AS THE HOME BUYER IS RACING through the design and financing phases of the home buying ride, the construction phase has simultaneously started in earnest. Of all the phases of home buying, this is the part where buyers say they feel they have the least understanding and control. Not being construction savvy, most buyers are looking for signs that the construction team appointed by the builder can be trusted to use eagle-eye attention to design, detail, and quality in order to build them their dream home. They are anxious to confirm that their trust has not been misplaced; that the building team will live up to the builder's promises; and that they chose the right builder.

Addressing those anxieties begins by appreciating how the buyer's objectives contrast with the builder's objectives.

The Traditional Builder‘s Objectives

  • Complete construction of home on schedule
  • Work out construction issues in first phase and increase productivity in remaining phases
  • Incorporate construction options as early as possible to assure proper integration
  • Ensure that design options are ordered with sufficient lead time
  • Complete the buyer orientation to get sign-off on completion of construction
  • The Buyer's Objectives

  • Make dream a reality
  • Experience the excitement as each phase of construction is completed
  • See the quality of the new home firsthand
  • Confirm that the right builder was chosen and can be trusted
  • Reduce anxiety about options selections
  • Share excitement of the new home with family and friends
  • Meet new neighbors
  • Whereas the objectives are mostly concerned with process and cost efficiencies, the buyer's objectives are all about dream fulfillment, emotional expectations, and managed anxieties. Consequently, builders can no longer expect to delight their customers by simply building a high-quality home. It's expected. Builders must go above and beyond.

    The bottom line is that builders cannot delight their buyers by just meeting their own traditional objectives. Delight comes from providing those extraordinary construction experiences or extra planned events that happen when the builder consciously arranges to totally surprise the buyer and elicit a positive emotional response.

    Systematically Superior “Unconditional trust” can only be achieved through consistent delivery of the goal to provide each buyer with an extraordinary purchase and ownership experience. Nothing should be left to chance; and every player on the team who touches the buyer in the buying experience needs to be clear about what expectations to set.

    That requires builders to establish and follow a systematic process for setting and managing realistic buyer expectations. Every member of the sales, design, service, and construction teams should make the same promises and they should know what they realistically cannot promise. Since an “awesome” or “delightful” experience is defined as one in which the buyer's expectations are exceeded, builders must be as systematic in setting realistic expectations (that can be beat) as they are in pushing for performance excellence.

    QUALITY CONTROL: While builders earn relatively high satisfaction ratings for having courteous reps (top chart), they need to focus most on attributes on the right side of the satisfaction contribution scale, such as ensuring that vendors and contractors maintain high standards. In addition, the touch points between the builder and the buyer in the buying experience, especially during the construction phase, should be planned and executed in a consistent fashion. In fact, the only thing worse than a consistently average performance is providing experiences that range from extraordinary to disappointing. Predictability is one of the core elements of a trusting relationship.

    One tactic builders might use to rethink their approach with buyers is to forget about the operational procedures they have spent years developing and temporarily cast aside the drive for production efficiency and obsession with schedules. Instead, look at the situation from a new perspective: Pretend the buyer is your mom. What kind of experience do you think she would like to have during this construction phase?

    What can be done to provide an experience that impresses and delights buyers? Here are some planned steps that will enhance the overall construction experience for home buyers:

  • Invite the buyer to a session in which the superintendent or project manager describes each step in the construction process; do a site walk with the purchase counselor and superintendent. Emotional response: lowered anxiety and increased comfort and trust.
  • The sign on the lot does not just say, “Lot No. 24.” Instead, it should say, “AnotherABC Builder home built especially for the Johnson family.” Emotional response: pride.
  • Pay attention to convenience issues that demonstrate an understanding of buyers' needs. For example: ingenious placement of light switches, electrical outlets, phone jacks, hose bibs, and cable outlets. Point out the rationale for these placements during the frame or final walk-through. Emotional response: impressed and pleased.
  • Keep buyers informed of progress on the construction schedule without them having to ask. Emotional response: lowered anxiety and increased trust.
  • Ask lots of questions. If the buyer wants to hang an ultra-heavy, nouveau-deco, imported Hungarian crystal chandelier in the entryway, ask if you can add some reinforcement to the ceiling area to support it. Emotional response: impressed and pleased that you're looking out for his/her best interests.
  • Give buyers a detailed set of grading plans with lot elevations to help in planning the home's landscaping. Emotional response: gratitude.
  • Complete a quality assurance inspection so that the buyers find no defects at final inspection, but you find a few minor items just to remind them that you are looking out for their best interests. Emotional response: comfort and trust.
  • Set a brass plate into the garage slab: “Proudly built by ABC Homes for the Johnson family in October 2004.” Emotional response: pride.
  • Complete the home slightly before the promised closing date. Emotional response: lowered anxiety and increased excitement.
  • While extraordinary touch points (ETPs) are designed to exceed the buyer's expectations, required touch points (RTPs) are typically executed in order to meet the objectives. The key to proper use of RTPs is to conduct the RTP in a manner that allows the builder to complete his objectives and demonstrate that he is more concerned with meeting the buyer's needs.