I spent the day being a secret shopper at a Stockland Residential Village, and discovered some surprising and disappointing things. Here’s how it went … [Part 2].
So in my last instalment, I shared the first part of my secret shopping experience at Stockland’s Display Village at Ormeau Ridge. To read why I did this, and the back story I gave salespeople, and my experience with Hallmark Homes, READ HERE.
Here is part 2 to round things out [it’s a long one but full of juicy info!] …
No. 2 Metricon [Click here for website]
As I walked into the first Metricon display, I must admit my brain was thinking over all the info I’ve heard about them – the big ‘M’ gets a lot of review traffic online and in those I speak to about building off-the-plan. From my perspective, they seem to be touted as the aspirational home builder – the one that sets the benchmark for marketing and packaging, and how to display their homes. And so as I opened the generously sized and heavy front door, I remember that first impression of walking inside was ….
Wide hallways, generous rooms, sleek fixtures, music playing from integrated speakers (in pretty much every room), sumptuous interior decoration, so so so many downlights (which I think were needed to light up the darkly finished interiors and furnishings. It just felt luxurious, really comfortably luxurious. I wanted to touch things, and it smelt great and new.
The outdoor room had timber framed bifolds which were open, and there was no corner post so the outdoor room was seamlessly connected with the interior. There was a built-in BBQ, a timber bench, screening and carefully planned landscape design.
The second display was finished differently as a contrast – more light in colour and finish – but still luxurious and sumptuous.
I posted a photo to my instagram account with the caption “Looking through a Metricon display – having been told by the salesperson of another company that these displays have around $250,000 worth of extras put in them over the base price that’s advertised. I’m listening to the integrated sound system, looking at these timber bifolds with no corner post, the built in BBQ and the amount of lighting (amongst lots of other details) and thinking he may be right. How on earth does the uninitiated, unknowing but eager homebuyer come here and not be utterly seduced by this … And then be thoroughly disappointed when it’s not in their budget. Is this selling 101 – get them to fall in love with the ultimate, and stretch them to buy it? I can see why people find it so overwhelming …”
I got a fairly angry response from one person commenting on the post, and pointing out a standard display being located 10 minutes away and advising me to do my research more thoroughly. Which is great to know – given these displays were clearly not a baseline product. And I’m not denying that Metricon had done and do an amazing job of packaging and presenting their displays … there was no question in that. I just wondered how the average punter found the experience. I’d be keen to know … does it help you aspire to what your home can be? Or does it depress and overwhelm you because once you understand the overall price, it’s so far out of the budget point you thought it was representing, and you’re disillusioned by it all. Or something else?
As I sat down with the salesperson, I tried to illicit from him what were the differences and the upgrades. He told me that the displays were fitted out with Metricon’s “Luxe” inclusions, which they currently had a special on. However, the bifold door arrangement in timber, with the corner post removed, was an additional $11,000 on the Luxe package.
As with Hallmark, I told him my backstory, and asked for a rundown on their process, and payments. It was a fairly similar process, with the idea being you choose your design, your inclusions and get an estimate with an allowance for site works and council fees – which he advised would be around the $35,000 mark. Their deposit to secure a soil test and contour survey was $1,500, and the process took about 5-6 weeks to reach a formal estimate.
As with Hallmark also, once you have your formal estimate, and are happy with the price and all it includes, final contracts are drawn up and you pay the remainder of your 5% deposit. Metricon use a standard HIA contract for their homes.
Metricon build around 2000 homes per year, with 700-800 of those homes in SE Qld.
During construction, you are assigned a site manager and also a customer contact in the office. Their website shows an online login portal for your home that apparently provides updates, however the salesperson did not know a lot about it as it was new. He advised that every week you are given a status update on construction, and you can have access to site if pre-arranged.
Metricon have a venue called “Studio M” which is where you can choose your interior finishes and fixtures. It is open to the public on Saturdays so you can visit and view as part of your assessment of who to go with in building your home. When deciding for your home, you spend an entire day there going through all the options and upgrades to prepare your list of specified items, fixtures and finishes, for inclusion in your contract.
It may be more convenient for you, as a buyer to dedicate just one day and have one location to visit to sort this all out. Or it may seem like an overwhelming task to do it all in one hit. Again, I think this is part of Metricon’s marketing strategy because it makes it easy for a buyer to be seduced by the upgrades and potentially spend more on their home. Upgrades which come at a higher profit margin to them, and a higher cost to you.
So, back to the salesperson. Generally I found him challenging to draw information from overall. As I flicked through the package of Luxe inclusions he said were in the display, I pointed out the differences between the brochure and the actual display. Stone benchtops in kitchen were 40mm, not 20mm (oh, that’s an upgrade over Luxe). Benchtop in kitchen had waterfall ends, brochure doesn’t (that’s an upgrade). The integrated speakers? (an upgrade). The number of light fittings? (An upgrade). The glass wall light switches (an upgrade).
Hence my comment about the uninitiated and unknowing. How many people would spot the difference in a rendered image in a brochure with 20mm stone benchtops, and the real display at 40mm benchtops? Yet when built in their home, I believe they would sense a big difference in the sense of finish and luxury.
