communicateI am often asked what I look for in a new home salesperson and my answer is two specific qualities – first empathy, the ability to put yourself in the position of the customer and care about that individual and, second, great communication skills. I do not believe that you can teach or train someone to be empathetic – they either care or they do not.  So I would hope that whoever is doing the hiring of new home salespeople is screening for empathy.   

Proper communication skill is equally essential and can be learned.  It is apparently no longer taught in our school system, at home or elsewhere in society so it is the responsibility of whoever performs the sales management function in any homebuilding company to search for that quality in all new hires and, when necessary, become teachers and coaches to make certain that their salespeople, their sole representatives to their prospective customers, learn and practice the necessary forms of proper communication.  If our sales representatives cannot communicate effectively they cannot and will not make the sale!

After working around the house last week my wife and I took a break for dinner and, as we were dressed casually, ended up at the local Outback Steakhouse.  The food was decent, nothing special, but the evening will be forever etched in my memory because of our server.  He was young, mid 20’s, and very personable and enthusiastic, selling very hard to have us upgrade our entrees by adding a crab cake or lobster tail and later to have dessert and coffee. And as I am always appreciative of any decent attempt at a sale, and his presentation was pretty good, he was well on the road to earning an extra generous gratuity. 

When he returned with the bill having run my credit card his parting comment was “Thank you very much Dan, have a wonderful evening”.  Now “Mike F.” (name taken from my receipt) may be an excellent server, a wonderful person, a heck of a nice guy, perhaps even a true renaissance man.  But simply by serving our dinner once he had not become a personal friend, nor had he earned the right to call me by my first name, especially the familiar nickname (which he had taken the liberty of shortening from the “Daniel” that he apparently gleaned off my credit card receipt).  And as I am at least 30+ years his senior, I found the familiarity inappropriate, and it was reflected in his gratuity (which still was decent but no longer “extra generous”.)  A simple misstatement resulted in a net overall negative impact.  Mike lost a couple of dollars and we will still eat at Outback when we are in a hurry and not dressed for a more upscale venue.

communicationAt dinner a few nights later I overheard the server at the next table introduce himself and then add “I am going to be working with you this evening.”   My first thought was that if this had been said to me my immediate response would have been “Please start with cleaning our hurricane shutters as they are very dirty”.  Thereafter, as this poorly chosen “canned” introduction had set the tone of future interaction, it would have been difficult to take seriously anything this person later said, even a legitimate “thank you”.

In both cases these errors in proper communication can be attributed to lack of or improper training and/or lack of or improper sales management and supervision – perhaps tolerable in restaurants but, when trying selling a new home, the same does not hold true as any improper or incorrect communication can result in losing the sale, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars for the builder and thousands of dollars for the salesperson. Communication is the process of transferring information between a sender and a receiver through various methods which can include the more obvious – spoken words or written words and, just as important, nonverbal signals which include:

  • Facial Expressions
  • Attire
  • Eye Contact
  • Gestures
  • Touch
  • Body language
  • Posture

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The newest publication from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is well worth reading –


What I found especially noteworthy and useful as both a sales tool and a strategic marketing element were the following facts:

  1. Although the average price per square foot of new homes has risen from just over $20.00/s.f. in 1974 to a little over $115.00/s.f. as of the end of last year, in inflation adjusted dollars the current cost per square foot is actually less than it was 40 years ago;
  1. The average new home size increased from just over 1,600 square feet in 1974 to slightly over 2,700 square feet at the end of 2014, a gain of more than two-thirds.  But as the average household size has declined from just under 3 person in 1974 to approximately 2.5 person in 2014, the average home size on a “per occupant” basis person has increased by 92%;
  1. As new homes have become increasing larger, even at the same effective cost (on a square foot basis), housing affordability has decreased by 50% as incomes have not kept pace with the actual rising prices.

sold!A major challenge for the housing industry if it wishes to continue to grow and prosper is the need to overcome the gap in affordability, especially for the first time buyers.  That will necessitate targeting a broader market segment than is currently being served;  a market with price sensitivity issues necessitating more cost-effective construction practices combined with smaller home sizes that still provide the essential design, functionality, utility and special features and benefits that today’s knowledgeable and sophisticated home buyers desire.  And that would, to a great extent, take us back to where our industry was in the 1960s and 1970s.

But that’s just my opinion!

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This isn’t my first rodeo.

rodeoI am sure that you have all heard that memorable phrase in one form or another.  Although often and sometimes inappropriately utilized, to me it is artistically coined, perfectly succinct, and the embodiment of colloquial Southwest American slang, suggesting the benefits of age and experience.  It is far more palatable to me than many others that attempt to convey the same message, such as “don’t teach your grandmother how to suck eggs” which was originally put into print several centuries ago.

Experience is generally agreed to be a good thing as one can usually recognize something that did not work in the past and, hopefully, avoid repeating that same error.  In the homebuilding industry, however, it appears to me that often times experience is lacking or, if not the actual experience, then at least the inability to have garnered any knowledge from that experience.  Times have changed and we need to change with those times, putting to work what we have learned from our experience.  Continue reading