Has Builder and Remodeler Marketing Changed Forever?

Builder MarketingMarketing for builders and remodelers has changed forever.  If you are a builder or remodeler, you’ve probably already figured that out, but here are some thoughts from someone who has seen significant changes in builder and remodeler marketing from both sides of the table—as a builder and as a direct marketing professional.

I built my first house in 1977 at the age of 17.  I can’t say that I built it all by myself.  It was the summer before I entered college.  My dad, who was a second generation builder, was staring at tuition for my two sisters, ages 18 and 19, as well as for me.  Since we had all chosen to go to a private liberal arts college, this was a problem.  His solution was to teach us how to build and sell houses.  So my sisters and I formed a partnership and, with our dad co-signing for the construction loan, built our first house.  When we finished we placed a sign in the yard, placed an ad in the Seattle Times and fielded phone calls from interested buyers.  It sold for the whopping price of $39,000, if I remember correctly, and we proceeded to build a number of starter homes over the next five years.  Eventually my brothers joined the partnership and paid for their college tuition in the same way.

With my dad’s help, I started building houses full time after college.  Eventually my two younger brothers joined the business; we had a heck of a good time developing land and building and selling houses for about 14 years.  With all of the homes that we built, the marketing followed the same pattern: put out signs, place classified ads, run open houses.  When we started listing the homes with realtors, we no longer did those things: they did.  Sometimes they advertised the homes in one of the “new home” magazines if they were feeling really frisky and, of course, they listed the homes in the MLS.  Eventually, the homes always sold. 

Then, in the mid-nineties, I decided to strike out in a different direction.  My brothers continued to successfully build and sell new homes in the Puget Sound region while my wife and I moved out to Colorado to buy and run her parents’ direct mail business.  Over the next 12 years both home building and direct mail prospered.  Then an interesting thing happened:  the bottom fell out of the real estate market and high-speed internet access reached critical mass.  Marketing for builders and marketing for remodelers changed overnight (as well as for other types of companies).

Home builders were no longer in the driver’s seat.  It had become a buyer’s market.  However, even the buyers were staying away as prices dropped in most major markets.  Newspaper ads and “new home” magazines stopped driving traffic.  The classified ads section dwindled overnight.  The few home buyers who were in the market started doing their research on the web.  The need for the realtor to promote the new home dropped since the traditional channels didn’t seem to be working.  The way the home buyer and remodeling client gathered information had changed.  Before, the process was,  1) look in the classifieds, 2) go to an Open House, 3) find a realtor and tell them what they want, 4) have the realtor drive them around, and 5) purchase a home.  Now, it’s, 1) perform a Google search on “new homes in Burien, WA” or “remodelers in Tucson AZ”, 2) read and research about homes and builders and remodelers online, 3) contact the builder or remodeler when they are comfortable they have enough information and want to look at a new home or talk to a remodeler about their project.

If the above rings true, what has to happen today so the buyer can find you, your company, your product on the web?  What has to happen on the web for you, your company, and your product to remain “top of mind” until they are ready to buy? 

Always interested in hearing your thoughts.

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