Top Fails in New Home Sales

by Paul Gortzig

realtor-showing-house2The secret's out!  We recently collected data from top mystery shoppers in the country to find out what really goes on in new homes sales. Are the sales teams really putting into practice all the training they've been taught? The answer might surprise you. 

As builders, our job is to support the sales team and give them tools they need to deliver exceptional customer experiences.  A model home is one of those tools. And it's a huge investment for any home builder, especially those that build multiple models per location. Sadly, over time we become accepting of certain flaws and imperfections in our model homes. Just like our own personal home. We get too comfortable. 

We become blind to the imperfections because we see them everyday. But the customer is seeing them for the first time. And when you consider it from their perspective, it sends a message of laziness and apathy. So let's take a look at these model home and sales presentation fails (and fixes) as seen through the lens of a professional mystery shopper. 

Top 5 Mistakes in model home presentation

These findings were born from over 2,500 mystery shops conducted across the country.  All price points and product types have shown these 5 major problems during model presentations: 

  1. Models seem tired -  Lights are not turned on.  Light bulbs are burned out.  Several mystery shoppers expressed that the model was locked in the middle of the afternoon. This is something I have experienced many times myself, and it shows the sales teams are disinterested. This gives a bad impression of the builder.  
  2. Not appealing to the senses - There is a certain implied expectation when we call our homes "models."  The definition of "model" is  "a system or thing used as an example to follow or imitate." As a result, there is a level of perfection our customers expect when they visit.  Of the models that were shopped, there were major shortcomings in the overall feeling when walking through the home. To remedy this, builders should be appealing to all 5 senses. 
    1. Sight - See number 1 above. Make sure everything is perfect: fluffed pillows, spotless counters, open blinds. This should be a no-brainer, but shoppers report models are still not visually living up to expectations.
    2. Sound - Mystery shoppers have shared that they see speakers in the ceiling throughout the model but no music is playing. Put together a playlist and have it playing. It sets the mood. If you're not sure what to play, try some light jazz or classical music. 
    3. Smell - At times models have the smell of the sales person's lunch that interferes with the tour experience.  Instead, try some nice, soft fragrances to engage the customer.  Some builders do the cookie thing, some simply install plug-ins. But whatever you do, keep it subtle. The last thing you want is to turn them off with the smell of your reheated broccoli.
    4. Touch - I understand it's polite to open the door for another person (thank you mother).  But when presenting models, don't open the door for your customer.  Allow them to feel the quality of the lock set.  Also, invite your customer to open your cabinets and close the "slow-close" doors and drawers.  Have them open the solid sliding door to the patio.  Let them experience the tactile side of your model.
    5. Taste -  Have refreshments out every day. Shoppers reported this is almost always neglected. Be sure to mix it up with a variety of snacks and beverages. Get into the right mindset and impress your visitors every day, not just on the weekend.  You never know who is going to walk through your door and when. 
  3. Nothing that differentiates the builder - It's often very difficult to tell one builder from the next, because prospects rarely get the builder story.  Most builders have a great story to tell. Be proud of it and share it as a memory point.  For example:  "At ABC Homes, we received the Franklin Award, an award given nationally to the Best Builder Providing top Customer Service, 5 years in a row."  If you are not familiar with your builder story, get with your manager or President to learn and understand it. It will help you stand out when the customer reflects on their long day of model-shopping and feature-comparison.
  4. Pushing them straight into the models - Mystery Shoppers consistently shared they don't learn much about the areas or the communities they were shopping. Instead of making sure location is a fit first, the sales people jump right into telling about how great the homes are. You would be better served by taking the macro-to-micro approach. Start by orienting along the customer's needs and desires: "so you're relocating for a job?" Then apply to your area second: "we're only 15 minutes from your new office." Then get to the community: "here is the perfect place to get coffee on your way to work." And once you've established the neighborhood is a match, go into detail about the homes and homesites: "let's take a look at this 3 bedroom ranch that would be perfect for your family."
  5. Not selling the experience - I understand we are not trying to sell refrigerators. However, what does your customer do every time they walk into your kitchen?  You guessed it, they open the refrigerator!  Mystery shopper have said they're turned off seeing the sales person's lunch or the brown banana on the shelf.  A better impression would be a well-stocked, inviting refrigerator filled with water, soft drinks, lemonade, vitamin water, etc. Think of it as if you're hosting a dinner party. Deliver this type of experience and you will surely impress your guests.  

Top 5 mistakes made by the salesperson

Here are the top 5 mistakes sales professionals make viewed by professional mystery shoppers: 

  1. follow-upPoor Follow-Up - This remains, by far, the number one deficiency in the new home sales professionals responsibilities.  We are simply not serving our customer with the attention they desperately need. But when you do focus on timely and consistent follow-up, you are top of mind when your customer gets closer to making a decision. There are some great programs like IRIO for text messaging, and BombBomb for video messaging. Even a simple email will put you ahead of 85% of your competition.  Your customers want and need you to follow up with them. And in order to do that you must get your customers' information.  Not asking for a way to follow-up after you spent significant time with them is an insult to your customer.  They walk away thinking you don't care. And they'll take their business elsewhere.
  2. Letting the homes sell themselves Model demonstration is the second most under-developed skill of new home sales people.  Somehow, as sales professionals, we have talked ourselves out of helping our customers understand our models.  We start to rationalize why we should not be with our customers in our models.  Like they can magically understand your model through all the options shown, decorator built-ins and design features. It's a great time to continue your discovery.  Remember, discovery is not a moment in time, it carries through-out the customer's journey. 