I was curious why I couldn’t have been given a detailed list upfront, or there been one on display in the actual home, telling me exactly what was included in the Luxe package and what wasn’t. I was also curious why I was having to draw this out of the salesperson, when my upfront question early in our conversation was “what is the difference between the display and what I get?”
All in all, whilst there is no denying that the Metricon displays are a stand-out product overall and displayed beautifully, my initial impression was disappointment in the experience and process. And as I drove around the estate, I saw that most of the Metricon homes being built were face-brick, no eaved, compact and economical homes … which of course was to be expected given the market level of the development … but a far cry from what they had on display. Their marketing, and aspirational positioning is to be admired though and they’re clearly a big machine of a company with the volume of building they produce each year.
No.3 Orbit Homes [Click here for website]
Orbit Homes have a 2 storey display open at Ormeau Ridge. It was furnished, and a comfortable home. As I sat with the salesperson, I did the same spiel, and it became clear that the processes between each of these companies are similar for the customer/buyer, and it just comes down to process differences in the timing, and amounts you have to pay upfront.
What was interesting about my experience in the Orbit Homes display was that, as I was chatting to the salesperson, the Queensland Manager, Site Supervisor Qld Manager and Construction Qld Manager all arrived to attend to something at the display. On their way out, the salesperson introduced them to me. What then happened was quite amazing. You have to remember … to them, I was just a potential buyer, sitting in their display on a Monday morning.
The Qld Manager had both his Site Supervisor Manager and his Construction Manager explain, in detail, their processes in place as part of building a home. (These processes will also be similar across the other builders too).
- You are assigned a customer service operator within the office and get a status update once a week.
- The site supervisor for your home reports to them to keep you updated, and you can visit site with prior arrangements.
- There’s a site start briefing with your supervisor where you confirm they have the right info about your drawings and selections.
- There’s stage inspections to check how things are progressing – so both the construction manager and site supervisor manager are across this system of checking. I was shown a book that exists for each home, with triplicate checklists that get marked off, notes made, and rectifications advised.
- There’s a manager level inspection prior to handover to the home-owner. And then you’re provided with a log book to keep a record of any defects or issues that come up as part of your 12 month maintenance warranty period, at which point you then have another visit to sort things out.
Their systems were clearly thorough and detailed, and part and parcel of delivering homes with quality and efficiency. And I’m sure each builder has a version of these systems in place.
What I was more cognizant of was the time and attention I was receiving from these three managers who I just happened to cross paths with. They were friendly, professional, patient, and attentive, and detailed in their explanations and responses to my questions. They could have simply said “hello” and been on their way, and let the salesperson continue to manage me, but they took the opportunity to share this info with me and for that I really must acknowledge their service.
Honestly, the salesperson didn’t do a lot in this process, but the 3 managers I spoke to did volumes to market Orbit Homes. I’d be interested to see how it would have gone without them there. The salesperson, in the little I did speak with him, appeared knowledgable, and his background was in airconditioning installation, so he had some understanding of construction. He offered to come see the site we wanted to buy to see what home would suit (Hallmark and Stylemaster also did this).
Orbit Homes will build around 200 – low 300 homes this year (operating in Victoria and Queensland). They have 3 levels to their products, can accommodate changes in the floor plans and they have a showroom you can view inclusions and upgrade packages.
No.4 Stylemaster [Click here for website]
OK, so by this stage, I’m about 3.5 hours into my secret shopping experience, and have not really stopped talking or listening for that time. And I’ll be honest, there was starting to be a ‘sameness’ to the processes and conversations that I was making sure I paid attention to where the differences really existed – both in the homes, and in my experience with the salesperson.
There was continued reinforcement of how important the salesperson experience was in the process too – given that it would be them I would be dealing with right up to signing on the dotted line and being committed. Also, I found myself really questioning their skills in helping me achieve great design outcomes – as opposed to finding me a home in their range that I could buy that would suit my block of land. Of course, there’s not going to be impartiality. They are earning commission on the basis of getting me to buy their product. Each had a different tact in building a relationship with me, and helping me understand what they do and how it differs from the sea of what’s available out there.
As I walked into the Stylemaster display, I was loaded down with a pile of brochures and books from the other homes, and the first thing the salesperson did was jump up and offer me a Stylemaster bag. Nice touch 😉
The display was a single storey, furnished a,nd again, a comfortable home. As I sat down with the salesperson, I ran through my spiel and he took a very different tact with it.
Firstly, when I spoke of not being fixated on a single or two storey home, but that it came down more to getting the zoning of spaces to work for our family, he actually responded to with specific information and advice in regards to this choice.
He firstly told me that a two-storey home will be around $40,000 – $50,000 more expensive than a single-storey home of the same square meterage. He broke it down …
- $19,000 for scaffolding costs
- additional lifts and cranes and machinery requirements for second-storey construction
- paying more to trades for working from heights
- timeframe is 7 – 8 weeks longer (so labour and supervisor costs are increased)
He then took me through a selection of single-storey floor plan options that worked with zoning the kids’ space and parents’ space. First one to do it. Got the same story, same process as the others. And first to show me other plans in their range … specifically hunt through the catalogue with recommendations for me to look at and consider.
