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How Building Material Manufacturers Can Address the Gap Between Home Buyers and Builders

Builders get the brunt of home buyer frustration, even when it’s not their fault. This week’s guest addresses the reasons behind this frustration and explains how building material manufacturers can help reduce that frustration on all sides.

Photo of Zach Williams
Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

More About This Episode

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

Adam Steiner is the owner of Birnam Design Co., a full-service residential home design firm, as well as the host of the Builder vs. Buyer podcast. He talks with Beth about the widening gap between home buyers and builders, and how manufacturers can help close the gap.

Bridging the Divide Between Buyers and Builders

After working for various home builders for over a decade, Adam started his own home design firm, Birnam Design Co., in 2020. At the same time, he started his podcast Builder vs. Buyer with the goal of mediating the growing divide between builders and buyers.

“I saw a growing divide where most of the buyers I knew were fair people that wanted a nice house, and most of the builders I knew were great people that wanted to build a nice house, but it just felt like there was more and more animosity,” explains Adam.

His goal was to help identify the tension between the two groups and explain the communication gaps that were leading to that tension. For example, explaining to home buyers why they can’t supply their own light fixtures and why home builders get annoyed when it comes up.

Adam found that the source of the tension is most home buyers don’t know much about home building, but they think they do because they’ve done minor remodeling (painting, switching out sinks, etc.). “I think the root of it is [that] nobody knows what's going on. So when you don't know what's going on, it's really easy to freak out,” he says.

To add to the confusion, there’s a lot of weird, conflicting and just bad information floating around out there. The handyman says new siding should cost $3,500, and then the builder says $30,000. “The information sources aren't always right — they're rarely comparing apples to apples. The lack of knowledge there is what's causing all of it. And then when you hear something like that, you automatically get tense and frustrated and then there's just mistrust through the whole build.”

Unlike many other industries, home buyers tend to come to the table with a predisposition of distrust and the expectation of being taken advantage of. This breaks down communication before it can even begin — if it’s not addressed.

According to Adam, the best builders are the ones who are the best at communicating. “They're the ones that call the clients more often and talk to them more often.” The biggest freakouts Adam’s seen from home buyers is when they couldn’t get ahold of the builder. To avoid these, it’s essential to stay on top of the communication.

Communication Between Manufacturers and Builders

This communication stretches to manufacturers. “A lot of times, the builders can't answer because they're waiting on an answer from somebody. So much of a builder's decision is based on just being ‘their person’ and being able to get back to them. If you can be the provider that is awesome at communicating with your builder, you'll probably just win jobs, even if you're priced higher, even if your selections are worse. They don't have time to make them really any other way.”

Home buyers rarely know the relationship of their builder with the manufacturer depends on if the builder is custom, semi-custom or production — every builder is going to claim they’re custom, even if they’re tract.

The type of builder can greatly impact the frustration level of the home buyer. Custom builders are able and usually willing to say yes to any material requests, while semi-custom builders are more likely to say no and production builders almost always say no. But regardless of the type of builder, the homeowner is going to get frustrated with the builder no matter what the issue is.

“This is why the communication from material providers is so important too because the builder takes all the crap,” explains Adam. “So if architects spec something on the house that the builder can't get for a 20-week lead time, the builder is still the one taking the call. Or if the builder can't hear back from the material provider for that 20 weeks, the builder's still the one taking the call from the client.”

Even if the builder tries to throw the manufacturer under the bus, the homeowner is still going to get annoyed at them (and assume the builder messed something up in the first place).

215 Communication Between Manufacturers and Builders

Predicting Home Design and Building Over the Next Five Years

Adam points out that the big squeeze over the last six months was on the under $700,000 production builder. “Because those people [home buyers] are typically relying more on bank financing, 2 percent matters a lot in their monthly payment and their purchasing power. Whereas a lot of clients that I deal with that have more than a million to spend. As crass as it sounds, if they have $1.2, they can spend $1.4.”

However, as long as the population continues to increase, we’re going to need more homes. Adam predicts continual growth in home production.

As for material and design predictions, Adam is seeing a return to brass, as well as continued use of pre-fabricated stone. He’s also getting more requests for solid slabs in the shower so homeowners don’t have to deal with grout and replacing tile. And they’re also moving away from glass in the bathroom, as people get tired of having to clean all that glass. Instead, they’re asking for walk-in showers. Giant kitchen islands are staying as well, while upper cabinets are starting to go away.

So what do building materials manufacturers, home designers and builders need to be successful in the future? Make sure that the builders can get the cool things that the manufacturers are making and that homeowners are requesting.

“Yes, you have to win at what clients want and what looks pretty, but you also have to win at, ‘Our lead times are awesome’,” says Adam. Builders don’t want to delay clients’ homes because they have to spend two weeks just figuring out how to get the product, let alone the lead time once they know where to find it.

Remember, purchasing managers have to consider not only how lead times affect the builder but the homeowner as well. “From a purchasing manager standpoint, a two-week delay for one homeowner is maybe the difference between selling an additional house or not,” says Beth.

TikTok and Sharing Content

Adam is on TikTok because Gary Vee said to, and he started by making the “most basic, boring content.” He was surprised when people started watching, and it snowballed from there. “I found a decent amount of success there. I'm getting leads, and it's working for me in the background too, which is kind of awesome.” He gets actual design clients through TikTok.

This has happened for plenty of builders and designers on Instagram, but it’s not as often we hear of leads through TikTok.

Adam says smaller providers tend to lose interest in TikTok because their videos aren’t getting traction. What they need is for their marketing director to give someone the authority to follow anyone at the company and record them explaining what they’re doing.

“Use those videos to help explain your product and your process, and take the sales pitch out. Just focus on helping people make a better decision in their home building process.” You don’t need a call to action in every video, Adam says. People will find you if you’re making helpful content. “There’s so, so much opportunity there. You’re leaving a lot on the table if you don’t.”

Beth agrees that the focus should be on the real, gritty, educational content. “If it feels like what you're putting out on social is collateral, people are going to move right on by it because the consumer is smart and no one wants to be sold to,” she says. “I actually was just in a customer interview recently talking about construction, and they were like, ‘I'm tired of manufacturers showing me their product on a project on a beautiful sunny day where everything is pristine.’ They're like, ‘I can't learn from that,’ and it's the same for our social media.”

Don’t worry so much about “bad” content. Obviously, make sure the content is factually correct, but don’t worry quite as much about the video quality or if that guy in the factory spoke in perfect, complete sentences.

“What I constantly hear is like, ‘The more that I work on a video and the more sure that I am that it's just going to crush it, the worse that it does,’” laughs Adam. It’s those quick videos where he records a thought or a sketch he just did that perform the best.

Want Even More Insight?

Adam’s favorite TikTok channels are Builder Brigade, who was also a recent podcast guest, and Tstud. Beth’s favorite is B2B Pros, which consists of installers doing the basic work and getting tons of views. So stop overthinking your content, and get your videos out there. Don’t be afraid to show the real stuff.

To learn more about the gap between home buyers and builders, listen to the entire episode here. You can reach out to Adam through Instagram or follow him on TikTok, both as @birnamdesignco. You can also listen to Builder vs. Buyer wherever you get podcasts.

Remember to like and subscribe to Smarter Building Materials Marketing wherever you get your podcasts.