Rethinking the Sale

As builders and developers, let’s be more proactive by including more education and compromising less in the homes we build
By Laurie Dischler

Are we ignoring the most important numbers?
Recent comments from builders have me questioning the approach some builders typically use to sell a new, custom home. The most interesting and contradictory comment is that although most builders are building and selling homes framed of sticks, when introduced to the benefits of an insulated concrete forming (ICF) system, they often say they would build their own home with ICFs, one of the strongest, safest and most energy-efficient products to create the exterior enclosure of a home available today. While this may seem deceptive or short-sighted, we’ve come to believe that builders and buyers are facing a disconnect that neither of them may be recognizing. Have home builders lost faith in the new custom home buyer and his/her ability to discern value when choosing a builder and how their home will be built?

We empathize with builders if they believe price is the only thing potential clients are interested in, but it just isn’t true.
The way a home is built has consequences in terms of comfort and costs in its ongoing operation and maintenance. Much like car types and models, some provide fewer safety features, are less comfortable to drive, have higher fuel consumption, expensive to repair and maintain, cause higher insurance rates or its performance in certain weather conditions and parts of the country is appreciably less.

For most people, a home is their biggest asset. Yet most new custom home buyers have no clue about how their house is built and which materials, methods, and features provide them the performance they would demand if they did know. Have we failed to realize that clients expect us to be experts? The ones that put their faith in us to build them not the least expensive but the highest value structure they can afford?

I suspect that homeowners think little of what is behind these appearances. These buyers put full trust in builders to provide a safe, healthy and efficient building structure. Perhaps it is no wonder they jump right to the cabinets and countertops. If they knew that we spared on the basics, many would be alarmed.

I would argue to let the buyer be the judge. Rather than building to a budget and asking the buyer to choose between cosmetic or structural dimensions, why not shift to discussions about the buyer’s future monthly expensive for living in their new home? Let’s first educate the new custom home buyer and then help them understand how much they can expect to spend on the mortgage, utilities, maintenance and insurance for their potential dream home.

Though green is a huge factor for many, the safety and health of their family are non-negotiable. The ongoing costs of dealing with safety, health, and wellness is difficult, but this is where we often become stuck in the build cost vs. the operating costs.

The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative measured the energy, emissions, water, operations and maintenance savings along with productivity and health benefits of building green. It found that, during a period of 20 years, an owner of a green home will save $50 to $65 per square foot of their home. For a 1,500-square-foot house, this is approximately $75,000 in savings in those two decades.

It seems like our industry needs to rethink our selling approach and maintain that certain aspects of the build will have more of an impact on other budgetary expenses to live in that home. Are we becoming more focused on providing numbers that will mean something as the homeowner pays their monthly bills?

Building wood-framed homes doesn’t have to be and really shouldn’t be the norm. Our industry needs to rethink our selling process to include education on the benefits of construction materials and methods, building codes and what they mean, and focusing on value instead of price to help the buyer think about what it costs to live in the kind of home they want rather than on the budget for initially building their most important asset. Let’s be more proactive, including more education and less compromising of the homes we build. Let’s help our buyers understand what they will receive for what they can spend every month and provide the high performance, high-value homes where everyone wants to live.

Laurie Dischler is the Vice President of new product and business development of CELBLOX, a division of Cellox. Dischler has been with Cellox for four years, with a background working with plastics and sustainability. She may be reached at ldischler@cellox.com.