This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Susan Paul of Costa Verde Homes joins Greg and Kevin to discuss the benefits of being a smaller home builder.
Being a smaller home builder can offer many advantages to the home buyer journey. Susan says, “…we're able to, I think, react to the consumers much easier, being smaller and able to navigate quicker.”
While there are constraints to being a smaller home builder, Susan says that should not impede marketing efforts. She explains, “…we can still do some really cool things. I just need to get a little bit more creative sometimes in how that can get done.”
Limitations to size, budget, and resources should promote innovation and focus. Susan explains, “…do I have an unlimited budget? No, nobody does. So, I think what it does is it allows me to really hone in on what's important, right? Cause you can have 20 things that are your wishlist, but what's the one thing that's going to really make a difference and can we make that happen at some level? So, for me, it's kind of more of let's just make it work and figure out a way to get it done. So, I don't look at it as a frustration. I kind of look at it as a challenge.”
Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about the pros of being a small home builder.
About the Guest:
Susan Paul is a Principal of Costa Verde Homes, a new home builder in Phoenix. She serves as the Designated Broker and VP of Sales and Marketing. Prior to Costa Verde Homes, Susan was the Designated Broker and Co-Owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Move Time Realty for 9 years. BHGRE had 2 offices in the Valley and 70+ Realtors. Susan has worked in all aspects of real estate including new homes, distressed properties, residential resale, and property management.
Susan’s philosophy is a one-team, one-dream approach where each member of her team is held accountable for their responsibilities through team and individualized coaching sessions. Susan has been trained by the Ritz Carlton approach for customer experience and has used that training to coach Realtors and help them improve their businesses. Prior to establishing Move Time Realty, she served as VP of Sales and Marketing for Hacienda Builders overseeing all marketing functions and sales associate training. She has also served as the General Sales Manager and Marketing Manager for Pulte Homes/Del Webb throughout the Phoenix area as well as the Sales Manager for the first-ever active adult country club concept for Del Webb. Susan has had oversight and managed over 10,000 real estate transactions throughout her career.
Susan and her husband, Randy live in Chandler and their 3 kids are in New York and Phoenix. In her spare time, Susan enjoys riding on their Harley Davidson, traveling, and cooking.
Greg Bray: [00:00:00] Hello everybody, and welcome to today's episode of The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine,
Kevin Weitzel: and I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse.
Greg Bray: And we are excited today to welcome to the show, Susan Paul. Susan is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Costa Verde Homes. Welcome, Susan. Thanks for joining us.
Susan Paul: Thanks so much for having me.
Greg Bray: Well, Susan, let's start with that quick introduction and help us to get to know you better.
Susan Paul: Sure. Well, I've been in the home building and real estate industry for about 36 years. I started with some of the [00:01:00] largest public home builders in the nation and cut my teeth through there for over 20 years. I took a small hiatus when the little building industry took a dip in 2008 here in Arizona and decided that it'd be fun to open up a real estate franchise for brokerage.
So, I was a broker/owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Move Time Realty for about 10 years where we had two opposites and 75 fabulous realtors that worked with us, and then I went back to my roots and what's in my blood, which is home building with my two partners and we formed Costa Verde Homes in 2015.
Kevin Weitzel: Well, that's the business side of you, and there's a correct answer to this question. We need to know something personal, number one, and number two, Dyna, Softail, or Touring bike? What's your choice?
Susan Paul: So, I do love Harleys. That's for sure. I am a Harley rider. We do have a Softail that's custom-made for me and my husband, and we enjoy riding all over Arizona. Been to Sturgis, done the whole [00:02:00] thing, and that is my alter ego of Suzanne on the bike, not Susan.
Greg Bray: Oh, it's a different name.
Kevin Weitzel: So, they all have different names and sometimes they wear a black vest with a little patch on it and it has a little name and there's like the Gunner or the Sergeant at Arms, you know, all these different names, but, Softail is the right answer. Out of my nine Harleys that I've had, all but 1, 2, 3 were Softails.
Susan Paul: They're the best.
Kevin Weitzel: They are.
Greg Bray: I'm feeling left out now. I've never ridden a Harley. So, guess I'm gonna have to add something to the bucket list for future. So, Susan, did I understand correctly that you actually helped start the builder though this time?
Susan Paul: Absolutely. Me and my two partners, we are all owners and partners of Costa Verde Homes and we come with our own backgrounds from the building industry. So, I, you know, run the sales and marketing side. One of my other partners is our CFO and our other partner is the GC and general contractor and runs the operations, and we all come from small and large builders from our industry.
Kevin Weitzel: Let me follow something on here [00:03:00] because a lot of people in life take the easy path. Being that you had such a storied history in the home building industry, and you worked for some monsters out there. Not monsters in a bad way, but just monsters, like in large-scale home builders, why would you take the financial risk and the headaches that come with being one of the bosses of a small startup builder?
Susan Paul: You know, when we decided to do this, we really wanted to embrace the fact that we come from the different practicalities of what it takes to be a successful home builder, and the three of us really had what we thought was that magic sauce. So, I've got the passion for sales and marketing and training salespeople. It's what I love to do with what I've done for over 30 years, and my other two partners have the expertise in the other, and we really thought that between the three us, we could be small and local and nimble enough to be able to react to anything that happens in our marketplace.
