From dirty model homes to pushy salespeople, here are the top blunders that real estate agents see builders make.
Builder: Jennifer Goodman – Home buyers rely on real estate agents for information about their local market that they can’t get anywhere else. In fact, real estate agents are home buyers’ most important source of information about new homes after the Internet. Last year, 33% of buyers learned about their new homes via a real estate agent.
Agents’ influence is not declining despite consumers’ use of the Web, and for most new home transactions, Americans still prefer to have a Realtor. Last year, 87% of buyers purchased their home through a real estate agent or broker—a share that has steadily increased from 69% in 2001, according to the National Association of Realtors.
In the course of helping their clients find the right house, these buyer agents meet a lot of builders and walk through an untold number of houses. This means they see where builders are making the grade and where they are slipping up. While many of them compliment builders for doing a great job even during tough economic conditions, they have also have strong opinions about what building pros could do better. Here are 15 of the top things they wish builders did differently.
1. New vs. Existing
Realtors say builders undermine sales by not playing up their biggest advantage: New homes are preferred to previously owned ones. They urge builders to market the value of a new home, which comes with warrantees, energy efficiency, and up-to-date design that older homes don’t have.
Buying a new home is especially ideal in markets where there’s a lack of inventory in certain price ranges, especially in entry level and move up categories, they say. In her Edmond, Okla., market, Realtor Jennifer Fields says new homes are highly sought after, especially in popular school districts. Builders in her area are working to design and customize homes that rival the price point of existing homes. “This makes new homes the obvious choice for many buyers,” she says.
In addition, new homes also offer flexibility on closing times, says Dana David, an Amherst, N.Y., real estate agent. “The hardest thing in this market is for my sellers to sell their home and also buy in a timely fashion,” she says. “Building a new home allows them to know where they are going before we list their existing home, and also gives me the ability to negotiate in time to rent back or for an extended close.”
Even though buyers prefer new, in the end it all comes down to price, says Susanna Madden, a Tampa RE/MAX agent. “If the HOAs and CDDs and add-ons are cost prohibitive, buyers will look at a ‘lovingly maintained’ resale that the seller has kept up.”
2. Model Homes
A model is often a prospect’s first impression of their future home, and it should entice them to visualize living there, says David Rice, founder of New Home Star, a Chicago-based real estate sales management firm. “It’s a hugely meaningful thing to be able to conceptualize the next chapter of your life,” he says.
Models need to be fully complete, says Houston agent Bill Baldwin, because ones that are not finished give a bad impression. Moreover, agents are dismayed to walk into a model with a client and find that it isn’t in working order or is dirty. “They should be equipped with everything including light bulbs, working sinks, and door knobs,” says Seattle-based Keller Williams agent Matt Parker. “And they should be cleaned every other week.”
Realtors say that no matter the style or size the model home, it should always be staged. It’s one of the most important steps to selling a home, says New York Realtor David.
“I’ve taken on expired listings of vacant model homes… once staged, buyers can picture themselves living in them and usually they sell in record time,” she says.
But many agents caution builders and their designers not to take staging too far because overdecorated models can look cluttered and confuse customers about what is standard and what is an upgrade. “Sometimes they are set up with lots of bells and whistles that don’t come standard, says Coldwell Banker agent Missy Stagers of San Antonio, Texas. “Make sure to clearly notate what is an upgrade.”
Models need to strike a middle ground between overdesigned and plain vanilla, says David. “It is hard for clients to walk into a fully loaded model home and picture it at the base level,” she says. “While I realize builders need to showcase their ‘best stuff,’ it would be great if there was a way to have a model with every upgrade, and also one available to see with just the basic offerings.”
Stagers has a good idea: “Offer some nice things in the basic package so everything is not an upgrade,” she says.
The price of a new home can be a touchy subject between builders and buyer’s agents, who work to get the best deal for their clients. Realtors say they realize that builders need to make a profit, but “we do expect them to price their homes fairly. If you are always getting low ball offers, check where you stand price per foot with your competitors and other homes,” says Oklahoma agent Fields.
The biggest mistake builders make is that they price their homes based on their costs rather than on market conditions, says Garry Benson, managing broker at GPB Marketing Solutions in Chicago. “The market doesn’t care how much the builder had to spend to buy the land or build the home. They only care about the market value.”
Realtors don’t understand why the price of houses in new communities increases so quickly. “I feel as though every house that is built gets bigger, better, and more expensive,” says David. This is offputting to many of her clients who are young buyers or empty nesters on a budget. “It would be amazing if there was a builder that could supply us with reasonable, not overly upgraded homes that could appeal to not only first time homebuyers but also downsizers at an affordable price point,” she says.
When prices do rise, it’s important that builders honor quotes, says Plano, Texas, broker Melissa Hailey, who was shocked when a builder gave her clients a price and then wanted a $3,000 increase four days later when they sat down to sign the paperwork. Her buyers, who couldn’t afford the increase, were heartbroken.
5. Multiple Listing Service
The multiple listing service (MLS) is one of a Realtor’s most powerful tools, letting them know when new houses come on the market and allowing them to see recent sales. But many builders don’t provide enough information in their listings about variations and options, according to Albany, N.Y., broker Wayne Richard.
“If you consistently list on the MLS your to-be-built four-bedroom, 2.5-bath colonial you’ll get filtered out of the buyer (and Realtor) searching for a five bedroom, or a third garage, or an in-law suite,” he says. “You have to tell both buyers and Realtors that you can build those variations.”
6. Construction Updates
Once a house is under contract, builders must communicate with the Realtor about what is happening on the site, adds Richard. “Set construction milestones and expectations and advise them ahead of time: The hole is being dug tomorrow, the sticks start going up this week, the kitchen cabinets are being installed.”
Realtors often are reluctant to bring clients to a job site, says Richard, who worked for a public builder before becoming a Realtor. He thinks this is based on an unspoken fear that they will be embarrassed in front of customers because they don’t know much about the construction process. He urges builders to work with Realtors to educate them on how houses are built so that they are comfortable on site.
7. Buyer Preferences
Real estate agents, who work intimately with their clients sometimes over decades-long periods, often have a better idea than builders what buyers are looking for. Savvy builders use them to follow local statistics and trends, and to understand the demographics of the market. For instance, they can help with design and layout decisions before a house is built.
“Are you sure that theater room is going to go over with your clientele?” asks Fields. “You may think people want a theater room versus a four bedroom, but if you are selling in an area with good schools, four bedrooms may be far more important to the buyers.”
Failure to consult with a Realtor led to major problems for a developer in Christine DelVecchio’s Ithaca, N.Y., market. The spec homes in the development had a floor plan flaw that could have easily been averted: the first-floor master bedroom was located directly off the main entrance to the home and contained an oddly shaped angled wall that made bed placement challenging. “It was just badly designed for the flow of the entire house,” she recalls. In addition, the houses were not priced correctly for the lot size and location. An experienced Realtor could have researched homes in that area and suggested a more appealing lot size and floor plan, she points out.
“Only after the spec house was built did they reach out to the Realtor community after it had taken several years to sell lots/homes in that location,” she says. “They surely lost on their investment by this misstep.”
To be continued…