Managing Our Buyers’ Expectations (Part I)

The difference between a ‘complete’ home and a ‘finished’ home
By Bob Mirman

When it comes to defining home complete vs. home finished, I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not so sure…
Home builders and scholars have been wrestling with this terminology since the construction of the first mud hut. At a recent linguistic conference in Milan, Dr. Guido Magdeleni was asked to define the distinction between ‘complete’ and ‘finished’. His response: “When you marry the right woman, you are complete. If you marry the wrong woman, you are finished. And if the right one catches you with the wrong one, you are completely finished.”

(Is it my imagination, or do Italians seem to have an enviable knack of putting things in easy-to-understand terms?)
‘Complete vs. finished’ is not an important terminological distinction to home buyers who just expect their home to be delivered on the promised date in pristine move-in condition. Complete. Finished. Done.

And why not? Unless you tell them differently, home buyers naturally assume that their new home will not require any additional work following the move-in date. In part, that’s why they purchased a new home instead of a resale: They didn’t want to have to deal with the typical stream of annoying improvements usually required after moving into a resale property.
Consider this: Buy a new car recently? You proudly climb into your car and drive off the lot.


• Do you expect every aspect of your new car to work perfectly? (Absolutely.)

• Would you be pleased to hear your sales person tell you that “…there are a few items which still need to be completed” during the next few weeks? (Absolutely not.)
Today’s savvy consumers, increasingly acclimated to reading reviews on Yelp and Amazon, totally expect their home to be in perfect move-in condition…even if you don’t overtly promise this.
Let’s get real: When was the last time you (or any of your competitors) actually built a perfect home? Then why do so many builders allow their staff to even infer the delivery of a problem-fee home at move-in?

Here is a simple test to determine if you are one of these builders: Look at your customer survey ratings for (1) Overall Quality, and (2) “Did your builder meet its commitments?” Is your score on these two topics lower than you feel is realistically deserved? If so, your customers’ low ratings are probably based upon a combination of:

• Your team’s failure to meet the overt or inferred expectations they offered. i.e. customers rate ‘quality’ based on what they expected, not on your definition of quality

• Your personal delusions about your consistent delivery of quality homes

More often than not, the primary cause of poor ratings is your team’s failure to properly set realistic expectations for quality, the likelihood of a punch list after move-in, the speed of completion of remaining items, etc.

Always define your terminology and standards from your customers’ perspective. When it comes to your all-important reputation, your buyers expect their new home to be complete…or you are finished.

Bob Mirman is the founder/CEO of 32-year old Eliant, the building industry’s largest firm specializing in managing the customer experience. He may be reached at

Next month: A summary of the key tactics used by our highest rated builders to pro-actively control buyers’ expectations.

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