Miller Homes is smoothing the homebuying process by texting its customers regular reports of how building work is going. It brings a whole new meaning to the term mobile home …
Some 2800 new homebuyers should have more of a :-) and less of a :-( for their housebuilder this year. In between the run of daily text message jokes from their mates, they are receiving more serious regular text updates by mobile on the build progress of their home. If they have access to the internet, they will also be able to log on to a personalised website area that charts and explains their buying progress, and they'll be sent a CD of chill-out music to take their mind off the stresses of mortgaging themselves up to the eyeballs.

Housebuilders don't usually go in for touchy-feely marketing, but Miller Homes has introduced these measures to smooth the homebuying process for its customers. Behind this lies a serious research programme that is aimed ultimately at improving the housebuilder's bottom line, by generating more sales.

The research programme is assessing buyers' emotional responses to the homebuying process so that the company can determine exactly how and where it should target improvements in its customer service.

As Philip Hogg, divisional marketing director at Miller Homes says: "We all know housebuying is stressful, but our research has for the first time identified exactly where that stress is."

Tell us how you feel …
Under the programme, the housebuilder asked 33 of its customers to keep a daily diary recording their feelings at every stage of their buying process, noting down every emotion from over the moon to sick as a parrot. This feedback has been charted into a graph of the emotional ups and downs of buying a home, with the downs indicating exactly where the housebuilder needs to take action (see "The rollercoaster ride", below).

Where lows occurred, the housebuilder identified poor communication as raising buyer stress levels. As a result, it is using conventional mail, mobile and the internet to keep buyers better informed. "We want to make sure housebuying is as enjoyable, memorable, surprising and as stress free as possible," says Hogg. The website, has a dedicated area for every buyer where they can check out the building and buying process of their property transaction, updated on a weekly basis. The buying process is represented in nine stages, from reservation to a post-occupancy buyer survey, with standard explanations given of what happens at each stage. The build process is divided into five stages from foundations to finishing.

Telling buyers about build progress demands not only the co-operation of the site team, but also the kind of frankness not commonplace on any building site. "It means a big culture change for the industry," says Hogg. "If we send a text message to a buyer saying that the roof is on the house, then the roof has to be on. We can't fudge our production schedules."

The tell-your-friends factor
Text messaging is simply a way of generating more of a feel-good factor, says Hogg. "Housebuying is the centre of your life for 100 days and you're probably the office bore, and a text message is something you can show to friends."

The housebuilder has been one of the keenest users of new technology, and its website, which was launched two years ago, has scored 1064 definite sales to date, bringing in £163m of business. About a quarter of Miller Homes' customers register on its website, so it was expecting a similar number to log on to It has been surprised to find that since the February launch, 38% of customers have registered.

It is running a second phase of the research, this time interviewing 70 homebuyers, to see how the initiatives are working and where emotional lows remain. Then the initiatives could be further enhanced. "Now we've got the infrastructure we can look at other opportunities, like putting on legal details, or maybe a webcam on site …" says Hogg.

The rollercoaster ride

It takes the typical new homebuyer 100 days to progress from making a reservation to putting the key in their own front door, and it is a journey with more highs and lows than an Eastenders omnibus. At the point of reservation and at Miller Homes’ welcome meeting for buyers seven days later, buyers experience the euphoria of having found their home at last. Over the following month, emotions take a tumble as buyers are weighed down by financial and legal matters and hear little about the progress of their home. Spirits remain low at the point of contract exchange, because there is usually little communication between builder and buyer. The pre-handover demonstration meeting allows buyers a first glimpse of their home, which generates excitement. But buyers are also anxious as they notice that all is not yet finished and fear the home won’t be ready for handover. Immediately following move-in there is another dip in emotions as buyers face up to the harsh reality of the design. Buyers experience an initial feeling of disappointment as they come to terms with things they had not understood in drawings, like the proximity of roads. Within weeks buyers are content with their new home, hopefully to live happily ever after …