Gentry Homes in Honolulu is using online options selections software from Dana Point, Calif.-based YourDesignCenter Inc., a move that saved it from spending an upfront cost of $50,000 to build a physical design center, plus at least another $50,000 a year on staffing costs and rent on a facility. Instead, Gentry spent $60,000 to use the options service for the life of two communities.

Rick Hobson, the company's director of sales and marketing, says the YDC software also makes Gentry more efficient and drives sales. Hobson says before Gentry Homes started using YDC, salespeople would spend six to eight hours per customer working on options. Now, Gentry salespeople spend four hours tops on options per customer--and Hobson says buyers come to the first session much more prepared.

"We were spending so much time selling options throughout the entire building process to existing customers that new prospects weren't getting enough attention," says Hobson, who adds that Gentry looks to close more than 400 homes this year.

YDC, which starts at $10,000, lets buyers choose colors and product types for items like flooring, cabinets, and appliances, specifying cutoff times for each stage of the building process, and calculating an option's financial impact on the mortgage price as a customer works through his or her selections.

"When you show someone a picture of what the room is going to look like they tend to feel more comfortable with the purchase," says Hobson.