By Bob Mirman
CEO, Eliant

Bob Mirman is CEO and founder (1984) of Eliant, Inc. His firm has assisted over 600 builders, lenders, and design firms to systematically deliver a “WOW!” purchase and ownership experience to every customer, thereby turning delighted customers into referral generators. Home builders working with “Eliant Certified” vendors can be assured that their home buyers will be more willing to refer a friend to their builder. Eliant’s clients have included most of the top 25 home builders; numerous title, escrow, design, and mortgage firms; as well as many Fortune 200 firms such as General Motors, BMW, and IBM. Recognized as one of the industry’s premiere speakers, Bob is a familiar face on the stages of IBS, PCBC, and the boardrooms of many of the nation’s consumer-driven companies.


After several decades of asking almost two million homebuyers from over 600 builders to evaluate their design center and options selection experience, we have developed a pretty specific picture of what it takes to “WOW!” the homebuyer…and WOW’d! homebuyers are much more likely to refer their friends to their builder.

Here are the most common complaints about the design selection and options experience, as identified by homebuyers on their surveys:

  1. Price gouging
  2. Incomplete information about available options
  3. Insensitivity to the homebuyer’s budget
  4. Too little time to decide on which options to purchase
  5. Design consultants who appear more interested in pushing options in order to make a commission

So, based on best practices employed by our highest scoring builders, here is a short list of some of the key ‘design-consultant skills’ we highlight in our “Eliant Certified” training workshops:

1. Even in this economic environment, your design and options process should be a profit center. You know that, and every homebuyer understands that you are in the business to make money. None of your customers will be upset when you charge fairly for your products, especially for things they cannot easily purchase at Home Depot or Best In fact, they will thank you for it.

But, the problem erupts when you charge exorbitant fees for things like a flat screen TV, appliances, and other items for which they can very quickly check the retail price on line. And when they confirm that you are gouging them on such items, they will then assume you are also doing the same on the custom bookcases and countertops and flooring and window treatments, etc. Once your customers believe you are unscrupulously taking advantage of their ‘captured’ position, their evaluation of the entire purchase experience will be diminished, and will most certainly affect their ‘willingness to recommend’ you to a friend.

So, charge what you consider to be reasonable fees for items in which there is a custom or service component (e.g. custom cabinetry; home office desk; upgraded wiring), but be realistic about the items the buyer can simply have delivered by Best Buy in 48-hours.

2. Make a point to inquire about and consider the buyer’s budget. And, even when the buyer can state this budgeted amount, do not act as if your goal is to spend all of this budget and more. Work with each buyer as if he/she was you sister or brother; look out for their best interests. Earn credibility by suggesting that the buyer NOT spend money on some items which you know will not be in their best long-term interests. Do not allow the buyer to feel that you are more interested in spending their money (i.e. earning a commission) than you are in helping them to design their dream home. And, if you are not on commission, let the buyer know this up front!

 3. Above all else, sell your value as much as you sell your products. In your introduction, tell each buyer:

    1. I am or am not on commission
    2. If you are on commission, remind the buyer that you are, nevertheless…
      1. Working for the buyer, and that your only goal is to make sure that the buyer ends up with a beautiful, affordable home.
      2. You will not push the buyer into a decision; your role is to suggest, to assist, to consult
    3. Describe your role as a ‘design consultant’. What does this include or not include?
      1. Example: Do you personally check the home before move-in to ensure the options are properly installed? If so, let each buyer know.
    4. Set expectations that you intend to BEAT, not just meet.
      1. For example, promise the buyer that you will return all calls within 24-hours because – most of the time – you know you should be able to return calls within the same day. When you promise 24-hours but do it in 12-hours, you have “WOW’d!” your buyer, and this will yield future referrals.
    5. To help justify your fees – and underscore your value – discuss the many advantages of working with the builder’s design center or flooring company, including but not limited to…
      1. Warranty
      2. Control over scheduling
      3. Installation quality
      4. Design consultation on color and style and product choices
      5. One-stop shopping
      6. All installed on move-in day

The Buyers Speak: No one knows more about the design selection experience than the homebuyer. As a means of giving Eliant’s recommendations some clarity and credibility, here are some actual verbatim comments from recent homebuyers of over a dozen Eliant client builders.

