FOR FIRST-TIME AND EVEN TRADE-UP home buyers, the decision to purchase a new home is often compared to that first plunge on an exhilarating thrill ride—the beginning of what promises to be an up-and-down, twist-and-turn roller coaster journey with one surprise after another. Like a roller coaster, the buying experience reaches its highest speeds at the very beginning and then again at the very end of the ride; but even during the middle phase, the ride can get bumpy. For many home buyers, much of the ride is often in the dark.

That's why the initial phase of the home buying experience is so critical. It's where the tone of the experience is set and its parameters defined. It's where it is essential for builders to make sure the unknown becomes familiar. If buyers are to enjoy the home buying ride, anxiety must be eased and builders must provide some light at the end of the tunnel. Builders must engineer an extraordinary ride during the purchase phase and must appreciate from the start how the buyer's objectives are fundamentally different than what most builders want to accomplish.

The Traditional Builder's Objectives:

  • Attract traffic to the site
  • Manage the interest list
  • Pre-qualify potential buyers
  • Make the sale
  • Secure deposit funds
  • Ensure a high closure rate
  • Reduce chance for future liability (disclaimers)
  • The Buyer's Objectives:

  • Purchase “Dream Home”
  • Gain comfort with location, lot, plan, design, and value perception
  • Reduce normal anxieties about price, monthly payment, and builder's quality
  • Participate in the process without looking uninformed
  • Make the process as painless as possible
  • Establish trust in the purchase counselor
  • At a deeper level, builders also need to understand that what leaves a lasting impression with the new home shopper, buyer, and eventually homeowner—and what ultimately drives referrals—is the experience buyers have in the home buying process. The home buying experience is shaped by many moments of truth as well as subtle subliminal messages.

    For example, the person who manages the first phase of the buyer's ride commonly goes by the title of “sales associate” or “sales representative.” Both titles strongly suggest, at both a conscious and unconscious level, that this person's role is to sell, to manipulate, to represent the builder in a traditional builder vs. buyer mode.

    EYE ON INTERESTS: Builders earn relatively high satisfaction ratings on explaining features and processes (upper left quadrant), but need to focus most on attributes—such as looking out for the buyer's interests—on the right side of the satisfaction contribution scale. While it is true that the eventual goal is to sell a new home, customer-centered builders have come to appreciate that what the buyer really wants from the builder's representative is someone who will assist them in making an informed decision and who will look out for their best interests. To set the stage for this perception, builders are increasingly using titles such as “purchase adviser” or “purchase counselor” because these terms create an image that the counselor's role is to help the shopper/buyer make better decisions, not just to help the builder sell the home.

    Consumers, of course, are savvy to such marketing tactics. That's why it is essential for builders to provide what buyers ultimately need and want: a purchasing representative they can trust

    This universal, company-wide emphasis on the customer's position is the hallmark of a truly customer-focused builder. The constant consideration for the customer must be pervasive in everything a builder does from this point in the home buying experience forward: in every ad, every collateral piece, every communication between the loan officer and the buyer, every contact between customer care personnel and the homeowner. The decision to use a title such as purchase counselor is just the start of the process builders must use to consistently remind their customers that they can be trusted to act as the buyers' partner in this transaction.

    Pre-Conceived Notions Although this purchase phase marks the official kick-off of the prospective buyer's experience, the purchase counselor is not dealing with a neophyte consumer. Every person that walks into the sales office already possesses a set of expectations and biases that are based on many factors common to all new home shoppers. These perceptions have been unconsciously chiseled into each shopper's mind since childhood, and the behavior of the shopper in the sales office is most assuredly the manifestation of this “baggage.” These perceptions and unconscious motivators may be positive or negative, but they are always present and always influential. The initial anxieties, distrust, wariness, combativeness, acquiescence, and fears that new home buyers have are in many ways already determined before they drive up to a builder's model home complex.

    Some of the factors that influence these attitudes include:

  • The new home versus the resale purchase decisions made by the shopper's parents and friends
  • Stories emanating from the purchase experiences of friends and family
  • TV reporting on the home building process, much of it typically negative
  • Articles in newspapers and magazines about home builders and building trends
  • Builder advertisements
  • The shopper's personal home-purchase and rental experience
  • The shopper's experiences with customer-conscious retailers.
  • Against that backdrop, the initial role of the purchase counselor is to capture a three-fold understanding about the prospective buyer:

    Past View: Discover the buyer's psychological viewpoint of the purchase process that existed before he/she walked in the door. Allay the anxieties and fears that are almost certainly included in these pre-existing conditions.

    Current View: Determine the purchase intentions of the shopper and the criteria being used for this decision.

    Future View: Set clear and realistic expectations for the purchase experience yet to come.