Display homes are a vital part of marketing a new housing project

Peter ChittendenMarch 19, 20120 min read

No matter the type of market we are dealing with it is now almost impossible to imagine a major project being taken to market without the inclusion of display homes or a display apartment (either a full apartment or very convincing facsimile rooms) being at the core of the sales effort.

Display homes have been a part of this market since the late 1940s, when show homes or display homes were first used to highlight the emergence of new home appliances and how the modern family aspired to live. They were also used to entice buyers away from the older inner-city areas, when the suburb was a new innovation.

Today display homes are highly detailed. While there has been a big jump in the quality of CGI images, virtual tours and soon augmented reality these do not really compensate for the ability to see, touch and experience ‘the real thing’ that show what the development or home builder is set to deliver. Only a display apartment or home will ever do this, and now that there is so much material online when buyers do get their first hands on experience of the product I think that it needs to be a gratifying experience.

Display homes

Display homes have been used to sell house and land packages within estates for decades. Today builders and developers invest a huge effort into their display homes and it is common for several designs to be in the one display centre. Display homes can be either related to a single estate or they can be in a combined super home village related to a region.

Some Australian home display villages are among the biggest of their kind in the world.

On a large scale, these villages can have 50 to 100 homes to view in the one location, each one furnished and landscaped and presenting an enticing and convenient choice for buyers. I think that there are times that given the amount of choice presented it is reasonable to ask if these display villages can be too large?

At such a village it is possible to see would be buyers move from home to home for hours and frequently with many repeat visits. They collect a great deal of information with arms full of brochures and plans to help them consider the various options on sale. Different homes and builders also present a range of interiors and many finish options.

But can there be too much choice, one important challenge in these circumstances is that the sales process must be carefully managed and the sales effort should not simply operate by volume or turn into a form of crowd control.

However when a number of display homes are built solely to service one estate, the options are somewhat different. There can be as few as 2 or 3 homes on a single estate, but this can grow to 30 plus, it simply relates to the size of the estate and the supply of land. The numbers and level of investment need to be relative and I have seen many different options work.

From a marketing perspective it needs to be kept in mind that even estate based display homes will act to generate sales in other areas, this is one key reason why I feel that an estates brand identity needs to be carefully managed. People will always shop around and as I have outlined in a number of earlier posts, the brand message needs to be kept front of mind.

Display villages require detailed planning so that they relate to the entire estate and any on-site marketing centre. These villages also require professional planning within the development controls of local councils, as they can be sensitive issues.  The lead-time for a display village to open can take 12 to 24 months of planning and construction and this needs to be accommodated in marketing plans.

Display apartments

Just like the display villages associated with large residential estates the display apartment fills a vital role in the selling and promotion of high-rise and medium density developments. So much so that developers need to make the necessary financial investment to build full prototype display apartments that leverage every advantage of a project and its future potential.

The display apartment or in some cases several apartments are then fully decorated and furnished so that they not only demonstrate how the apartment will be built and what finishes it will contain, but they also demonstrate lifestyle options.

If a potential buyer is asked ‘can you see yourself living here’ – we want the answer to be a resounding ‘yes’. The idea is that buyers are left in no doubt about the potential for the new apartment they are considering.

The display apartment encourages buyers to have the confidence they need to commit to the purchase. This is a very important fact because in some cases they may have a long wait for the building to be complete and they will make repeated visits to see the display as they naturally anticipate the completion of their new home or investment.

However it is again important not to overdo this process. Buyers still need to be able to see their lives reflected in the apartments, to imagine how they might like to live. Taking the level of finishes and furniture outside of the likes and dislikes and budget of the target demographics can be a mistake. This point also extends to the size of apartments, how well the design works and of course price.

There is no point in creating a display apartment that people might admire but they would not consider buying. Above all the display apartment has to feel comfortable and help promote the best aspects of the development.

What I am keen to express here is that the product in every aspect must match the target market that has been identified. There is no particular formula, but the product, as demonstrated by the display must make that connection.

