Focus groups examine home designs in a warehouse

Pulte recently put together some new home designs in a Chicago area warehouses to see how consumers would respond:

Basically, it was the latest incarnation of the company’s ongoing experiment: walking focus groups of consumers through full-size prototypes of floor plans of homes that Pulte intends to build, and asking for reactions before the first shovelful of earth has been dug. The consumers’ input enables the builder to tout the homes as “Life Tested.”

So on this September day, in an 88,000-square-foot warehouse in suburban Franklin Park, nine Chicago-area homeowners were life-testing “houses” framed in lumber and covered with sheets of Tyvek house wrap to simulate walls.

Pulte brought in a team of carpenters to do the framing for 11 houses and the fixtures within, such as kitchen islands and bathroom sinks, which were covered in corrugated paper and marked — in case you weren’t sure what you were looking at — “island,” “sink,” etc…

Total silence ensued — they weren’t supposed to speak to one another, so as not to influence opinions — as they wandered from room to room. Then they moved “upstairs” (that is, next door) to do the same thing.

This sounds like a helpful approach to getting feedback about particular interior features, even if the features aren’t fully constructed. However, I wonder how valuable this feedback is without situating a home within a particular neighborhood. I assume Pulte would say the neighborhood is another important factor and that they build attractive neighborhoods that only enhance the individual homes.

It is also interesting to see that Pulte’s designs are then said to be “life tested.” Pulte has built enough homes over the decades to legitimately claim this for established featuresbut can they really say this for new designs?

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