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Sustainability Victoria developed the Zero Net Carbon Homes (ZNC) pilot program to support the home builder market and has been working with some of Australia’s leading residential builders and a developer to support this group and the wider industry to develop and sell energy-efficient homes.
The goal of the ZNC Homes program was to design, construct and as-built verify (ensure that homes achieved their design briefs) 15 homes.
For most of us, buying a house is the biggest purchase we will make in our lives. Navigating the sales process can be daunting for buyers looking to build their own home and they can soon find themselves inundated with many choices to make.
Research shows that buyers generally focus on getting a home design, layout and size to suit their lifestyle. Quality and comfort are rated higher than sustainability features. This could be because buyers do not understand the ongoing benefits sustainability features can provide. When we link sustainability to what consumers value, we can encourage them to invest in energy efficient features.
Selling sustainability is difficult and often complex, with builders and developers convinced that home buyers do not want sustainable homes.
“Our initial research showed that builders were unsure how to market and sell sustainable homes, because they were perceived as costly,” explained Claire Ferres Miles, Sustainability Victoria’s CEO.
“Builders were unsure if they could design and build this kind of home at an effective price point. This program shows ZNC homes are an achievable and affordable product and with the right sales approach and marketing, can be presented as an attractive value proposition to buyers.”
“Our new sales training module and training guide (currently under development) will help builders and developers understand the right approach to sell and market ZNC homes.”
There was minimal supply of ZNC homes and a trend by volume home builders away from offering sustainability inclusions. The reasons included:
Research showed that the program needed to focus on how Victorian home builders and consumers think about and act on building and buying ZNC homes.
Several barriers to sustainable housing were identified including:
Source: Martin, F. (2013), “Towards sustainable volume housing: A tale of three builders” (phD thesis) pp88-89.
Further research identified key strategies to increase initial uptake of sustainable practices including:
Source: Martin, F. (2013), “Towards sustainable volume housing: A tale of three builders” (phD thesis).
To best support and guide Victorian home builders to sell and market ZNC homes, Sustainability Victoria commissioned research through Colmar Brunton (now Kantar), to understand the complete customer journey. This was based on two purchase pathways, house and land and land and house, from contemplating a new home purchase to pre-purchase, purchase, build, and post-build phases.
The research objectives were to:
One of the key learnings from this research was that consumers responded favourably to messages that focused on ‘cost savings’, ‘comfort’ and ‘quality’ rather than ‘sustainability’.
Colmar Brunton research key findings:
Sustainability Victoria also engaged Today Strategic Design to undertake customer journey mapping to support SJD Homes.
The customer journey map provided strategic insights into how and when to engage consumers in discussions around introducing sustainability outcomes, including building a ZNC home.
On behalf of Stockland and their builder partners, Creation Homes and Vcon Homes, Sustainability Victoria also engaged Today Strategic Design to undertake customer insight mapping. The objective was to build a greater understanding of how to effectively engage customers in a sustainability conversation and to build an understanding of the value and benefits of including sustainability features in the design and construction of their new homes.
Key outcomes of the work included:
The display home or village is the most utilised source of information for home buyers. Buyers may visit as many as 30 to 40 display homes before making a final decision.
Inside the display home, builders can influence buyers through conversations with sales representatives and hard copy information available for collection.
When Metricon launched its first ZNC home on Sustainable House Day in September 2019, they reinforced customer benefits – and not environmental benefits – by installing signage throughout the display home which focused on the benefits of the sustainability features. These included increased home comfort and lower energy bills. The signage was also important in drawing attention to features that are often ‘invisible’, such as greater levels of insulation that are hidden behind plasterboard.
Sales teams have direct contact with buyers. To sell sustainable homes, salespeople need to understand how and why they are built, and how to link benefits to buyer aspirations.
A perceived lack of interest in sustainable homes can stop salespeople from even broaching these conversations. But consumers need to know that investing in sustainability can pay them back handsomely in comfort, quality and lower running costs.
Building energy-efficient homes is only one part of the process and buyers need to be convinced of the benefits too. It’s crucial for builders and developers to support customers to understand the value of investing in a sustainable home and to make the link between energy efficiency, cost savings, comfort and quality. For example, improving energy efficiency creates a more comfortable home and with lower running costs – this can be a major selling point for buyers, especially if they plan to live in the home for a long time.
“Our research shows that when marketing a sustainable product, customers can be confused and unclear on the benefits. Emphasizing and selling benefits, not features, is key,” said Ferres Miles, Sustainability Victoria's CEO.
Builders need to use simple and emotive messaging that speaks of immediate and tangible benefits to the customer, such as having ‘more money in your pocket’ and an increasing the level of comfort for ‘all year-round enjoyment - warmer in winter, cooler in summer’. Messages conveying sustainable benefits are less well received.
The quality of the build was often ranked high, if not first, by most research participants. But this opportunity to link sustainability features with customer aspirations of ‘comfort’ was often lost.
It’s easy to see how sustainability features like double glazing, better insulation and air-tightness will improve the quality of the home, as well as livability. Together, they improve thermal comfort, reduce draughts, and reduce external noises – all of which tap into the idea of building a much desired ‘peaceful haven’.
Giving buyers easy-to-read literature to compare the cost impact of sustainability features can help consumers understand why it is good value to invest. It also provides clear data to dispel the myth that these features are relatively expensive with minimal return.
“The main motivator shaping the choice of a new home was to build a personalised ‘castle’ or ‘paradise’ where the buyer and their family can live.”
Research carried out by Colmar Brunton for Sustainability Victoria.