Communicating the Value of Design Experience

Design Center photo

Of the five customer key driver behaviors, design seems to be simultaneously the least understood and most overlooked. And yet, design has tremendous value to both buyer and builder; the issue is communicating that value.

Buyers often perceive meeting with a designer as an unnecessary and, frankly, predatory attempt by the builder to leech more money out of the buyer. They’ve likely been told by well-meaning friends and family that going through a designer is a rookie move and that they’re better off upgrading things like carpet and stone through an independent contractor well after the home is built. That’s all a lie, but your buyer doesn’t know that.

As a builder, your buyer’s satisfaction with design relies on how well you’ve done two things:

  1. Communicated the value of the designer
  2. Communicated the value of the service


To communicate the value of the designer, your buyers need to be told that the designer is completely free to consult and yet both certified and significantly experienced. When the buyer realizes that they are under no obligation to buy any products and yet can utilize the expertise of design services that in any other scenario cost exorbitant fees (try consulting an independent interior designer; there’s a reason they’re only hired by the wealthy), they’re much more likely to lower their defenses. Most buyers suspect that there’s a markup on the products bought through a designer. There certainly is a markup, but detailing the reason for that markup is the difference between a stellar referral rating and a disgruntled buyer.

The value of design services is sometimes assumed by the builder to be properly understood by the buyer, but that’s not normally the case. The buyer often thinks products bought through design services cost more because of convenience and commission. It’s so much more than convenience: products bought at the time of the build are installed and warrantied. If there’s an issue with any part of the home, including products bought through the design team, the builder will fix them. That kind of warranty and service doesn’t come with the tradesman your buyer plans on hiring from Craigslist to install discounted tile bought from a warehouse in Pomona. Going through design means high-quality products installed and warrantied by experienced professionals.

Then there’s the issue of money. Products bought through design are marked up but are also wrapped into the mortgage for the home as a whole. That cost isn’t felt, whereas going with an after-build option means getting a separate loan or coming up with the cash to pay up front…all without the security of a warranty and the expertise of professional installation.

Going with an after-build third-party installer also means additional time waiting to move into the new home. After all, if your buyer is going with a third-party carpet, the home needs to be completed before the carpet can be installed. It’s a pain, and it boils down to more money lost while waiting to move in.

To most buyers, the above reasons are compelling enough to go through design for upgrades, and when those reasons are properly communicated, you’ll have happy buyers. But there’s one more factor that could undermine a successful design experience: your own sales team.

In an effort to earn the trust of their buyers, sales teams often steer them clear of the design team. They’re likely to tell the buyers to not bother going through design because the products just cost more. It’s great that they’re looking out for the best interest of the buyers, but if the sales team understood the value of design, they’d also understand that the best interest of the buyer is working with the design team. So, the easiest way to start increasing satisfaction with the design experience is to make the sales team understand how valuable design is for the homebuyer. The entire process should be the combined efforts of disparate but cohesive departments working to make the home buying experience as pleasant as possible.

Nothing about the design experience should be unclear to the buyer: if it is, you may have just lost a referral. Communicating the benefits of in-house design is the fastest way to secure happier buyers who have higher-quality interior design products. Be sure that your sales team initiates a seamless transfer between sales and design and that they’re acting as advocates for design, not persuading your buyers to pursue the risky path of unwarrantied third-party products. Transparency about the value added through design benefits your reputation as a builder and ultimately leads to satisfied homeowners.

Jex Manwaring

Eliant Inc., President