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The goal is to understand high-performance buyers: who they are, why they buy, and the features and benefits they value most. | Illustration: Paul Craft/
This article first appeared in the January 2022 issue of Pro Builder.

In the summer of 2020, in collaboration with the Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA), my firm, Shelton Group, launched WNDO, a survey platform specifically designed to gain actionable insights from high-performance homebuyers at five points along their journey: at the time of the sale; at the drywall or framing walk-through; during an orientation or site tour; 30 days after closing; and six months after move-in.

The goal of the platform is to understand high-performance homebuyers—who they are, why they buy, and which features and benefits of their high-performance homes they value the most. We also wanted to know how the build process changes perceptions of high-performance homes from what buyers thought would be important when they signed the contract to what’s actually important after they’ve lived in the house for several months.

This insight, we hope, will help high-performance home builders tighten up their marketing and messaging and improve their products, customer service, and management processes.


What Is a High-Performance Home?

While the survey doesn’t explicitly define a high-performance home (rather, the resulting features and benefits it delivers, to probe consumer preferences), we consider such a home to have: a smaller carbon footprint and use eco-friendly materials and produce less waste; lower operating costs and higher value from extreme energy-efficiency measures and the quality of its design, materials, and construction; durability; and fresh air ventilation that improves indoor air quality.

High-Performance Home Buyer Types and Takeaways

1. There are two distinct buyers of high-performance homes.

The first is a young family cohort in the process of building their nest, so to speak.

  • 77% are between 30-44 years old (35% are aged 30-34)
  • 41% have kids who are under 18 living with them (and 68% of those have four-plus people in the home)
  • 90% have a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • 68% have an annual household income over $100,000
  • 71% spend more than 3 hours on social media per week
  • Found a builder through online search, home/community drive-by, or referral

The second group are empty nesters looking for one of their last homes:

  • 59% have no kids who are under 18 living with them (and 79% of those are 1-2 person households)
  • 70% are over age 50 (23% are over age 65)
  • 66% have a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • 39% have annual household income over $100,000
  • 59% spend less than 3 hours per week on social media
  • Found a builder through online search, home/community drive-by, or referral

2. What these two buyer profiles share is a desire for a healthy home.

People with allergies are seeking high-performance homes. And as we dug deeper, we saw some significant differences between them and the average American homebuyer:

  • 81% of high-performance buyers feel that a house has a strong or very strong impact on an individual’s health, compared with 72% of the general public
  • 82% are at least moderately concerned with indoor air quality in their new home vs. 53% of Americans overall
  • 60% are allergic to dust and/or have pollen allergies, compared with just 15% of the general population, per the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Of those homebuyers, 52% considered their allergies when choosing their new high-performance homes.


3. High-performance home features aren’t at the top of their wish list.

I’ve said this a lot, and I’ll keep saying it: Nobody buys a high-performance home just because it offers health benefits or energy savings. Those benefits don’t exist in a silo; they’re combined with other benefits to create an overall value proposition that’s attractive to the buyer. For instance:

  • Quality of workmanship and building materials, as well as value for the price, and layout and square footage are most important to these buyers. Healthy indoor air quality is also very important, but it’s a mid-tier benefit behind these other features/benefits. Not coincidentally, building a high-performance home requires quality workmanship and products.
  • Among overall benefits, the most important are “a floor plan that meets my family’s needs,” which is tied with “prevents moisture problems that can contribute to mold and attract pests” and “a healthy home that mitigates the risk of radon, carbon monoxide, and other harmful gases.”

4. It’s important for builders to deliver on these homebuyer desires, and our early data indicate there’s a bit of a gap between expectations and the real world.

As we look at the initial results—consider this as directional versus fact, since we’ve only surveyed a handful of buyers who have made it through the build process—there’s a gap between the importance of quality workmanship and satisfaction with the actual workmanship of the finished home.

Similarly, there’s a gap between the importance of customer service and buyers’ satisfaction with builder customer service on the back end of the build.

And while an “environmentally friendly construction process” is low on the list of things consumers care about on the front end of the build process, it increases in importance on the back end.

This tells us that builders should bring up that aspect of their process with customers at closing and beyond as a way of reminding homebuyers about what a good thing they’ve done for the planet by buying this house, and helping them feel good enough to post positive comments about the builder on social media.

Speaking of which, customers feel most positive and are most likely to recommend their builder at the home’s closing, more so than at any other time during the build process, so closing is the ideal time to ask buyers for referrals and reviews on social media.

5. While digital marketing is important for selling high-performance homes, it’s not the most important method.

Perhaps this is different with buyers of standard homes, but high-performance buyers are still leveraging some old-school search tactics, such as driving by model homes and communities and asking around before searching online.

Just over half are building a new home for the first time, so perhaps it makes sense that they want to see and experience the homes and talk to friends before jumping in.

High-performance homebuyer mindset

Next Steps for Home Builders in Appealing to High-Performance Homebuyers

We’re just beginning our journey with WNDO, and we’ll see how (and if) these insights change. But for now, a builder’s key takeaways about how to appeal to high-performance homebuyers are:

  • Target empty nesters and people with young families seeking healthy home solutions to allergies and asthma. Find them online where they’re searching for information and products and post your ads and sponsored content there.
  • Don’t only tout health in your advertising. Quality construction and workmanship, open floor plans, and beautiful design are critically important to draw in prospective homebuyers.
  • Offer a three-dimensional experience, such as live and online home tours that help prospects experience the benefits of your indoor air quality solutions and see the quality of your homes.

Stay tuned for more insights as we collect more data!