has been investigating the technology, he's still trying to decide if it's worth the cost. "If you do interactive plans, people will look at them more closely," he notes, "but do they have any effect on sales?"

Pulte Homes in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., has been using them on a trial basis in the Midwest for about eight months. "We know that any amount of interactivity could have a positive impact," says Melissa Davis, Internet marketing manager. "As to whether that affects sales, the jury is still out." She says the consistent look of Media Lab's plans and elevations reinforces the company's branding efforts, but she adds that it will take Pulte another year to decide whether the trial is successful.

Photo: David Newton

K. Hovnanian Enterprises in Red Bank, N.J., has been using the technology about as long as Pulte. Andy Reid, director of software development, agrees with Davis that the effect on sales is hard to measure. "People do tend to spend more time looking at interactive pages," he says. "Whether that translates directly into interest in that community we can't say." Reid does see a benefit in having better educated consumers.

The most enthusiastic user seems to be Village Homes, which uses interactive plans in its sales office. "We have 45-inch plasma screens in all our sales offices," says Connie Dahl, the company's webmaster. "Staff can use them to show people options for plans, then print them." She calls it a great branding tool. "It gives buyers the idea of the kind of customization options we offer," says Dahl. "We allow customization more than the norm. It exemplifies that without us having to come out and tell them."