Pulte Homes and Centex Homes ranked highest among home builders in customer satisfaction in the largest number of markets, according to a J.D. Power and Associates study released today.

The 2005 New-Home Builder Customer Satisfaction Study found that Pulte Homes, including its Del Webb and DiVosta home brands, ranked highest in customer satisfaction in 16 of 30 markets studied – up from 14 out of 25 markets in 2004. Centex Homes, including its Fox & Jacobs brand, meanwhile, ranked highest in 10 markets – up from three markets in 2004.

Other builders that earned top ranking in individual markets include: Ashton Woods (in Atlanta), Winchester (tied for top ranking with Centex and Pulte in Washington, D.C.), Farnsworth (in Phoenix), NV Homes (in Baltimore), and Shea (in Denver-Colorado Springs, Colo., and Los Angeles-Ventura counties).

The 2005 New-Home Builder Customer Satisfaction Study is based on responses of 73,353 buyers of new single-family homes who provided feedback after living in their homes from four to 18 months, on average. More comprehensive builder ratings for all 30 U.S. markets as well as in Toronto are available online at http://www.jdpower.com/. J.D. Power and Associates, based in Westlake Village, Calif., is a global marketing information services firm that operates in key business sectors including market research, forecasting, consulting, training and customer satisfaction. It is a business unit of The McGraw-Hill Cos.

“While Pulte remains a consistent standout in the study, Centex has pulled ahead of its competition in several markets, raising the bar on customer satisfaction for all builders,” said Paula Sonkin, executive director of the real estate industries practice at J.D. Power and Associates. “These are great examples of builders putting a strong focus on creating relationships with their customers and listening to their needs. Our study finds that high levels of customer satisfaction result in a higher likelihood of buyers recommending the builder to others, which is vital in this intensely competitive industry.”

The 2005 study includes satisfaction ratings of builders in 30 of the largest U.S. home-building markets. Three new markets have been added to the study in 2005: Albuquerque, N.M.; Baltimore and Portland, Ore. Additionally, Southern California has been segmented into three separate markets: Inland Empire; Orange County and Los Angeles/Ventura County.

Other markets included in the study are: Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Dallas-Ft. Worth; Denver-Colorado Springs; Detroit; Ft. Myers-Naples, Fla.; Houston; Jacksonville, Fla.; Las Vegas; Minneapolis; Orlando, Fla.; Palm Beach, Fla.; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Sacramento, Calif.; San Francisco Bay Area; San Diego; Seattle-Tacoma, Wash.; Tampa, Fla.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Washington, D.C.

For the first time, the study incorporates customer ratings of the construction manager as a driver of overall customer satisfaction with new-home builders, J.D. Power and Associates reported. The factor was included in the study to reflect the more visible role builders have begun giving construction managers as a response to heightened customer interest in the building process. The study finds that as consumers become more active in communicating with their home builders during the construction process, construction managers are nearly as important in influencing customer satisfaction as the builder’s sales staff.

“In years past, the construction manager worked primarily behind the scenes with little interaction with homeowners,” Sonkin said. “Today, builders realize that everyone involved in the building process – from the salespeople to the construction staff – are representatives of the company. By proactively communicating with owners at every step of the process, builders create a huge opportunity to develop strong relationships with owners, which can ultimately lead to higher customer satisfaction with the finished home.”

The study also finds that truly delighted home buyers (those rating their builders a 10 on a 10-point scale) recommend their builder to nearly twice as many people compared to the average new-home buyer.

Following three years of steady improvement, customer satisfaction has stabilized overall. Markets experiencing the greatest improvement include Seattle-Tacoma, Houston and San Diego.

J.D. Power and Associates has also expanded its research in the home-building industry internationally. The 2005 Canadian New-Home Builder Customer Satisfaction Study, also released today, measures satisfaction with builders in the greater Toronto area.

Austin and Orange County topped other markets in Overall Satisfaction Index scores among home buyers, J.D. Power and Associates reported, while Philadelphia and Jacksonville ranked lowest for overall customer satisfaction. Overall satisfaction dropped most (down 10 points) in Las Vegas since the 2004 survey, and improved the most (up seven points) in the Seattle-Tacoma area.

Builders’ warranties and customer service were the most important factors driving customer satisfaction, according to the study, followed by home readiness, builders’ sales staff, construction managers, and quality of workmanship and materials. The lowest priorities in overall satisfaction are location and recreational facilities, the study found.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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