I stopped by my mother-in-law’s condo yesterday to deliver some medication and provide my weekly check-up.  You may remember from a previous blog that her condominium association had been diligently pursuing the eviction of her cat, Ralphie, even though he had been certified as a medically necessary therapeutic companion animal and was therefore protected under both the American with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.  After nine months and a great deal of effort on my part, the condo association finally decided to stop pursuing the matter.

While I was visiting I began to pet Ralphie who laid there unmoving and expressing almost no reaction to my attention.  Cats tend to have either a mutualistic or commensal relationship with humans (in ecology, commensalism is a class of relationship between two organisms where one organism benefits but the other is neutral {there is no harm or benefit} while in mutualism both organisms benefit).  I believe that Ralphie has a commensal relationship with people and I came to realize that cats, the most popular pet in the world, tend to have very little in common with the homebuilding industry and the residential real estate which they inhabit.

Cats tend to be nocturnal; they have evolved to hunt at night having excellent night vision while housing must be shown and sold during the day.  If we sleep most of the day, which cats tend to do when finding a sunny spot, we miss the opportunity to make a sale.  I walked into a new community’s sales office several years ago in the D.C. area and discovered the sales person sound asleep at her desk.  When I next shopped that market a year later, I was not surprised to find that this homebuilder had gone out of business.  That may be an extreme situation but as I travel around the country looking at new communities I unfortunately find that the sales people are often asleep mentally, if not physically.  The market may have been challenging for the past several years but a live prospect walking in the front door deserves to be greeted by an alert, enthusiastic sales person who is motivated, has been trained to sell and is ready to close the sale at any time.

Much like Ralphie, cats tend to be self-sustaining, needing little attention from and interaction with people.  Felines will let you pet them until they become tired and then they will simply walk away.   Successful new communities need constant attention from and interaction with people.  We must get our message out to potential home buyers, get their attention and stimulate interest, desire and action.  We must interact on a continuing basis, starting with our web site, other e-marketing and advertising and promotional efforts and continuing though the sale and closing with ongoing follow-up to create complete customer satisfaction and generate referrals.  All too often I still encounter feline-like homebuilders and developers who fail to optimize their advertising and promotion and do not understand that the reality of e-marketing is far more than just a web site. 

And finally, it is reputed that cats have nine lives.  Homebuilding operations, on the other hand, have no more than three possible lives – the first when they initially open for sale, the second when the initial opening is unsuccessful and the community is successfully repositioned with new product and new marketing, and the third when the first two lives are wasted and the bank forecloses and sells the property at a steep discount to a new homebuilder who, with a much lower cost basis, is able to satisfy the market and finally achieve success.

Several years ago I was called in to evaluate a new single family development in the Northeast that was not selling.  The market was buying new homes, the builder’s home designs were dated but “acceptable”, but the real problem was the location.  Although situated within a desirable town, the development was an “add-on” to an existing older subdivision and the traffic had to drive through blocks of older, lower priced homes to reach the new models so that our perceived value was decreased and we had to compete with voluminous resales.  

The new strategy was obvious:  create a new direct entry to the development from the main street (we lost only one homesite to accomplish this), update the homes, rename the community and start over (the community’s second life).  The new advertising campaign started with a new “grand opening” which drew over 350 visitors and produced three sales the first weekend.  The sales rate more than tripled and sellout was achieved in half the time of the original estimate.

Instead of imitating feline traits and hopelessly wishing for nine lives, let’s be professional homebuilders and developers and maximize our success during our first life.  But that’s just my opinion.

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