The Stylemaster process is fairly similar to the other builders I visited. He was a bit more detailed in explaining what happened when in terms of my involvement, the selection process and how to maintain flexibility through the process too.
He also had schedules he’d prepared that explained the difference between the base price and additional costs to get to turnkey. He made some recommendations to manage the landscaping works separate to the building work to remove the Stylemaster margin from the costs.
It is worth thinking about how you parcel up the work that sits outside the basic construction and finishing of your home. Having a landscape contractor come in after the home is completed, to do fencing, turf, planting and pathways, means that you can directly manage their work, and only pay their margin. If you choose to leave it in the home construction package, understand you will be paying the landscaper’s margin AND the builder’s margin on top (which will be around 30%). Be aware though, if you organise it separately, that you know what will void your home warranty and what won’t. Termite management systems require certain exposure around the building perimeter, for example. Your landscaper may not be aware and you will need to be informed and in charge of ensuring work is carried out in accordance with warranty requirements.
You can make adjustments to the floor plans if you work within the structure (like lengthening the floor plan) – so you’re not modifying the shape of the roof. His recommendation was though to not redesign – to just pick an alternative floor plan. (First one to suggest this … and looking at the number of designs in everyone’s ranges, I tend to agree).
He also had a schedule showing how the displays priced out – ie what the display upgrades were worth over the base price. I appreciated the transparency.
Both he and his wife worked for the business. He was a massive advocate for Stylemaster, and his background was varied, with some construction experience in there.
Stylemaster usually build around 340 homes per year, however (as with most in the industry at the moment) they’ve had a big influx this year, with 60 contracts already taken for January.
So where to from here?
So, what does this mean if you’re planning on building a home off-the-plan? Specifically from this experience, but also informed by my general knowledge of this industry, I have these pointers for you …
- Remember the salesperson is just that. Their job is to convert you (a lead) into a purchaser (a sale). They vary in their skills, experience, and understanding of design, and what makes a home great. They are not designers.
- Understand in detail what the process is, what happens at each step and what your obligations will be (in money and time).
- Their construction times vary, interestingly. Generally it takes 4 months for a single storey, and up to 6 months for a two-storey home. Some promise faster. Just bank on it taking this long.
- Hopefully you’ve read my blog which recommends you buy the land first. Understand how the sun moves, and only look at floor plans that suit that orientation.
- Try to get a really good handle on your site costs. They are the one variable that isn’t really bedded down until you’ve paid $1,500 – $3,000 deposit (depending on the builder) to get your site survey and soil test. Some builders drop their build price knowing they can gain it back in the site costs (so they pad the site costs and their margin to do so). Ideally you’ll own the land already, and can do your own site survey and soil test prior. Or if you’re buying in a land subdivision, ask the neighbours what their soil test showed up – chances are you’ll have the same classification.
- The other variables come with time in getting to site start, which involves resolution of the contract and navigating approvals. If you’re in a hurry, be prepared to make decisions quickly to expedite things. Go into this scenario informed about what approvals you’ll need, and the timing involved.
- If you want certainty during construction in terms of delivery and budget, then make all your decisions before you sign the contract. Choose all your fixtures, fittings and finishes. Get them identified in the contract formally. Only include provisional sums in the contract if you are completely confident you’ll be able to secure the items you want for that price (when you need to secure them).
- Regardless of what they tell you about site access … legally, this is the drill – the site is the builder’s once they take occupation of it until they hand it back to you. So, any access has to be with their permission, and accompanied by them. Read this article for a good rundown on the rules around site access, and what happens if you visit it without the builder’s permission, or when they’re not there.
- Of course, do your due diligence with your builder selection to be sure you’ll get a quality end product delivered with care and detail attention.
If you’re navigating this journey of building your home off-the-plan, it can be a straightforward way of securing a home. It may not seem like that sometimes! However, at each point you make decisions, it’s from a filtered field of choice. And the field narrows with each step.
It’s a very different exercise to building a home that you design from scratch.
Basically when building off-the-plan …
- You choose a home design (and yes, there’s thousands, but a lot have similarities).
- You then select your finishes, fixtures, fittings and colours from a defined range of options.
- There’ll be too-ing and fro-ing through these two steps as you get the price right for your budget.
- And the you hit go … and the system is such that they actually like it if you leave them alone to build you your home. That’s when they’re most efficient in their process.
That’s not what I recommend though, but it is how this process (and industry) is designed to work.
If my shopping experience taught me one thing it was this …
The research works. Nutting it out works. Asking lots and lots of questions and asking people to be patient with you whilst you learn works. And shopping around works.
Why? Because it’s how you get educated.
Eyes wide open, informed and empowered. That’s what this is about, because that’s how you get confidence and clarity in the journey. You can do this. And I’m always here if you need any help – don’t go it alone if you’re overwhelmed.