In the past 32 years of reading surveys completed by new-home buyers, I have seen some pretty dicey comments from these consumers. And, as I point out in my recent research article “Consumer Sex in our Model Homes: Pros & Cons,” some of their comments are illogical, at best. After all, how many of us think logically all of the time? My grandmother once reminded me that someone who thinks logically provides a nice contrast to the real world.
Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, believed that creating therapeutic anxiety in his patients was a way of accelerating behavior change. This may work if you are a shrink. But for home builders, the last thing we want is an anxious home buyer.
Customers become anxious when uncertainty flourishes. Anxious home buyers are predisposed to procrastinate and become angry, confrontational, or even combative. Our goal should be to make buyers feel calm and trusting of the builder’s team to shepherd them through the purchase process.
In a recent study out of Texas A&M University, researchers identified a unique group of “high-emotion events” that create strong emotions before the service even begins, including car repair, illness, death, airline travel, marriage, birth, home buying/selling, and home renovation.
If buyers are unfamiliar with the purchase process, harbor fears that the deal may go south, and are staring at a long build cycle, it’s easy to see why there’s trepidation. These buyers are “short-fuse” customers, and the situation worsens if expectations for their upcoming journey are poorly set. We need to create predictability for our customers. Our goal should be to reduce—not produce—customers’ anxiety.
Here are three steps to increase customers’ comfort and improve their experience:

1. Believe that EVERY home buyer is anxious about their purchase.

If you assume otherwise, you are in denial. Even experienced buyers have concerns. Your team must act as if each buyer is anxious about their purchase experience. Regardless of your buyer’s résumé, title, previous purchase experience, or demeanor, assume a high state of anxiety exists when he or she walks in the door

2. Identify the touch points during the purchase experience that are the most likely “emotional triggers.”

Triggers are the elements of the purchase that have the strongest potential for creating uncertainty and anxiety. Your team’s failure to properly set realistic expectations for these events will only create heightened uncertainty, the consequence of which will be fear (and possibly anger).

  • Where are the weakest links in your purchase process? Set realistic expectations for your buyers.
  • Which elements of the purchase experience are the lowest rated on your home buyer surveys? Fix the problems, but lower buyers’ expectations about what to expect.
  • Over 100,000 annual Eliant home buyer surveys confirm that the two elements of the purchase experience that create the highest dissatisfaction (i.e., excessive anxiety) are design selection and mortgage.

3. Plan ahead and be proactive to reduce buyers’ heightened anxiety at each of these emotional touch points.

Start by introducing the buyer to key staff members ASAP after contract. Create biographical fliers—with photos of staff—for distribution by the salesperson, and give buyers advance information about what to expect as much as possible. Also, bring in the superintendent and customer service representative to meet the buyer at contract signing.
Photography is important, as well. Take a photo of buyers as they hold up their signed contract in your sales office. Print, frame, and give them the photo during their initial design selection session. Also, take photos of a home four or five times during the build and email them to the buyer; never promise this service to your customers, just do it. However, you should promise and deliver one status update to each buyer at least once every two weeks.
During the walk-through, offer drinks in a cooler with your brand on it. For dog owners, get a dog tag with the dog’s name and buyer’s new address and present it to the buyer during the final orientation or document signing.
Even Freud once admitted that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” In other words, make an effort, but don’t over complicate things.

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