Courtesy Meritage Homes

As many home builders know, design fatigue and choice paralysis are real phenomena that some buyers experience during the new-home design process. When overwhelmed with a copious amount of product options, buyers often become stressed, delay decision-making, and overall could be displeased with the process and their new home.

To take the stress out of selecting interior design finishes for new-home customers, Meritage Homes launched its Design Collections, or a designer-curated lineup of interior packages that includes coordinated flooring, cabinets, countertops, and more.

BUILDER spoke with Tracy Tannenbaum, chief marketing officer at Meritage Homes, to hear more about the research behind choice paralysis, how the company developed its curated collections, and what’s included in the streamlined packages.

BUILDER: Why do customers desire a simple and transparent design process?

Tannenbaum: From a research study we conducted through Wakefield of buyers across a variety of new-home builders coast to coast, we found that new construction home buyers faced design fatigue stemming from the overabundance of choices and a disjointed design process. This ‘choice paralysis’ often leads to stress, making it hard to make a decision. Notable takeaways from our findings underscore the desire for a simple and transparent design process:

  • Protect buyers’ time: Traditionally, buyers have had to make several visits to the design center, with nearly 40% surveyed spending more than 20 hours throughout the course of the build;
  • Give buyers peace of mind: Many buyers using the conventional approach worry they made the wrong design decisions, which can lead to buyer’s remorse and dissatisfaction; and
  • Offer clear, transparent pricing: Most buyers have a set budget they want to stick to, but in the traditional approach, the lack of transparency often leads to unexpected added costs.

Customers want a simple and transparent design process to help them shorten the design timeline, ensure design choices are cohesively curated, and stay within budget.

BUILDER: How did Meritage develop a strategy to address those customer needs?

Tannenbaum: We launched Design Collections, a transformative approach to home design, to solve for these pain points and streamline the process for our first move-up buyers. We removed the design guesswork, while still offering a variety of designer-curated choices. This enables buyers to style their dream home confidently and efficiently.

To personalize this experience further, we created our new Studio M Design Centers, which feature seven to nine regionally inspired Design Collections, plus a professional design consultant is on hand to walk owners through the details of each collection. We have done the legwork for our buyers, and these collections are designed to create a simple and satisfying experience for our home buyers. By bundling collections and upgrades, we can reduce the total cost, pass on the savings, and deliver value to the customer.

We have improved efficiencies along the way. Design Collections greatly reduces the time buyers need to spend in the design center from more than 20 hours to three hours on average, without sacrificing choice. Additionally, the upgrade packages we offer are focused on functional areas that have high consumer value and take rates, such as kitchen, master bath, lighting, and trim bundles, bringing clarity and transparency to our “non-designer” buyers.

Courtesy Meritage Homes

BUILDER: How do you provide good options to consumers without limiting selection?

Tannenbaum: Significant data-backed research was conducted to shape the Design Collections process and reduce design fatigue. For instance, we used to offer around 50 dishwasher models, and in our research found that only a couple of options were being selected by buyers more than 50% of that time. This knowledge led us to narrow our selection to the top five most frequently selected models for buyers to choose from. With a smaller set of options to choose from, the Design Collections process empowers home buyers to make confident design decisions, knowing they are getting high-quality, designer-approved finishes with clear, transparent pricing and no surprises.

Ultimately, this process doesn’t hinder buyers from adding personal touches to their homes but rather simplifies the experience overall. When curating these collections, we didn’t lose sight of the fact that buyers still want to have some sort of choice or control when designing their home.

BUILDER: What’s included in the new design collections? How are they categorized?

Tannenbaum: The foundation of a new home’s style starts with our designer-curated collections, which include all the traditional options such as flooring, cabinets, countertops, and more—and they are expertly coordinated to create a cohesive design aesthetic. In addition, buyers can choose from a set of enhancements—i.e., extending the outdoor entertaining space or adding more light or ceiling fans for increased comfort—for each room that allows them to further infuse their style into their home. Design Collections themes range from classic white to modern coastal, bold sophistication, and modern farmhouse.

BUILDER: Was the strategy developed pre-pandemic or created as a result of the pandemic?

Tannenbaum: Design Collections was strategically developed throughout 2019 and launched in January 2020. We leveraged buyer insights and consumer research to implement a more efficient design process. As with other industries, the entire home buying process had begun shifting to online prior to the pandemic, due to increased consumer demand for digital and virtual options. We have continued to build out our online resources to accommodate this shift, which was further accelerated by COVID-19.

Courtesy Meritage Homes

BUILDER: Will curated collections help move the buying process online? If so, how?

Tannenbaum: With the increasing demand of digital solutions, we are constantly adapting to offer our buyers the ability to complete the entire purchase from search to closing to design online. With Design Collections, home buyers can make decisions in person or via virtual design appointments. Oftentimes, they will leverage a hybrid of in-person and digital steps to make their selections. Customers can buy with confidence, without having to physically see the home, as the digital solutions showcase how it feels to live in a Meritage home via detailed photos, floor plans, online video tours, interactive maps, and digital community brochures with a few clicks. To accommodate consumers’ lifestyles, Meritage also recently launched self-guided tours in partnership with UTour in select locations. Prospective buyers can sign up for a no-contact tour of a model home on the website, and then tour the home after hours at their convenience.

BUILDER: What feedback have you received since creating the streamlined packages?

Tannenbaum: The feedback from our buyers and sales specialists has been very positive, highlighting the model’s transparency and their confidence in their choices.

  • “… I like how quick and easy the whole design center process was. I also enjoyed the diverse selection of collections offered.” —Houston home buyer
  • “… it was very informative seeing collections laid out so well and talking to the knowledgeable staff made it very clear for us. We were in the market for quite some time and visited other studios with other builders. This was by far the most helpful layout and staff we had experienced, everyone was so helpful, nice, accommodating and the studio is beautiful.” —Colorado home buyer
  • “It was very informative but most importantly it was a simple process, we were able to get all of our questions answered in what seemed to be a short amount of time.” —Colorado home buyer

BUILDER: What has been the biggest takeaway, and what will the company adapt in the future?

Tannenbaum: At Meritage, we’ve seen great success in our business by proactively evolving our strategy to better meet the needs of our entry-level and first move-up buyers. We understand these groups are time-strapped and budget conscious, and our offerings address evolving market trends and consumer preferences with quality and affordability in mind.

In addition to transforming the home interior design process, we have relentlessly pursued building better, greener, and healthier homes over the past decade. It is one of our core beliefs, and we know it sets us apart in the market. We focus on creating thoughtfully designed homes with energy-efficient, sustainable features—spray foam insulation to maintain healthier indoor air quality, Energy Star appliances, low-E windows, sealed ducts, multispeed HVACs, etc. We will continue to work to provide the best in designer-curated trends and home innovation that will create healthier, smarter, and beautiful homes for our buyers.