Last Saturday, about a dozen home-buying prospects came to one of Coldwell Banker’s offices in Waltham, Mass., to hear experts on construction, architecture, and banking provide free information and advice about the ins and outs of purchasing and building a house.
Hosting this event, its first, was Sterling Homes, a 16-year-old custom builder based in Burlington, Mass. Sterling’s president, Russell Busa, says he got the idea for the seminar while he was building a home for a friend of his. “I came to realize just how many questions buyers have.” Amy Hauser, a spokesperson for the builder, adds that many customers who are considering building their homes “just don’t know where to start. People are crying for guidance.”
Sterling Homes invited the prospects to the seminar from people the builder met during the New England Home Show in February. Busa says he wanted to provide them with a kind of antidote to HGTV’s programming that focuses on the home-buying experience. “People watch [those shows] for a half hour and think everything is perfect. In the real world, it doesn’t happen that way,” he said.
To give prospects a more realistic sense of what they should expect during the custom-home building process, Busa assembled a cross-functional team of experts, most of whom he’s worked with before. The seminar, titled “Before You Build: 5 Steps to Your New Home,” included a representative from Coldwell Banker; local architect Rick Eifler; and Chet Pasho, a building sciences consultant with Preferred Building Systems, a Claremont, N.H.–based modular home manufacturer.
Over the past five years, Sterling Homes has been moving away from stick-built construction in favor of modular assembly, which Busa says now accounts for 80% of his company’s sales. (Every couple of months, he offers prospects tours of Preferred’s factory.) So the seminar served the dual purpose of educating customers and promoting the virtues of modular construction, especially its energy efficiency, which is one of Preferred’s calling cards.
Busa says Sterling—which built four homes in 2010 whose prices (with land) ranged from $800,000 to $1 million—sees the seminar format as a unique way for his company to connect with its customers. He’s eager to conduct another event in the early summer and is considering breaking out some of the topics from the first into their own seminars, which would be shorter but allow more time for the speakers and for question and answer sessions.
John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder magazine.