And with apologies to Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach, here is The Good. The Bad. And, without question…The Downright Ugly.


The Good

She was very helpful and explained everything and gave us the time to make up our own minds about what we wanted. How much we spent on extras did not seem to be the point with her, it was our satisfaction that mattered. That is a great way to do business. Would I recommend her to other people? You bet I would!


Thanks to Theresa Reed I love, love, love, my flooring!!! She knows her job. Her suggestions were outstanding and she was patient to answer all of my questions, letting me make selections at my pace. We had fun during the process and I now have awesome flooring.


Just like the way we want it. This was one of the best deals we had and the reasons for positive recommendations we have given to friends and tentative buyers.


We took quite a bit of time at the design center. I never felt rushed or pressured to make a decision. I am very pleased with the outcome.

Virginia also met us on a Saturday morning at 7 am. just to accommodate our work schedules. Wow!


Our designer, Terri Fischer, is the best! We get so many compliments about our home, mostly because Terri put together a great mix of cost-effective but beautiful colors and materials to satisfy our upgrade design selections.


Ingrid Schiano is very knowledgeable, personable and I loved working with her. This is my 1st home & she made it easier for me to make decisions due to her suggestions regarding all the choices and prices.


Diana was awesome. We told her upfront what we wanted, budget constraints, etc. and she put no pressure on us to upgrade.  


Jennie Ricket is a gem. As I said, I have had many design center experiences and I can confidently say that this one was the best! She was informed, efficient, and endlessly patient. She followed-through on all my requests and immediately returned my phone calls. When we ran into minor issues with construction, she quickly began to problem solve and kept me informed every step of the way.


Leslie and Rosalie were both terrific. When they didn’t know the answers to my questions regarding various options or alternatives they ALWAYS returned an email update once they found out my answers.


Barbara and Lissa and Leslie are all awesome. We worked the most with Barbara and couldn’t ask for anyone better. She’s never pushy, always listened to our need and incorporated her advice.



The Bad

No one really gave us a good explanation of why your prices were so much higher than I could get at a local vendor after move-in. I am a sales manager, and if you guys would have sold benefits as much as you pushed us to buy your high priced items, we might have purchased more options.


Why did I have to find out about the bay-window option by going to a neighbor’s party? No one ever informed us about this option, and I would have bought it in a heartbeat.


The person was always in a rush and it seemed like we were under time constraint. Also we had to wait so long for responses and paperwork we sent to them come closing time they had to ask for again because they did not know where they put it.


We feel the designer had very limited available time for our appointments. We understand there are many customers and yet we felt we had to stretch beyond to work out upgrades and to meet tight cut-off dates at the same time. Options availability made it almost impossible to complete in a single appointment for each option package.


I would suggest that your designer and construction foreman be required to live in one of your homes for at least six months. This would improve the quality of the residence.  

The Ugly

Nancy (xxxxx) seemed to completely ignore or feign ignorance of our stated budget. I would have preferred that she view this consultation as a ‘partnership’ rather than an opportunity to gouge another trapped customer. If you would have looked out for my family, we would have been happy to send you our friends!


Many upgrades were obnoxiously priced and the only reason we selected and paid for them through the builder was to protect our warranty. In such bad economic times, we were unsatisfied with the high mark-up on marginal quality and limited options. I do not like it when a company takes advantage of me.


Another buyer was given the option I was asking for and couldn’t get, which shows inconsistency in the process.


We were looking forward to taking our time to making a selection of upgrades. We initially wanted to include blinds in our upgrade package, but when we went to our appointment, the person that we expected to be there (specifically, the blinds person) was not there. And the person that was there, could not answer our questions about the blinds that we wanted. So, we were forced to choose another option. We were also told that we only had “that day” to pick our upgrade options.


You asked for my suggestions. Here is one: Deliver what you promise and improve your customer relations. We spend a lot of money on these homes – treat us like customers, not as trash. Some of us may consider buying from you again in several years!


The design selection part of this was the worst part of our purchase. Your sales and construction people were wonderful, but the options consultant ruined it. She was clearly only focused on selling her products. It totally gave me a bad taste for xxxxxx Homes. How could you include this firm as part of your process? I am sure others are complaining as well.