There has been a great deal of experience in this area and it is possible to source highly respected, and tried solutions. This is not to suggest a copy-cat approach, in fact just the opposite, but I simply want to acknowledge that risks can be avoided by always making sure the target is kept front of mind so that when completed, the display apartment will fully engage the target market.

In some very high-end apartment buildings offering an interior design service to particular buyers is an idea used in some markets. While in Australia this is not yet common, but in some multi-million dollar markets it could be a good idea as the design consultant can help cement the ideas that the potential buyer might see as important.

Again it’s a matter of meeting the expectations of the target market and that is pure logic at any level of the market.

In the display environment the use of very well-know brands for key appliances and major items like kitchens and wardrobe joinery is a well-established norm, but now the range is being extended to include items like European brand kitchens/walk-in-robes, wine coolers, coffee machines and the like.

But there is also one overriding function that display apartments also fill, and that is the vital role that helps every potential buyer fully appreciate the quality of the building and the finishes that will be used. And of course the appliances that are to be provided. It is also important that buyers understand how the space in an apartment will work. How big is the bedroom? Are the robes of ample size? Will the terrace be a good space to relax and entertain? Where do we store the vacuum cleaner, or the ironing board or the bike?

The display apartment also has to dovetail with, and extend the use of all other marketing materials; this includes floor plans, finishes options, and what different views and aspects are available.

Relating how all of these elements work is a key to how the display apartment works in the everyday and on-going application of the sales path, an important mix of sizzle and information. The display apartment is the nucleus of the buyer’s experience and the culmination of the marketing plan.



The option of indicative rooms

There may be times when it is not possible to build a full display apartment. When this is the case another popular option is to provide indicative rooms as a key part of the display. This option is used and can be a success. Usually rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms are included, as these are high impact rooms the buyers will usually see as very important.

Another alternative or as an interim measure, possibly in a pre-release campaign, would be to create high-impact CGI images or virtual tours and these could be used in a number of innovative ways including a large scale 1:1 theatre presentation.

This is an idea that was used for several major projects in the late 1980’s and was employed as part of a pre-release campaign when there was very strong demand and at a time when buyers were more than willing to commit to a purchase based upon this level of information. I am sure that if the planning is spot on these options are viable, however market circumstances must always be taken into full consideration.

Never forget the buyer’s perspective

There is little doubt that buyers react very well to beautifully presented display homes and apartments. There are now high expectations and so it is important that buyers in-turn are engaged with the product and not simply entertained.

The buyer’s experience at a display apartment, sales centre or homes display village is all based around a feeling of anticipation, excitement, and interest and hopefully a high level of motivation.

However buyers will look beyond the glitz and so it is important to ensure that key aspect of the marketing are aligned with the display apartment. We already know that a majority will have done at least some, if not a great deal of their own market research.

Even if we are dealing with the most fundamental enquiry, which I think these days would be an exception, here are some of the key points to consider that will always require care when planning both display homes and apartments, they include but are not limited to:

  • Accurate room sizes
  • How are areas calculated?
  • Ceiling heights
  • Bed sizes
  • Built-in appliances or space for appliances
  • Accurate finishes
  • Sound ratings, wall strengths (people tap on walls) – main internal walls and party walls
  • Ample power and data point
  • Access – getting furniture in and out
  • Strata fees, local services
  • Colour schemes as they appear and not only relying upon a small sample finish board
  • Lighting and natural light
  • View or street aspects

A competitive edge

The display home or apartment is a major investment. It’s an investment that can cost hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. Such investments are absolutely justified, as this is a high-touch environment.

However no matter what investment is made I have repeatedly stressed how accurate planning, a solid understanding of market conditions and the target demographics must be the foundation of every aspect of the display environment.

For almost any new project competition will be complex and will not only come from other developments, but will also come from the existing housing stock. Existing homes are sustained by one big advantage, they are complete, and they are functioning as a home. While some might be frayed at the edges, most are usually loved and many can be very inviting.

I think that it is always crucial to keep in mind that we do operate in a very complex and varied market helping well-informed buyers and these circumstances will continue to dictate how every aspect of display apartments and homes need to be considered down to the smallest detail and kept under constant review.

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.
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