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A Fresh Take on Model Homes

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Sales + Marketing

A Fresh Take on Model Homes

The first Houzz Inspired Home presents a game-changing aspect for a more personal and engaging homebuying experience

By Mollie Elkman June 7, 2021
houzz inspired home
The Houzz Inspired Home is an all-new, immersive, in-person and online model home experience. | Photo: courtesy Mollie Elkman
This article first appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Pro Builder.

Innovation in any industry is driven by its customers’ needs and desires. What are customers asking for that doesn’t currently exist? What features or technologies would make their experience better, easier, more meaningful, or more memorable?

In home building, we’ve done a great job of building homes that meet and often exceed customers’ expectations. Green, energy-efficient, smart homes, and more livable designs are now standard. But what about the customer experience through the long and complicated journey to that new home? Have we mastered the numerous touch points and interactions, from the very first email to when we hand over the keys?

The short answer is, no; there is still work to be done on the CX front. The good news is that the opportunities for not only serving, but delighting, customers are endless. When we stop moving so fast and pause to notice trends, behaviors, and preferences, we can think about and execute extraordinary solutions. That’s exactly what McKee Builders, in Springfield, Pa., and their long-time interior design partner, Builders Design, in Gaithersburg, Md., accomplished with the first-ever Houzz Inspired Home.


The Houzz Inspired Home: How It Works

The Houzz Inspired Home is an all-new, immersive, in-person and online model home experience that brings inspiration to life and puts the customer at the center of the creative process.

The key wrinkle: Most of what home shoppers see, from the home itself to the couch and bedroom sets, is available for purchase. The décor from Builders Design has been thoughtfully curated by the community of professional interior designers who use Houzz—the popular online portal for home renovation and design inspiration and resources—and selected to maximize the space and style of the home. And now, with a scan of a QR code to a landing page, it’s something home shoppers can order on the spot, even if they don’t purchase the house.

In keeping with Houzz’s reputation as a highly regarded online interior design resource, customers may shop additional curated collections for the same home online in alternative styles such as mid-century, contemporary, traditional, and others.

Buyers also have the option to connect with a local interior designer in their area for additional personalization of the Houzz Inspired Home, drawing them further into the design experience. Never before has it been so easy for customers to dream of, design, and buy their new home­—outfitted with things they saw in the model—in one place.

houzz inspired home
People who had visited a McKee Builders model home in the past recalled how they wished they could buy the furniture then, says Elkman. | Photo: courtesy Mollie Elkman


How the Houzz Inspired Home Came to Be

The team at McKee Builders is always thinking about new ways to bring buyers deeper into the home shopping experience and make it more comfortable and exciting for them. “Our buyers love browsing, shopping, and hiring pros on Houzz,” says Frank McKee Jr., VP of McKee Builders. “But they also really enjoy physically walking model homes for inspiration.”

That’s why McKee was so excited to hear that Builders Design was developing an exclusive partnership with Houzz to elevate the model home experience for both builders and buyers. “We want the homebuying process to be fun, fresh, exciting, and easy for our customers,” McKee says, “and that’s exactly why the Houzz Inspired Home is such a fit for us and for them.”

I was privileged to attend the grand opening of the first Houzz Inspired Home on May 7. The overall experience felt more personal than traditional new-home models. Visitors took their time and used their mobile devices to engage the Houzz.com app to review, consider, and buy furniture and merchandise. (I left with a pillow and a bench that will always remind me of this awesome project!)

Perhaps most telling, people who had visited a McKee Builders model home in the past recalled how they wished they could buy the furniture then.


Who’s Involved in the Project

Houzz provides design ideas and links to local professionals and sells products and materials to complete a project.

McKee Builders serves mostly the 55+ market in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. A third-generation company, it has forged a reputation for customization, quality, and customer service.

Builders Design, a national, full-service interior design firm, spearheaded the project with Houzz, and the firm’s deep understanding of new-home shopper behavior has been instrumental in the program’s design and rollout.

“We wanted to create a layer of excitement and innovation that hasn’t been seen before in the new-home shopping experience," - Joe Duffus, CEO of Builders Design

My firm, Group Two, is McKee Builders’ long-time marketing partner. We tell a builder’s story in new and creative ways and eagerly collaborate with those that endeavor to push the home building industry forward.

Why the Inspired Home Is Important

The Houzz Inspired Home is a new way of thinking about the model home experience from the customer’s perspective and enables a next-level, emotional connection that goes beyond simply “feeling” inspired by an in-person model home tour or design meeting.

A correctly merchandised model always has memory points that speak directly to the wants and needs of the audience. When a customer can actually purchase that memory point—the unique accent chair or statement area rug—it creates a greater sense of excitement and connection. And so the model home design becomes attainable, paired with the dream of homeownership, in a new home-shopping experience.

“We wanted to create a layer of excitement and innovation that hasn’t been seen before in the new-home shopping experience,” says Joe Duffus, CEO of Builders Design. “Everyone loves scrolling social media accounts for design inspiration. This is just like the online Houzz shopping experience, except it’s in-person and in real life.”

A collaboration such as this one between McKee Builders and Houzz reinforces the idea that home builders should seek to align with well-known brands that stand for innovation, transparency, and service, particularly those in the tech sector. It’s not only a forward-thinking way to reach new audiences, but it also helps build trust and approval in a new (and better) way.

The Houzz Inspired Home also is a unique way for McKee Builders to stay top-of-mind with customers long after they’ve browsed the model. They’ll be reminded of it each time they glance at their purchase or visit Houzz.

houzz inspired home
"Shop the Look" tags across merchandise feature scannable QR codes that allows the user to order the merchandise. | Photo: courtesy Mollie Elkman

The Bottom Line

How are you amazing and delighting your customers and leaving them with the best possible impression? What are you doing that’s different from the competition? How are you drawing customers into your story and making them the hero? The Houzz Inspired Home is an inspiration to start down that road.


Written By

Mollie Elkman is owner and president of Group Two, a full-service marketing partner for home builders based in Philadelphia. She is the author of the children’s book, The House That She Built, scheduled for release in September 2021 by NAHB BuilderBooks in collaboration with The Professional Women in Building Council and NAHB’s workforce development team. Elkman also is the co-host and co-creator of the “Building Perspective” podcast and a member of Pro Builder’s Forty Under 40 class of 2012. Got a question? Send it to Mollie at melkman@grouptwo.com.


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