COMMUNICATION TOOLS have become even more vital as builders learn more about the high value buyers place on customer service and their relationships with the builders' staff. The Web already is being used as a tool to simplify design center appointments, and that tool is expected to continue to evolve.

Within the next three years, builders will expand their use of the Internet and wireless technology to create valuable relationships with customers, to connect with them at critical times, and gather information about buyer demographics and product preferences.

“Everything you now do on the telephone or face to face or via direct mail you'll be able to do over the Internet, up to and including core selections,” says New Mexico–based developer Don Tishman. “You can pick carpet colors as easily on the Internet as you can in a design center.”

As tech-savvy teens accustomed to text messaging become the next generation of home buyers, sales staff will be able to stay in constant contact with prospects with news about lot releases and price increases, says Robb Cohen, president and CEO of Virginia-based BeHomeWise, an Internet-based lead management and CRM systems company.

E-mail and cell technology also offer a cost-effective way to remind buyers about upcoming deadlines for change orders. Plus buyers could get messages and photos at milestones in the construction process, helping them to feel involved and reducing the number of requests for information, on-site visits, or cancellations.

“People take great pride in walking through their house almost every day,” says California-based developer Rick Holliday. “You can find ways to do that with digital photography. ... The more they feel like you're building their house, the less likely they are to bail out. They're part of the process.”

Prospects visiting builder Web sites already can play with the elevations and floor plan options to print out customized brochures. Chris Austen, CEO of North Carolina–based BuildLinks says we'll see more tools that allow customers to, in effect, “design and customize their house in a way that's simple and cost-effective for a builder.”

And they'll be doing that and more from a single source that the customer, builder, trade contractors, suppliers, financial partners, and others can access from a computer, a cell phone, or a PDA.

Also on the horizon are interactive community site plans that merge the sales department with back-office functions.

“You should be able to see the availability of lots in real time,” says Igor Starkov, director of business development at Virginia-based Latista Technologies. “As soon as a sales manager sells a particular lot, it shows up as sold on the Web site. It helps psychologically to sell lots. When you see a community 80 percent sold, it helps create urgency.”

Sayonara, Models? Tightening land supplies could push sales process online.

The day may come when home shoppers won't spend their weekends driving between developments and touring models—because builders won't have either of them.

As large tracts of land become increasingly scarce, builders will shift to a business model of having a portfolio of homes and single lots scattered throughout a region, says Robb Cohen, president and CEO of Virginia-based BeHome-Wise. Floor plans and lots will be showcased and sold via the builder's Web site.

“Buyers will pick a home,” Cohen says, “see if it fits the lot, and boom, put in their order.”