    The quicker you get over your fear of demonstrating your model, the quicker you start to serve your customer and deliver a heightened buying experience. Mystery shoppers are loud and clear on this, "please help me understand your model features."
  3. Talking more than listening - Most every mystery shopper has shared this point:  "New home sales people are full of excitement, energy and knowledge they can't wait to share." We need this kind of presence in our offices.  However, we need to harness it and allow it to come out little at a time, like constructing a puzzle, one piece at a time to paint the picture of homeownership.  This is what builds relationships and trust.  You probably have 163 things you can share with you customer about the homes, but what are the right items to share?  Frankly, it doesn't matter what features your homes have until you understand the needs of the customer and why they're moving in the first place.  Slow down, listen with intentionality, and listen to understand. 
  4.  Being passive when overcoming objections -  "When I said I needed time to think about it, I might as well have put up a stop sign," one mystery shopper described.  This 'objection' seems to stop the sale to a point the sales person almost seems relieved.  Salespeople should always be prepared for this objection (or any objection for that matter).  You know it's coming.  Remember, objections are still a way of showing interest. Look at them as opportunities to help your customer get more comfortable with moving forward.  Objections are not stop signs, just a detour to the finish line.

    By the way, this is a great cue to set an appointment for a near future date.  Your customer should never leave your presence without knowing what the next steps are.  Take the lead.  
  5. Thinking the customer isn't ready to buy - new home sales consultants continue to have a mental block that buyers simply don't buy on the first visit.  Do you realize 18% of buyers purchase on their first visit?  Almost 1 out of every 5 visitors, in fact (see: How to Prepare for Success in a Cooling Market: A New Home Sales Guide). Asking your customer for her commitment (even if she's not ready) creates alignment around where you both are in the process.  Even if the answer is a "not now" response, at least you both know where things stand, and what to expect next.   

Other areas sales misses the mark as viewed by a secret shopper are: 

  1. Not using your customers' names during the presentation.
  2. Not using the builder's name during the presentation (your visitors see a lot of models - give them a reason to remember your name as a builder)
  3. Not using brand names of products in your model during your presentation
  4. Not asking how much time your customer has to spend today (critical to how to proceed on that visit)
  5. Not joining the customer to see available lots/home sites
  6. Making the customer fill out a registration card because "we have to do it." Instead, guide them by asking questions and filling it out for them as you go. Be respectful and don't make it feel like a drill.

The Takeaways

If you work hard at improving these common sales fails, your overall presentation will improve, your customers will have a better experience, and you will become more efficient in your sales process translating to more sales. Here are 5 concrete ways to get there:

dinner-party1.  Take the "Dinner Party" approach - Examine your presentation from all angles.  Be hyper-critical.  Not just your model presentation, but your community presentation, your sales office and your signage. Treat every day like you're hosting a dinner party for someone you really want to impress. This includes your completed inventory homes as well.  

2.  Embrace the Mystery Shop  -  The only time we grow is when we venture out of our comfort zone.  I understand, nobody wants to see themselves on video, but the little nuances you will learn will be invaluable to your growth and successes. Treat it as an opportunity to improve, and your sales manager will appreciate it. 

3.  Take ownership to your business - Don't wait for someone else to figure it out.  If something is not right, it is up to you to make it right.  If your signage is looking shabby, replace it. If the wallpaper is peeling, get it fixed. If the sidewalks need shoveling, do it. If your inventory home needs sweeping, be the first person to pick up a broom. Shabby models = shabby sales.

4.  Follow-up, Follow-up, Follow-up.  It's a mindset.  All market conditions have their ebbs and flows. Are you prepared for a market that may not be so generous?  Remember, don't call your buyer to ask, "what do you think?"  Bring value to the conversation by digging for information important to your customer.  Show them that you listened. 

refined-sales-process5.  Get proficient with your sales process.  This means model demonstration (don't be the "feature dump" guy), inventory demonstration, site demonstration, addressing objections (which means prepare for objections) and setting the stage for homeownership.  Practice, Practice, Practice.  All professionals do it.  Do You?

Start small, and have fun with it.

I challenge you to focus on just one of these tasks each week and master it.  It is simply changing habits.  You will find it becomes contagious. Tell others what you're doing and encourage them to join you. It will also make it more fun. Master these tasks and great things are sure to come your way. 

The Bokka Group can help you through the training and coaching of these areas of the sales process.  We will work directly with your management group to ensure a greater performance as seen through your customer's lens.  Call us for a free consultation, positive results will follow.  

Contact us


** Leslie Jeter of Clear Evaluations a Mystery Shop company contributed to this article
**Kimberly Young with Impact Marketing contributed to this article