Building and Selling High-Performance Homes

Get a program off the ground and make premium features key selling points with these tips.

Most consumers understand the benefits of a high-performance car or sports drink, but when it comes to selling a new home, many builders miss the opportunity to talk to customers about high performance because, unless prompted, many customers won't think or ask about it.

Randy Erwin, director of energy programs for Ryland Homes, believes it's up to the builder to engage the customer about the benefits of quality, energy efficiency and comfort that come with a high-performance home.

"They don't know that they want to talk about performance," Erwin says. "They do when they buy a car. They do when they buy a computer, when they buy a stereo system or an iPod. But not when they buy a home."

A high-performance home works as a system, with each component contributing to its overall efficiency, durability, safety and comfort. A high-performance home is designed and built to address concerns such as energy use and indoor air quality for the occupants but also takes into account natural resources such as water consumption and construction-material use. Its builder respects environmental and economic impacts related to site selection and uses local materials to reduce transportation costs and support local businesses.

Building the High-Performance Model

When launching a high-performance program, Erwin says, the first step for the builder is to define his expectations and goals. Some questions a builder must answer are:

  • What does the builder want to achieve?
  • Who are the customers, and what do they want?
  • What is the competition doing, and will the builder be a leader or a follower in the market?
  • What high-performance elements or packages are appropriate for their companies and regions?
  • Who is going to champion the project internally, and when will the program be ready to roll out?

Fostering a High-Performance Culture

"If you want people to think that the job that they are doing for the company is important, then treat them like they are important," Erwin says. To achieve this, he believes, builders must foster a passion for high performance with sales, construction and trades. To emphasize a sense of higher purpose, he recommends that builders track milestones and results such as the following:

  • The number of high-performing homes built
  • The amount of increased revenue that has resulted from the program
  • Customer retention and referral rates
  • Warranty dollars saved annually on building high-quality homes
  • The reduction in rework and callbacks
  • The positive environmental impact the program delivers, such as the amount of kilowatt hours saved or the tonnage of carbon emissions reduced annually

High-Performance Training

Once the passion for quality and high performance is instilled in the company, talking about the benefits of the high-performance home becomes more of an education for the home buyer than a sales gimmick.

To achieve this level of sales, Erwin suggests the following steps:

  • Train everyone in the company, especially the salespeople.
  • Focus on internalizing the fundamentals of high performance.
  • Develop a structured presentation that covers the value-added attributes of high-performance homes within the sales. track.
  • Teach the sales team that a simple message is best and to not overwhelm the customer but be ready for tough questions from informed buyers.

Tools for Success

Customers must be educated in simple, straightforward ways about why a high-performance home is a superior product. "The average customer doesn't walk in the door understanding thermal dynamics," Erwin says. He offers these examples of tools to use in customer education:

  • On-site visuals such as cutaway walls and side-by-side comparisons for sales demonstrations
  • Strong collateral material for customers
  • Offering building-science and high-performance training to local real estate agents to help spread the word and benefits of the program
  • Home buyer seminars that will increase sales, create referrals and reduce warranty claims

Andrew Hunt is a freelance writer who specializes in building-science topics.

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