I took a moment to imagine a strange scenario the other day. I sat back in a comfortable chair, stimulating beverage near at hand and tried to picture myself shopping for a new car. It was an exercise that taxed my imagination but also held an important lesson or two.
When looking for a car we as consumers are relatively well armed. We have copious information available on every possible model in magazines, websites and other media. We also have reports from a variety of consumer protection organizations. We can easily find basic performance specs, long term maintenance expectations, safety ratings and much more. The information is not simply available, it is nearly force fed to us at every turn.
In addition, the vast majority of us have extensive brand knowledge when it comes to cars. We attach certain ideas to each car maker, each brand. This is despite the fact that car manufacturers seem to be trying to erase their brands with ballooning product lines and a lack of consistency, but that’s a topic for a different blog. We still identify certain traits with certain names and this gives us useful knowledge when shopping for a vehicle. This understanding of brand also holds the car makers to their own standards to some extent.
Taking a sip of my delicious Allagash Odyssey I then shifted my daydream journey to shopping for a new home and instantly found myself lost. There is little to no information on homes other than that provided by the builder. Brands are relatively weak and tell me little about the product other than perhaps some hints at location and size. And, there is little to no consumer advocacy information attached to specific houses. This is without even scraping the surface of the existing housing stock. That morass doesn’t even bear a look in this discussion.
There are very few standardized measurements required for homes outside of the basic building code, and needless to say, your average consumer hasn’t spent much time reviewing that tedious document. When shopping for a home there are no standardized metrics on the signs or listings other than the visibly obvious square footage, beds and baths kind of details. In other words, home specs tend to be about aesthetics and size rather than performance. Homes will tell me loudly that they have granite countertops but will rarely say anything about energy use. That is like a car bragging about its leather seats without a word on gas mileage or horsepower.
The other major missing piece in my imaginary home search is recognizable brands. Even local brands are few and far between, if they exist at all. Homes are built, marketed and sold as themselves, divorced from all other homes outside, at most, a given project or development. The exceptions to this might be the large national builders like Toll Brothers or Ryan Homes, but what do their brands really say to us other than something about size, surface level finishes and location.
Brought out of my mental wanderings by the sad emptiness of my glass I reflect for a moment on my journey. Why do we not see more car-like brands built around houses? Why are there no “window stickers” describing safety and energy ratings expected by consumers when it comes to buying houses?
I think this shift in the housing market has given us an opportunity to make a change to consumer expectations when shopping for homes. Brands should be established that have to own up to past projects when selling the present ones. Basic performance information should be conspicuous. People should expect a similar, if not better, shopping experience from homes than they get from cars. After all, it is the biggest investment most people make.
Next time I will show you the sticker I would like to see in the window of every new home. Going forward I’ll give you my thoughts on what a home brand should look like and how we might build one. For now, use the comments to give me your thoughts on branding and consumer information in housing. What are some emerging home brands? What existing testing and performance reviews should consumers expect to see? How do we educate buyers to expect certain information?