Home building is the only industry that gets away with being jerks. We post signs dictating what future homeowners can and cannot do in our models and require customers to face what can feel like judgment day (the mortgage app) before they can even get through the door. We make them fill out all their personal information before we decide if they’re worth our time (“You make six figures, okay, now I will now show you the magic behind the curtain”). We use their earnest money and time invested to hold them hostage when the building process becomes difficult. This is the only industry that actually creates obstacles for people to buy. We know how to treat people (i.e. be nice), but make exceptions for our own convenience.
The way builders treat customers is counterintuitive, counterproductive, and leads to a compromised reputation. It’s bad business and hurts the customer and the company. Making a few simple changes dramatically transforms the buyer’s experience and makes the builder and salesperson stand apart from the industry norms.
A large home manufacturer from Pennsylvania demonstrates the arrogance beautifully (but frightfully) with a sign of rules that ensure customers enter their homes with maximum discomfort and insecurity. Modeling the arrogance that pervades the housing industry, their condescending, bulleted list treats customers like an inconvenience. They tell parents to keep their kids well behaved (including no jumping on beds) and require them to remove their footwear. If your favorite grocery store had a sign saying, “Please remove your dirty shoes before entering,” you would drive to the next store (or the next town!). Yet builders—especially during a spring selling season or a seller’s market (when people are knocking on their doors) believe they’re entitled and that everyone should cater to their needs.
Customers, who may arrive excited and expectant about the possibilities for their future, feel slammed before the salesperson even has a chance to say hello. If they are insecure about their kids’ behavior, how can we expect them to fall in love with the solution we’re presenting? Or, if they’ve spent the morning driving all over town, they may turn around at the door rather than require their hungry kids to throw away their snacks and drinks. And we wonder why their walls go up throughout the first visit and all the way through the experience? Just as dogs bite back because they’re afraid, so do people. If you do manage to get a sale, and later have customers yelling at you for being Big Bad Builder, you have to consider how you’ve created a defensive relationship from the beginning.
But change is possible. With a mindset shift, builders and salespeople can earn a new reputation that will make them the go-to builder. Every step of the buying process should be a positive, welcoming experience. Imagine if that sign in Pennsylvania were replaced with something like, “We’re so glad you’re here and we hope you enjoy your visit. Our home is your home.” Imagine if tired, hungry families walked through the door to a bowl of snacks and refrigerator full of drinks. What if we made their experience more like visiting the Ritz-Carlton than going through the security line at the airport?