How satisfied are homeowners with the new homes they purchased in 2007?

If the JD Power and Associates’ new 2008 survey of customer satisfaction with new home builders is to be believed, homeowners are a lot more satisfied than those polled in last year’s survey.

“The survey results don’t surprise me,” said Paula Sonkin, vice president of real estate and construction industries for J.D. Power and Associates.

Sonkin says a lot of consumer satisfaction stems from the fact that the average new home buyer is getting more for his or her money. The average amount of incentives a new home builder is giving away is about $16,500.

New home buyers “like the price, but now they’re getting things that were options that they had to buy, like granite and marble baths, as standard,” she explained. In rare circumstances, new home buyers are getting swimming pools for free.

“If it was part of the model home, and they buy the model home, they’ll get it,” she added.

Sonkin said that the homeowners believe that new home builders are putting up better products. “Quality is up and problems are down. We’ve seen builders go out of business, but builders that are surviving are finding ways to adapt to the market.”

J.D. Power and Associates surveyed more than 50,800 home buyers of newly-built single-family homes, all of which closed in 2007, Sonkin said. “By the time they get our survey, they’ve been in their new home anywhere from four months to 18 months.”

The survey covers nine key parts of the home buying experience: Sales staff (15 percent of the ultimate score), warranty/customer service staff (15 percent), workmanship/materials (14 percent), price/value (14 percent), on time completion/home readiness (13 percent), construction manager (13 percent), recreational facilities provided by the builder (7 percent), builder’s design center (6 percent), and location (4 percent).

Price and location, while extremely important to home buyers making the choice of a builder, factor less into the decision when measuring how well homeowners are satisfied after making that selection, Sonkin explained.

Any builder that closed on at least 125 homes in 2007 was eligible to be included in the survey, she said. J.D. Power and Associates gathered the name of buyers from independent sources of public record. Buyers were contacted and at least 50 buyers for each builder survey had to respond for the builder to be included.

A total of 500 builders were ranked in each of 33 markets nationwide. National brands had to compete individually in each of the 33 markets.

The five markets with the highest new home customer satisfaction included Sacramento, Orange County, Palm Beach, Minneapolis, and Inland Empire, California.

Pulte brands (which include Del Webb, DiVosta Homes, and Pulte Homes) ranked as the top builder in 11 markets. Other top builders include Cambridge Homes, Centex Homes, Darling Homes, David Weekley Homes, Eastwood Homes, Granville Homes, John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods, Lakewood Homes, M/I Homes, Medallion Homes, Minto Communities, Shea Homes, Standard Pacific Homes, Tim Lewis Communities, and Trendmaker Homes (part of Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Company).

But rather than choose a builder based solely on its ranking, Sonkin suggests that the survey results be a starting point for more research.

“New home buyers should ask the builder questions. Everyone has well-meaning friends and relatives, but no one can tell you more about the house than the builder. You can’t ask enough questions,” she said.

Sonkin said that new home buyers should knock on doors and talk to other homeowners as well. She also recommends discussing the project with the construction manager.

“No one knows more about your individual home than the person in charge of building it,” she noted. “You should also visit your home site. Go see how a home is being built. If you’re going to buy a new home, go watch your new home being built. Ask the warranty people lots of questions as well.”

Sonkin said that the most satisfying part of the survey was noting that the overall rankings went up this year. New home buyers are more satisfied than last year, she said.

Published: Sep 12, 2008