By BUILDER Magazine Staff. Greg Benson, president of Comstock Homes in Reston, Va., remembers how tedious data collection used to be.

Benson, whose company builds about 300 units per year and had roughly $77 million in 2002 sales, says sales managers used to collect buyer registration cards in model homes and then have someone physically enter the information into an Excel spreadsheet. The job was doable and could yield good information, but executing the spreadsheets with any consistency just didn't happen.

Robb Cohen, CEO and founder of BeHomeWise in McLean, Va., understands how a lack of good buyer data has held back many builders. He says one solution is to use his Web-based service, which analyzes buyer data and delivers charts and graphs that give builders the information they need to make more informed decisions about their customers.

Cohen says the problem in the past was that the registration cards prospective buyers filled out gave incomplete information. He says too often the cards were not filled out, and salespeople didn't use the registration information as a tool to help them customize a new home for a buyer. Consumers were also nervous that salespeople would badger them with follow-up phone calls and that builders were selling buyer background information to listing services.

The idea behind BeHomeWise is for home buyers to register just once on a standard form and be listed on a master database that salespeople can access each successive time a buyer visits a new builder. Customers enter their name, e-mail address, home and work numbers, profession, when they are looking to move, and their price range. Shoppers are issued a smart card they can use at builders that have card readers, or they can print out a completed registration form at home and bring it to their appointment.

Thus far, Cohen has about 55 builders in the Washington area signed on. Builders can use the registration form data to customize marketing reports, but they don't have access to specific buyer names. Cohen's goal is to have roughly 90 percent of the active sites in the D.C. region sharing data with BeHomeWise by the end of March. Target markets for 2003 are Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and South Florida.

Cohen says buyers benefit because they are spared the inconvenience of having to register every time they visit a new community, and since they also fill out exit surveys, buyers can log on to the BeHomeWise site and view a full history of their ongoing shopping experience. Home builders benefit because they get a lead tracking and marketing system. Registration data can be customized into charts that answer builder-specific questions, such as hit rate, what type of person is buying, which models they buy, and the average sales price of the homes.

Brian Davidson, vice president of finance and operation for Van Metre Homes, a 320-unit-per-year builder in Burke, Va., with $160 million in sales, says since BeHomeWise gives him more detailed information on his customers, he can more effectively target his local advertising and mass mailing campaigns.

And Lance Liebler, vice president of sales and marketing at the Virginia division of Engle Homes, a large national home builder with nearly $1 billion in sales, says if he has a community that's not selling or generating traffic, he can crunch a report that tells him how other communities with similar projects are faring. "We can find out if it's us, or if it's a market trend,'' Liebler says.