Giant “Dollhouse” Lets Builder Get Input

Developers like to hear how customers like their projects, and most pay close attention. But if the potential buyers are giving feedback on existing, already-built homes, and they tell you they don’t like it, there’s not much you can do other than build your next development differently.

Not so with a faux “subdivision” built by Pulte Homes in suburban Chicago. Pulte roughed out 11 “homes” in an 88,000-square-foot warehouse in Franklin Park, Illinois. The walls of the homes were framed out and covered by Tyvek so they emulated real walls, and other features, such as kitchen islands and sinks, were created with corrugated paper. More features, such as beds, were indicated with tape on the floor.

Then 24 groups of potential homebuyers were brought in to walk through the 11 homes – which included floor plans for first and second floors – to see what they thought. The whole idea, naturally, was to get their input BEFORE the homes were actually built, so any obvious flaws could be corrected in advance.

The potential buyers were instructed not to speak to each other as they toured the homes, to prevent people from influencing each other. Each had a paper floor plan, on which they circled features they liked and crossed out features that didn’t work for them.

At the end of each tour, Pulte research manager Mike Dawkins brought the group together to make a list of things they liked and things they didn’t, providing an amazing pile of data for the builder. Based on the input, the actual model homes will be built in the spring of 2014, and hopefully will appeal to a larger group of buyers than if they had been built without the faux homes that preceded them.

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