It's a rainy Saturday in February, and home buyers Lisa and Chuck Brousseau have an appointment at Creative Touch Interiors (CTI), in Landover, Md., to select the hardwood and vinyl flooring, carpeting, padding, and window coverings for their new 4,700-square-foot home. The task doesn't seem difficult, but CTI's design consultant Patricia Stecklein says it will take about three to four hours. Even for experienced buyers such as the Brousseaus, who are buying their third new home, the process is overwhelming. After all, there are things to consider such as how floor color in one space will affect the floor in a nearby space and what type of carpet will be durable but comfortable for the Brousseaus' children to romp around on. “We have an idea of what we want, but we are looking for a little guidance,” says Lisa.
That guidance will come from Stecklein, an interior designer by trade. “Our main goal is to provide the home buyer with [an] experience that is comfortable, professional, and user friendly with a designer who is knowledgeable about their house type, lifestyle, and the product choices,” says Stecklein. The goal is to make buyers feel confident that they have made the right choices, she adds.
But why aren't the Brousseaus making their selections at the model home? Because their builder, Bethesda, Md.–based Winchester Homes, partners with outside vendors to help buyers through the tedious process of choosing options and upgrades.
Most home buyers underestimate how much work goes into buying a new home. Sure, there's no manual labor, but the important decisions that they must make create a pressure-filled atmosphere. The selection process, then, is a vital phase for buyers, but it's also pivotal for builders: It's tough to up-sell to a customer who feels overwhelmed. Winchester, however, has managed to develop a system that makes buyers feel comfortable and results in a healthier bottom line.
Largely operating in metropolitan Washington's luxury market, Winchester builds single-family attached and detached homes. Like most builders, the company has model homes in its subdivisions; unlike most builders, the company breaks up its selection process into two 30-day phases and partners with outside vendors to help manage the process.
“Customers come in and look at a model home and see how it feels and how it's designed with the options,” says Alan E. Shapiro, senior vice president of operations. During this first phase, buyers look at big-picture items such as structural features and review floor plans to see how the house fits their needs. The number of floor plans varies depending on housing type—four to six for single-family, three to four for townhomes. With the company's Your Home Your Way program, if buyers favor an element of one plan, they may include it in another.
But once this phase is over, buyers have another 30 days to select finish options; at this time, they are directed to outside trade partners such as CTI. At CTI, buyers see how their kitchen selections fit their overall design scheme and are able to choose hard and soft surfaces at their own pace using the consultants' expert knowledge.
This process has proved successful. At the Brousseaus' appointment, Stecklein never pushes the most expensive flooring or carpet options. Instead, she provides information and descriptions of each product, from the standard to the move-up, and explains what kind of longevity and performance the couple can expect from each.
Throughout the process, the Brousseaus are completely relaxed and are given ample time to deliberate on their choices. This is very different from their last home purchase. “The person who sold us the house was the person selling us the options and was a master on nothing,” says Chuck. Lisa adds, “We wished we had more guidance [in our last house] because some of it does not flow. You are more informed in this process.”
In addition to CTI, Winchester customers have the opportunity to meet with a closet expert and a home-entertainment and security company at any point in the 60-day selection period. Once buyers have selected all of these items, they head back to the model home/sales center for final paperwork and to select final finishes, if needed.