A Miller & Smith model home in the Embrey Mill community in Stafford, Va.
Courtesy Miller & Smith A Miller & Smith model home in the Embrey Mill community in Stafford, Va.

A beautiful model home can be vital to closing a new home sale. Because most customers prefer to walk through a home before making a decision, the interactive nature of a well staged model home often seals the deal.

Nevertheless, some builders are relying less on built models in favor of virtual tours, web-based photo galleries, and videos. Does this mean that technology will eventually replace the traditional model home? Here, BUILDER asks five home building pros their views on the state of the model home.

Dennis Webb
Vice president of operations, Fulton Homes
Tempe, Ariz.

Are model homes still relevant?
Of course. They are not only relevant, but essential. We have 3D tours, electronic visualizers, and interactive floor plans, but they are designed to work in harmony with model homes. Model homes give the buyer the opportunity to truly experience and understand what it would be like to live in the home.

How do you ensure that your model homes are effective?
Sales drive our decisions on which floor plans and design options to use. Based on the model experience of customers, we look at which floor plans and options are popular. We also look at popular design trends that are chosen in our 13,000-square-foot design center for inspiration. It is set up just like a retail shop, where the customer has thousands of options from floor to ceiling to pick from.
As for the trends we’re seeing, black is coming into fashion in accessory areas such as faucets and lighting. Gold will also have a place with cabinet hardware light fixtures and faucets.

What are some of your new ideas in model homes?
In our sales center that is housed in the garage of the first model, we use six computers so that sales associates can demonstrate everything electronically before anyone even enters the models.
The Design Center hosts a “Browse Night” two days a month, allowing even those not under contract for a home to visit during the mini-event and price-out options.

Renée Pratt
Chief designer, Rotelle Studio(e)
South Coventry, Pa.

Are model homes are still relevant?
Model homes are more important today than ever before! With the constant changes in design trends, buyers want to experience the feeling of a home. They want to see how these online design trends translate into real life. We love to take risks with our model homes to show our clients just how amazing their own home can be.

How do you ensure that your model homes are effective?
It is an exciting time to be in the building/design industry as trends are rapidly changing. We are constantly looking at what our clients are asking for along with incorporating current trends. And we do all of this in an affordable way. This allows our clients to take some risks with design as well as personalize their new home.

What are some of your new ideas in model homes?
We concentrate on areas that are important to buyers these days. Some examples include kitchens with large islands that seat eight to 10 people; great mud rooms with organized spaces for the whole family; larger home office spaces as more people are working from home; and of course, an amazing master bathroom with oversized showers. And because we offer these extra amenities at affordable prices, we see more and more of our clients following our trends and incorporating them into their new home.

James Miller
Regional president of Texas homebuilding division, Empire Communities

Are model homes are still relevant?
I think model homes continue to be relevant for today’s buyers because, as great as technology is, there’s nothing that can quite replace the experience of physically being in a model and touring each space. Buying a home is a big investment and commitment. It is an emotional process and has a lot to do with what the buyers feel and experience. Virtual reality and internet-based home tours are excellent tools but we are not sure technology can totally replace the tactile experience of visiting a model.

How do you ensure that your model homes are effective?
At Empire, we put a lot of thought into both the architectural and interior design of each model home to ensure that our model not only complements the overall community vision but also fits the needs of potential buyers in that area. We are now building in eight communities across Houston with pricing from the $190’s to high $600’s, but the Empire experience is the same across the board. Each of our model homes is unique but you will find a consistent look and feel.

Our team also works very hard to deliver the best customer experience both on and offline. Buyers are more knowledgeable today and spend a lot of time researching before they ever visit our model, so we invest heavily in our online experience. We provide valuable home buyer resources and content highlighting the community, area amenities, schools and all the floorplans that we offer. We also feature interactive floorplans to help buyers visualize different architectural options that they can explore. And once buyers visit our model home, we hope that the model home complements the online experience.

Kim Ambrose
Vice president of marketing, Miller & Smith
McLean, Va.

Are model homes still relevant?
While virtual/internet home tours certainly make it more convenient for buyers to learn more about our homes, we feel these tools simply help buyers narrow down the selection of which communities/models they will actually visit in person. Most buyers prefer to see and touch the details of our homes and communities before they sign a contract.

Historically, a home purchase is still usually the largest purchase a person makes and the actual onsite visits are usually what close the deal. Visiting on-site models and talking with our sales managers allows home buyers to work through all of their questions much quicker and easier than online communication. Not to say we haven’t had a buyer who has bought and only virtually visited our communities, but we find that VR and internet-based home tours are another first step towards buying their new home.

How do you ensure that your model homes are effective?
We do a considerable amount of market research up front to determine the buyer's profile in a new community. This information is then shared with our interior designers who conduct their own market research as well as visiting all of the primary competitor’s model homes to develop an on-point merchandising plan for our target market.
Our merchandising budget is also more robust when compared to many competitors, especially in comparison to large national/public builders who tend to build the same model home over and over. At Miller & Smith, we specifically work with designers who are not only well versed in the current home design trends but know how to effectively temper those trends with what’s realistic for a particular buyer profiles budget. Yes, we want to show a “dream home” in every neighborhood but we don’t want to show something that is financially unattainable. It’s an interesting balance.

What are some of your new ideas in model homes?
Outdoor spaces have become very popular and important to many home buyers. While this trend used to be primarily a West Coast focus, buyers in the mid-Atlantic want to know they can have screened porches, fire pits, and outdoor TVs/bars, even if they're not used year round. We’ve been very successful showing multiple uses for decks, porches, and yards so much more than just a grilling deck with some white plastic furniture thrown on it.
Spaces for multi-generational families are another trend we've implemented in model homes over the past few years. Whether a first-floor bedroom suite or full blown studio apartment spaces built over the garage, we’ve found that about 20% of our buyers have more than one generation living in the home. From boomerang college kids to grandparents that visit for four to six months at a time, it’s important for each family member to have adequate space of their own.

Trent Hancock
Vice president of sales and marketing, Camelot Homes

Are model homes are still relevant?
Even though virtual reality and internet-based home tours are on the rise, nothing can replace seeing a model home in person. We have created virtual tours of our renderings prior to building and they just don’t do the home any justice. When potential buyers walk through a model home, the home becomes a reality and they are able to picture a creating a life in that home.

How do you ensure that your model homes are effective?
At Camelot Homes, we spend up to two years mapping out and planning every detail that goes into a model home to ensure they are most effective. We build homes that are innovative, reflecting the best elements of the past while boldly embracing the future.

What are some of your new ideas in model homes?
We have implemented a number of new ideas and concepts in our model homes over the years such as the use of pocket doors, home automation, architecturally authentic exteriors with Contemporary, Modern Mediterranean and Urban Farmhouse designs, along with ample indoor/outdoor living space.