By Roberta Maynard. Every so often, I spend a day touring new-home communities, gazing at the merchandising and the homes' designs and pondering each project's unique qualities. What I find most interesting, though, are the salespeople. For most home shoppers, the person at the model or sales center is the builder's sole envoy. To a prospective customer, he or she is the builder. If I were a new-home shopper and ambivalent about which company's home to buy, that one element — the salesperson — could easily be the deciding factor. That puts tremendous power in the hands of one or two people. All that a builder has invested in great design, marketing, and the like, is for naught if the salesperson doesn't deliver.

On this latest housing tour, I visited about 10 projects, dutifully signing the registration cards — except when the salesperson never so much as left his seat to say hello.

One community in particular comes to mind. I think it was the total indifference of the salesperson to my questions and concerns that was most puzzling, almost intriguing, in fact. The community she presided over was in horse country, largely undeveloped and at the end of a long road bordered by rolling hills and neat, white fences. I asked about the location of and distance to schools and plans for future retail development nearby. She replied that, not needing these services herself, she had never really thought about it. Several questions later, I left the model no more enlightened than when I'd entered. How odd, I thought. Didn't she want to sell these half-million-dollar homes? (She couldn't find a map of the community to hand me either.) Needless to say, I didn't receive a follow-up note from her. But, then, most of the sales centers I visited didn't send one either, which brings me to my next point.

Follow Up or Foul Up?

The snippet of the letter reproduced above is from one of the few follow-ups I did receive. It provided me with a contact name and number as well as a description of the place, which is a good idea, considering how the models tend to run together in the mind after the fifth or sixth one. (As for this letter's effectiveness as a personal communication tool — with its fill-in-the-blank format — you be the judge.)

Photo: Katherine Lambert

The best response I had was a very nice e-mail from Bonita Hartbarger, a sales manager working for Rocky Gorge Homes, a local builder. Her message included a live link to a brief online customer survey about the home shopping experience. The letter assured me that the information would be seen only by the company's management and used to improve the sales experience and its operation. So far, I'm on board. Bonita, whom I had never met before, encouraged me to call if I had questions and added this rather compelling statement: "You have my personal assurance and commitment that I will do everything possible to help you realize your dream of a new home." Of course, she wants to sell a home. That's understood. But what a connection those words make, particularly in the context of the vast void left by the other builders. In no-pressure language, she provided a reminder, reinforcing the location and the builder's name, and offering contact information and an invitation to communicate. If I were a buyer, I'd give Bonita's community a second look. Wouldn't you? Roberta Maynard



Published in BIG BUILDER Magazine, September 2002