THE METAMORPHOSIS HAS BEGUN. IT actually started the day after the buyer moved into his or her new home. Before the unpacking is complete, before the family pictures can be hung on the walls, before the pots and pans come out for the first home cooked meal, your customer has already started the transformation from new home buyer to new homeowner.

And builders need to be ready for it. The most important change is that the priorities of the homeowner are dramatically different from those of the new buyer—and once again, often at odds with what builders hope to accomplish once the new home has been turned over.

The Traditional Builder's Objectives:

  • Get buyer to sign off on remaining punch-list items
  • Customer care and warranty service is a necessary expense; keep it to a minimum
  • Smooth hand-off from construction to customer care
  • Ensure that trades complete service on warranty items they created
  • The Buyer's Objectives:

  • Enjoy their perfect dream home—its new features and appliances
  • Live in a no-hassle home
  • Not to feel abandoned by the builder
  • Finish the home: Complete the punch-list the builder promised within 10 days
  • Be able to brag to their friends about the wise choice of builders
  • Spend time on their decorating plans, not waiting for repair people
  • The importance of this shift from buyer mindset to owner mindset is hard to understate. Based on consumer surveys conducted by Eliant, new buyers indicate that the criteria they use to evaluate the builder begin to change almost immediately after move-in.

    During the first month or two, the willingness of new buyers to refer their friends to their builder is primarily driven by their evaluation of the home's initial “work manship and installation” quality, and their experience during the purchase process.

    LASTING IMPRESSIONS: Once a buyer has bought the house, it is imperative that the builder maintains the buyer's trust. The builder in this example suffered a significant net loss of trust, which means the chance for a referral is severely diminished. However, the new buyer is already starting to take notice of the small things he or she missed on the final orientation walk-through—those minor issues that stand out like a sore thumb once the buyer has moved into the home. During the first two weeks after move-in, the five words heard perhaps more than any others in a new home community are, “How did I miss that?”

    And the buyer-turned-homeowner wants nothing more than for those things to go away—right away.

    Armed with a list of these little annoyances, the customer contacts the builder's customer care department and requests repairs on these items. Thus begins a crucial test of the “trust” relationship developed over the prior months: It is in the ownership phase that buyers will learn whether the home building company is really as sincere and reputable as it initially appeared; and whether the builder's staff has been trained more on executing operations than on ensuring customers extraordinary experiences.

    In fact, within a few months after move-in—and usually no later than the fifth month—the impact of customer care becomes powerful: Almost 50 percent of the homeowner's willingness to refer a friend to the builder is directly related to the homeowner's experience with the builder's service process and personnel, according to Eliant's survey findings. Quality is not forgotten, but the manner in which a builder responds to warranty and service requests can literally make or break the buyer's impression of that builder's firm.

    Even if a builder offers an exceptional level of quality in its homes, or provides a service experience that meets the buyer's expectations, the odds are unlikely that the builder will succeed in delighting a homeowner unless the ownership and service experience goes beyond expectations.

    That involves not only anticipating what buyers expect—and giving them a little bit more—but also demonstrating a sincere concern for the buyer's interests, thus developing “unconditional trust.” There are several fundamental steps that must be accomplished if the post move-in service process is to cement buyers' overall perceptions of extraordinary service: