One-third of American West’s sales come from buyers who start their purchase journey at the builder’s website. Canarelli thinks buyers go online first to “eliminate” certain builders and products. American West also reaches customers via Facebook and Twitter, albeit less for selling than for reinforcing its brand.

By the time customers come into one of American West’s eight sales offices, they are both easier and harder to sell, Canarelli says. On one hand, they’ve seen your product and “know what they are looking for, but they want to find out about who you are.”

On the other hand, buyers who have done their homework online are more “logical” and less likely to make an “emotional” purchase, Canarelli adds, meaning the conversation “is about the value proposition.” That includes price, of course, but American West’s salespeople are trained to explore a buyer’s lifestyle needs and how a new home can meet them.

The Internet generates “a ton” of leads for CBH, Haener says. Buyers are turning to social media “to learn more about us culturally, and our day-to-day business.” In mid-September, CBH used Facebook to announce a model-furniture liquidation event it conducted in the parking lot of its corporate headquarters. Several hundred people attended.

CBH has sales offices at 30 communities. The customers its salespeople encounter “no longer need to sleep on” buying a home. Haener says the “quality” of these customers is better, as many already have met with a lender about mortgages. “They’re not just looking for decorating ideas,” she laughs.

Fifteen percent to 20 percent of these prospects end up buying a CBH house. Haener sees room for improvement in the sales process, to the point where buyers could purchase a home online. “That’s our wish list,” she says. But, “you still need that personal interaction.”

“It’s a different customer today,” Brown says. Prospects visiting his company’s 18 sales offices have “already driven through our neighborhoods and have made up their minds about the house they want to buy, the square footage, and the price.”

Social media helps create customer excitement. Charter uses Facebook regularly to announce grand openings and neighborhood events. “It gets us into the conversation and keeps us in front of customers,” Brown says.

In face-to-face meetings with buyers, Charter’s salespeople work to establish trust quickly and home in on the particulars of buying a house: Will the financing work? Does this house fit the buyer’s needs? “We take them through the process and focus on the compromises for the buyer to get them into where they want to live,” says Brown, whose company converts around 13 percent of its prospects.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Las Vegas, NV, Boise City, ID.