By Bob Mirman and Wyatt Kash. If the purchase of a new home is the ultimate emotional roller-coaster ride, then the move-in day is the pinnacle of that experience. The buyer has spent months planning, selecting, observing, requesting, and responding. All the various components of the construction and finance process have been designed to converge on one magic morning: move-in day.

For the home builder, the importance of this moment of truth cannot be overstated. A new study, however, reveals how this moment comes together for new buyers and what elements shape a buyer's sense of satisfaction.

In determining how willing buyers will be to refer a friend -- "Home readiness" ranks just behind the quality of workmanship and the value buyers perceive in the options they can select. According to a new study from Eliant and the University of Redlands (Calif.), home readiness has 60 percent more impact on buyer loyalty than the impression buyers take away from the sales process, and twice as much as the initial customer care process that occurs right after move-in.

Which aspects contribute most to the home readiness satisfaction equation for new buyers?

For many years, the industry has believed the most important element in this phase of the buying process was whether or not the home was completed and ready for move-in on the promised date. A companion study done by Eliant for BIG BUILDER magazine reaffirms that while that is important, it ranks fifth in concern to buyers (See Figure 6-2). In fact, four other concerns were found to be as or significantly more important in determining how satisfied buyers were the day they moved into their new home:

Builder's Action Plan
...For improving home readiness satisfaction.
Referral 'Accelerators':
  • Go for a good first impression on both the final walk-through and move-in day.
  • Although both are strong contributors to satisfaction, a clean outside trumps a clean inside.
Referral 'Killers':
  • Builders receive only a few points if the home is complete and ready for move-in on the scheduled date, but if the home is not completed on time, this is the sixth strongest "Showstopper" on the survey.

"Community appears orderly and safe even if other homes are still being built." It is unlikely many buyers (or builders) would be able to articulate this if asked to list their most important criteria for satisfaction. Yet through statistical analysis, this issue stands out like a white flag on a battlefield, ranking nearly four times as influential as "Home completed on scheduled date" (See Figure 6-2). Why? The surrounding settings are an integral factor influencing that first impression. Significantly, builders ranked this concern fifth out of six factors influencing home readiness satisfaction. Home was delivered clean outside. This factor is about half as important as the "Clean Community" issue, but remains central to buyers' impressions. Surprisingly, the delivery of a home that is clean outside is far more influential than the condition of the home on the inside. Presumably, it is because that is what buyers see first. Buyers give builders below-average satisfaction scores for this issue, dragging down overall "home readiness" satisfaction.

Home was delivered clean inside. While buyers appear to have more tempered expectations about the inside of their new home than the outside, this moment of truth still carries significant impact toward overall satisfaction. It also tends to win below-average scores.

Purchase-to-move-in time frame. Whether the time promised between purchase and move-in dates was acceptable to the buyer proved of greater importance to buyer satisfaction than whether the home was actually completed and ready on the date scheduled. This is a case where understanding a buyer's circumstances and attempting to work around them may earn more points than working overtime to deliver the home on time.

One other hidden factor emerged from the data: It is sales communication, more than construction prowess, which most strongly influences the buyer's perception of whether his home was ready for move-in on the promised date. Survey results from buyers across more than 1,000 new-home communities revealed that communities with exceptional scores on "Home completed on scheduled date" also had invariably strong sales communication ratings.

Best practices: What builders are doing to...

...Ensure buyers feel their community is clean, orderly, and safe, especially during the construction of remaining homes.
  • Daily cleanups/inspections; weekly street cleaning
  • Silt/safety fencing
  • Plenty of covered waste bins
  • Separate construction areas (with safety barriers)
  • Increased signage

Best practices: What builders are doing to...

...Deliver a clean home outside.
  • Checklists/punchlists/walk-throughs to be completed prior to move-in
  • Pressure wash house and hardscape
  • Outside cleaning company hired
  • Landscaping completed; especially sod

Bentley Homes, Assurance Manager:

Weekly scheduled street cleanings. Silt fence maintenance. Speed bumps to slow traffic. Scrubbers installed at all active cutouts.

Curtis Showcase Homes, Project Manager:

All streets are well lighted, signs are posted "construction area."

Ambassador Custom Homes, Vice President:

All construction debris is removed, yard is landscaped, lawn is planted or sod laid. The deep green of the new grass is a great look.

Bentley Homes, Area Manager:Pressure wash walks and driveway with straw mulch around house to prevent splashing.

Shea Homes, Vice President of Construction:

Have laborers hand rake the yard, then protect it with "caution" tape.

The O'Brien Group, Project Manager:

We do complete landscaping before move-in at each house.

Waldon Development Corp., Project Manager:

All exteriors are power washed once landscaping is complete; this allows us to check for leaks as well as clean the exterior.

Construction Team, Owner:

Landscaping is done only after all the other items on the punch-list are complete. Materials are always stored in predetermined areas. All of the final painting is done just before the landscaping. I try and ask myself if I would buy the house for myself in its current state. The next step is to ask myself if my wife would move in with the house in its present state. That's the real test.

The articles in this special report were written by Bob Mirman, CEO of Eliant, and Wyatt Kash, editor of Big Builder magazine. Eliant (formerly National Survey Systems) provides customer satisfaction data and solutions to more than 150 of the nation's top home builders including D.R. Horton, John Laing Homes, Lennar Family of Builders, Shea Homes, and Standard Pacific Homes. The firm is considered the largest consumer research company in the country that caters exclusively to the building industry, conducting more than 200,000 home buyer surveys annually. Eliant is recognized for its use of sophisticated, high-tech consumer tracking tools and information management systems to provide builders with timely, actionable information and strategies to increase home buyer satisfaction and building industry rankings.

Headquartered in Irvine, Calif., Eliant was founded in 1984 by Bob Mirman. Mirman is a clinically-trained psychologist who translated the consumer perception tools he had developed while working at General Mills into a series of surveys designed to capture detailed information on the entire home buying experience, including satisfaction up to two years after move in. Builders use Eliant's tracking information to monitor, reward, and modify practices that directly impact home buyer loyalty.

For more information, contact:

18 Technology Drive, Suite 200 Irvine, CA 92618
949-753-1077 ext. 10; 800-814-9595

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