FOR THE HOME BUILDER INTENT ON developing a long-term franchise in the marketplace, one goal should underlie all the rest: to earn a “customer for life” from every transaction. While many businesses strive to meet, if not exceed, their customers' expectations, there is another more fundamental ingredient to winning long-term relationships with customers. It's called trust. Builders who are able to instill a high level of customer trust in their personnel and practices invariably breed a more satisfied, more enthusiastic, and more loyal customer.

Trust can take on many dimensions, but for a customer in a business transaction, it usually boils down to the belief that the person with whom you are dealing shares common goals and has your best interests at heart. In fact, profitable partnering relationships between buyer and seller are cemented by building trust, not by signing a contract, observes Michael Maccoby in an article, “Building Trust Is An Art,” published in Research Technology Management.

This trust does not come naturally. History has taught most of us the hard way that business, institutions, and even our own families can and will let us down. In 1960, surveys reported that 58 percent of Americans believed “most people” could be trusted; by 1993, this percentage had fallen to only 37 percent, according to Maccoby. We live in a society that has become increasingly cynical and full of distrust.

As a result, most new home shoppers walk into a builder's sales office with an inherent degree of anxiety and distrust, creating a challenge for even the best builder. This anxiety is rooted in a variety of influences: their own retail and home purchase experiences; stories they have heard about new home builders; and trepidation about the anticipated complexity of the home purchase experience.

Regardless of how new home shoppers and buyers may appear to behave, these anxieties and fears unquestionably underlie their thoughts and actions:

  • “I will look foolish.”
  • “The sales and design center people will take advantage of me and make me look stupid in front of my spouse.”
  • “The sales people will be insincere and will sell me a home just to make money, even though it may not be the right home or upgrade for me.”
  • “I do not know how to decorate a home and it will show.”
  • “I will overspend on options.”
  • “My new neighbors can afford this, but I sure can't.”
  • “My parents will think I'm crazy,” or “Hopefully they'll be impressed.”
  • Many prospective buyers worry whether a new house will leave them “house poor.” Mike Humphrey, vice president of David Weekley Homes, points out that the anxiety emanating from this fear is especially noticeable in regions where prices have skyrocketed.

    All those underlying anxieties are the ingredients for buyer's remorse. Is there any wonder why there are so many cancellations and kick-outs?

    Importance Of Trust The power of reassurance and the foundations of trust cannot be emphasized enough. However jaded and appropriately wary these home buyers may be, they are still driven by their dreams and they are looking for the builder to dissuade them of their fears and disprove their cynicism. They would like nothing more than to be able to trust their builder as they put their lives in the builder's hands.

    ABOVE AND BEYOND: Builders don't typically gain much trust with buyers in meeting universally held expectations. The greatest potential for gaining or losing trust, however, is when builders set expectations and then exceed (trust gained) or fail to meet them (trust lost). That is why the builder's sales representatives must see themselves in the crucial role of “purchasing counselors” to the buyers; and that they realize their most important job initially is to quickly deny the new buyer any opportunity to confirm these fears.

    This can be accomplished by following the “three D's”: first, disarm the buyer's fears; second, dissolve the buyer's anxieties; and third, disprove the buyer's worries and worst case scenarios. The most effective way to do this is by taking positive actions that confirm the purchase counselor's trustworthiness. Each time a buyer's concerns are disarmed, dissolved, or disproved, the purchase counselor earns a form of credit—think of it as trust points in a trust account.