Quality in home building is an issue of psychology as much as it is of construction techniques. Hire a terrific architect, use the best materials, bring in a skilled superintendent, work with a highly trained crew, but you still might fall short in your customer satisfaction ratings for quality.

How can that be?

Quality is in the eye of the beholder. When home shoppers are asked to identify the factors they use to keep score, their criteria are all over the map. So, you need to be good at everything to impress everyone, and that's difficult. A buyer expects you not only to care, but to tune in to his or her preferences with vigilance.

Let's say you are able to excel on a consistent basis. Your team does an outstanding job in construction on every element of the home. Joints are tight, doors are solid, stairs do not squeak. Still, when your homeowners are asked to rate their satisfaction, you may receive low ratings. It's a bit like psychotherapy: Reality often plays second fiddle to what the patient feels about the reality.

The reason is that a buyer's level of satisfaction is defined by the difference between what he expects and what he gets. Here are three ways to look at it:

  • If a buyer expects low or medium quality but gets high quality, he is delighted.
  • If a buyer expects high quality but gets medium quality, he is disappointed.
  • If a buyer expects high quality and gets high quality, he is satisfied.

At Lennar Homes, an oft-heard expression is “satisfaction is only satisfactory.” Satisfied buyers, then, are not the goal for a builder, but they are just a step in the right direction. The goal is to develop delighted buyers who are more likely to refer their friends and buy from you again.

Builders who historically have been product-centric are learning that this approach does not sit well with today's consumers, whose satisfaction goes up or down based on their experience of buying and owning a home. Traditionally, your objectives center around efficiencies, quality, and costs. As a result, you're apt to try to minimize the buyer's involvement during the construction phase. However, today's consumers want to be involved, not distanced. They want you not only to be good at what you do but vigilant about their needs and preferences.

Here's what's going on in your buyer's mind during the construction phase:

  • Build a home for me like the model.
  • Help me personalize my home.
  • Reduce my anxieties by:
    *Installing all promised options;
    *Keeping me up-to-date on the status of construction;
    *Confirming that you can be trusted;
    *Delivering my home on time.


More than ever, buyers want to be involved during the construction of their new home. Ask each buyer how much he or she wants to be included in the construction phase. Most will want frequent communication and status reports, although a few would just as soon go the beach and wait for your call to go pick up the keys. Adjust your communication style to meet each buyer's needs

Buyers' desire for construction status information is not new. What is new is the way buyers express their desires. Share information about all the steps you take to generate high-quality, low-defect homes. Do not exaggerate or oversell this aspect; you do not want to have customers with unrealistic expectations. You can talk about:

  • Special training programs for staff and trades
  • Quality assurance inspections by outside firms
  • Special accreditation
  • Awards

Keeping a buyer informed throughout the construction process won't reduce a buyer's anxiety level unless you deliver the information before the buyer asks for it. Also, buyers want to meet the people who will build their home. A construction superintendent should plan to meet the buyer as soon as the contract is signed. One of the strongest things you and your team can say to the buyer is, “I'm proud to build your home for you.”
If you don't tell buyers what they can expect, they will tell you what they want. What they want may be something you may not be able to give. So, manage quality expectations.

  • Define what they will see.
  • Explain how their home will settle and change over the years.
  • Show pictures of what to expect. Standard Pacific (East Bay) does this.

Communication about construction status requires a team effort from sales, design, options, and construction personnel.

  • Weekly community team meetings in many firms keep everyone on the same page. A buyer can obtain a status report from any attendee.
  • The quality of the handoff from one rep to another is a clue as to what the buyer can expect from this team. Handoffs are required touchpoints and provide opportunities to wow the buyer.
  • Finger-pointing among team members or trades is common in this industry, but in a customer-care environment, it has no place.
  • Recognize that none of these steps comes naturally. In fact, the culture of many builders will not easily allow enlightened customer focus to evolve. Top management has to buy in. Training is essential.
    *Develop a clear channel to send continuous information to the buyer;
    *Develop standard, systematic procedures and practices;
    *Use outside training firms to operationalize your customer-care process;
    *Incorporate your trades into your training program.
    *Use outside training firms to operationalize your customer-care process;
    *Incorporate your trades into your training program.

Bob Mirman is CEO and Alex Roqueta is president of Eliant in Irvine, Calif. For further info, visit www.eliant.com.