There is a song, written by Malvina Reynolds in 1962 and made popular by Pete Seeger, that lampoons the development of suburbia and contains the opening lyrics:

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same. 

There’s a green one and a pink one,
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

Although the song was written as a parody of conformist values with which the composer and artist obviously found fault, I am not embracing that position nor attempting to rekindle the interest in folk music which thrived in the 50’s and 60’s.  Rather, I find this opening stanza valid for the homebuilding and residential development industries almost 50 years after it was first written, especially as we strive to satisfy the reemergence of the first time home buyer market.

Many of my blogs have addressed the concept of “USP”, creating a viable and readily visible superior differentiation from the competition that enables us to excite the customer and sell more homes.  Last week I again had the opportunity to instruct IRM Course II, “Marketing Strategies, Plans and Budgets”, which I believe is the most important of the four core courses.  I say that because in my opinion this program introduces and discusses the basic concepts of marketing for the homebuilding industry – strategy and tactics.

The class was diverse, including builders, sales people, sales managers and marketing directors from several geographic areas and I asked the students to identify what makes them different from every other builder building the same box in their marketplace.  Most of the class could not answer the question as they apparently did not believe they were really different.  And if the product they are trying to sell is not both different and better, how can it be sold?

One of the participants provided the best answer of the group, suggesting that they had superior levels of standard features by including such details as 10′ ceilings and higher windows.  But when asked how long it would take for every other builder to copy these features, the student withdrew the answer.  The fact of the matter is that neither home design nor included features is impregnable to competitive attack. 

My suggestion to the class was that it would be far more beneficial to create differentiation and a USP through the creation of a superior community environment.  Here are three ideas to achieve that goal:

•           Provide superior entranceways into the community and create exceptional driving experiences to the model center as both of these techniques will enhance the “experiential” presentation of the community and assist your prospective purchasers to forget the competition.  

•           Design for 100% amenity orientation for all home sites so that there are no “dog” (less desirable interior) sites which require discounting to be sold, especially at the end of the development.  Every homesite should and can back to, front on or have a view easement toward a water feature, green space, golf course, mountain view, etc.

•           Create a “green” community that is as sustainable as possible, but still affordable.  Sell the lifestyle and provide the consumer market with constant visible evidence of the community’s superiority by actively and aggressively promoting it in advertising, signage, sales displays, web site, social media, etc.  Consider setting aside wildlife sanctuaries and securing designations or approvals from environmental organizations to provide third party credibility.

If we design and build a better mousetrap, a superior community environment that addresses the needs, wants and desires of the viable target home-buying markets, then consumers will purchase homes from us instead of from the competition.  That’s not only my opinion, it is a fact!

Look for the July, 2010 issue of NAHB’s Land Development Magazine which contains an article that I wrote which explores these concepts in more depth. 

Please visit our company’s website to learn more about our background, qualifications and services to the homebuilding industry at www.levitanassociates.net.

For other posts please visit http://www.residentialmarketingblog.com/

The community plan illustrated in the second photo is the Jupiter Country Club by Toll Brothers, Jupiter, Florida.


  1. Dear Dan:
    Excellent points of interest!
    The students were fortunate to learn these educational insights that are personal updates from you and other instructors who are cutting-edge professionals.
    The more we can have local HBAs and BIAs supporting the Institute of Residential Marketing courses, the more we can create a paradigm to improve the lifestyle opportunities for our consumers.
    Every management, marketing and sales professional should become proficient with the IRM courses offered and take them.
    For more information on these courses and designations, your readers should work through their local associations’ educational committees or contact Crystal Floyd at NAHB (1.800.368.5242).
    Dan, thanks again for your continued insights and education.
    ONwards and UPwards!

  2. Excellent article, Dan
    It is important for builders to change their floor plans from time to time in order to meet the needs of their target market. Too often builders simply build the same floor plans in different communities because “these particular floor plans have sold well in the past.” As the market changes and target markets change then builders must be will to make changes in the floor plans that they are building in each community along with the included features and options that are offered to buyers for purchase.

    Change is good and will pay big dividends if done correctly.

    Thank you.
    It’s a pleasure to know you.
    Del Barbray

  3. Hi Dan:

    I created a circular condo complex in the late 60s that was featured on PBS with the same ticky tacky house song. That complex is alive and well. I followed that with several other circular segmented projects. I created Solar Parkway in the 80s with all streets angled about 20% east to west with all homes facing south. This project is doing well in spite of the fact my lender forced me to change the name of the project to Parkway Villas. I survived but the bank has since gone out of business. I may get the owners association to change the name back. I have many battle scars but am still innovating. Please see my web site for my natural green home of the future. It is under contract and construction for completion this fall with only passive heating, cooling and lighting.

    Let me know if I can help your cause.


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