The Planned Surprise Strategy

Since starting this consumer research company on my dining room table in 1984, I have gathered an incredible database of strategies used by over 1,600 homebuilders to delight their customers.


Here one of the best ideas: Turn each new-home purchase into an extraordinary experience by planning a series of memorable surprises for each buyer at key milestones during the customer’s journey. The goal is to create unexpected moments for your customer to talk about, to brag about you, to spread positive word of mouth and enhance your local reputation.


IMPORTANT: This strategy is not meant to replace the normal service every homebuyer expects; this is just an ‘icing-on-the-cake’ addition that will exceed each buyer’s expectations.


Builders’ Planned Surprises: Low Cost or No Cost Items


  • At purchase or just after:
    • Take picture of buyers holding signed contract; place in frame and give to buyers
    • Email information to each buyer every 2-3 weeks during the purchase-to-close period. (see below and on following pages)
    • Give a complimentary coupon for day-care to use during first design consultation


  • Prior to Move-In Day:
    • Email articles to all buyers 1x per week (same article to all buyers at same time)
    • Assuming an average 4-month escrow period, you will need 17 articles for a weekly distribution cycle, then repeat the cycle:
  • Checklist of things to consider in your upcoming move
      • List of “Packing & Moving Tips”
      • Move-In Shopping List of necessary items for first week in the new home
      • List of utilities with phone/email addresses
      • List of day care facilities in local area
      • Tips about hiring a moving company and moving insurance
      • List of things to consider when moving with children
      • Tips for moving your computers and other technologies
      • Five Tips on how to move with your pets
      • List of places at which a change of address should be submitted ASAP
    • List of sign-up dates for sports teams for the buyer’s children
      • List of local sports facilities, training camps
    • Supply “Change of Address” forms
    • Supply buyer with (builder branded) packing labels
    • Give 1-hour paint touch-up coupon to be used within 60-days after Move-In
    • Purchase updated dog tag for the buyer’s pet; surprise buyer at Walk-Through!
  • Move-in Day:
    • Hand-written “Welcome Home!” note & bottle of wine (w/corkscrew) in MBR
    • List of local restaurants which deliver, for use by the buyer on move-in day
    • Builder-branded small cooler with juices, waters, and sodas on kitchen counter
    • Pizza or box of cookies or flowers delivered by builder executive


  • Post Move-In:
    • Arrange to pick up the buyer’s moving boxes 1-week post move-in; give boxes to buyers just starting to pack for their move-in
    • Builder executive calls buyer 45-60 days post move-in: “How are things going?”
    • Monthly email with maintenance tips
    • Change batteries in smoke detector; change air filter during first year
    • Tips on how to hang Christmas lights


Also have a set of monthly flyers, one of which should be emailed to all buyers on a schedule during each of the 12-months following the move-in.


Here are some additional ideas for planned emails to buyers in escrow, once every 2-weeks. The beauty of this process is that once you put these lists together, the hard work is done. You can simply send out one list every two weeks to all buyers in escrow.


You may need to update the list of local events every few months, but most of this information will remain accurate for the life of your community’s sales cycle:

  • List of local hospitals and medical facilities (Phone numbers & addresses)
  • List of energy saving ideas
  • Detailed packet of info about local public/private schools:
    • Locations
    • Phone numbers
    • School holiday schedule
    • Sports and activities information
      • Collect info about buyer’s family activity preferences and customize this information to their priorities
  • List of local services (and make it clear you are simply listing these local services, not endorsing or guaranteeing their quality):
    • List of local restaurants
      • Restaurants love to provide discount coupons to distribute to new residents
    • Dry cleaners
    • Pharmacies
    • Shoe repair
    • Hair salons
    • Pet walking services
    • Grocery stores
    • List of stores in local shopping malls
    • Big Box, pet, and sporting goods stores
    • Workout facilities
    • Parks & recreation information
    • Professional sports team information
    • YMCA location
    • Youth organizations (e.g. scouts)
    • Local hiking trails
    • Nearby camping areas
    • Newspaper subscription information
    • Local government agencies
    • Commute times from this community to favorite locations
  • List of local event schedule:
    • Farmers’ markets
    • Parades
    • Festivals
    • Street fairs
    • 5k races and marathons
    • Concerts

One final reminder: These are called “Planned Surprises” for a reason: They are meant to SURPRISE the buyer with your willingness to go above and beyond, to do things other builders would never do, to get the buyer to brag to his friends “You wouldn’t believe what my home builder did…!” A large part of the perceived value of this process is the ‘surprise’ factor, so DO NOT TELL the buyer that you will be doing any of this!



As the home building industry’s Customer Experience experts, we’re committed to providing you the necessary tools to deliver extraordinary experiences. Contact Christy Salmon at (949) 753-1077 ex. 57 or at for more information.

Eliant Inc. 27141 Aliso Creek Road, Ste. 290, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656

Category: Best Practices, Experience Management
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