Not realizing how much fun that was actually going to be right now, but we have the ability to react and be boots on the [00:04:00] ground really locally. Knowing that we came from some of those large companies where it takes five meetings to decide what color red you're going to do. We can just meet and, you know, decide over a cup of coffee in our office that we're going to make this change. We implement it and we're able to, I think, react to the consumers much easier, being smaller and able to navigate quicker.
Greg Bray: So, give us that quick overview of, you know, where you're building, what types of homes, and what type of buyers that you're working with.
Susan Paul: Sure. Currently, we're building in Casa Grande. It's a single-family home product, anywhere from 1855 to 3000 square feet. We definitely tend towards more of the contemporary look and feel in our floor plans. We try to keep that through everything that we do from the fit and finishes to the colors, to even we're doing a metal roof for the first time on one of our elevations, which is exciting to see, and certainly not out there anywhere else in Casa Grande.
Then we're also, because [00:05:00] of our nimbleness, we attract a lot of conversations from people and we were asked to actually, we're doing a 29 unit community in Chandler, and we were approached by the infamous build to rent world and we're now just building them for an investor who's actually going to rent them out. So, that one will not be going to the consumer, but we are able to, again, really change in what we want to do because of who we are and how flexible we are.
Kevin Weitzel: So, you happen to be in my backyard. I'm in Gilbert, Arizona, and you guys build in our neck of the woods, and you are known for having a very affordable price point. Number one, how do you do it, and number two, are you stealing your materials from the other builders?
Susan Paul: Well, materials in general right now is going to give me like a heebie jeebie thought, so we won't talk about windows and we're not going to talk about that kind of stuff today, You know, I think that our group, we've been in the industry for a while. Troy Fluegel, who's our VP of operations, [00:06:00] he has just a tremendous amount of insight and contacts. So, we try to, when we're developing our product, we try to really include a lot of features that some of our competitors do not.
We don't and we'd never have had the premise of, you know, you're going to have 78 pages of options. That's just not how we can operate. We're not big enough to do that. So, what we do is we try to give the consumer more included features and then package things that we say, you know what? Here's a lot of choices that you can still have cause I do think it's important for the consumer to have choices. It's not, you know, this is the house you have and you only have one selection, but we try to take some of the anxiety about going to a design studio and all those things for our price point would not work for the buyers that we attract.
Greg Bray: So, Susan, can you give us just a little more detail? We've used the word small and large as far as builders, right, and when you're talking about a national builder, everybody [00:07:00] feels like I'm a small builder because I'm not them, right? Can you give us just a little more context on what you mean by small?
Susan Paul: We're probably about 50 to 70 homes a year.
Greg Bray: Okay. All right. Awesome. That gives us a little, gives our listeners at least a point of reference, right.
Kevin Weitzel: No. It's funny that you actually asked that question because it is funny when I talk to builders around the country, you know, I'll get a builder that says, oh, we're just a small builder and they build like 700 homes. I'm like, that's not a small builder, man.
Greg Bray: It's all what you're comparing it to, right.
Kevin Weitzel: I think so. Yeah.
Greg Bray: So, Susan for your company, you know, you've got to build from scratch, right, your team and everything else, and how you wanted to do it, which on some level is a lot of work. Another way, it's really nice, right? Get to do it your way. So, so how did you go about deciding how you wanted to kind of put together a sales and marketing team starting kind of from scratch and could do whatever you wanted?
Susan Paul: Well, you're looking at the sales and marketing team and you're hearing the sales and marketing team right now. I am the only person in the sales and marketing world. So, it was pretty easy to hire myself and train myself, but we do have a [00:08:00] wonderful onsite agent who's been us, been with me actually, since my days with one of the largest home builders in the country. He decided to join us in 2015 and when we're very happy to have him and we still do our trainings every week just as I did back in the day.
So, whether it's learning personalities or going out and seeing how to site and how to do with just all the basics. In this market, especially when things are so crazy, I don't think you can forget the basics. I think it's more important than ever. So, he's just somebody that knows how important I feel training is and so he's been with us for seven years and we also have just one other person in the office. She actually joined us back when I had the brokerage and she wanted to learn about the new home world and she's embraced it and all its craziness, and again, just a real go-getter attitude. To me, it's all about attitude. I can't train attitude. I can train anything else, but I can't train attitude.
Greg Bray: Well, I'm even more [00:09:00] grateful you're willing to spend time with us when you're doing it all by yourself. I'm sure you're pretty busy trying to keep up with all that, so but you've got to have some partners that help, right? How do you decide whether you want to do it all by yourself versus bring somebody in-house or work with an agency or some other type of partner?
Susan Paul: My partners and I, we talk all the time. Again, we were a very small, close-knit group. So, when there's something that idea that I have to do sales and marketing, such as interactive floor plans with OutHouse. If I could give a shout-out to Kevin and his team.
Kevin Weitzel: Wahoo!
Susan Paul: I had never done interactive floor plans when I was doing marketing for the big builders that wasn't in existence back then. We had some pretty cool websites we thought, but we didn't have that. So, those ideas came to mind, and you know, I talked to Kevin and his team and we talked about what we wanted to do and how we could implement it for our scale, and then I'd go back and my partners and I, we walked through everything, see how it's going to benefit us.
Is it going to really help the buyers get through that sales funnel a little bit quicker? What is it going to be? You know, what bugaboos could [00:10:00] happen? You know, what can we do? And then we decide if it's something we want to move forward with and we do. I basically take the reins on that one and work within this case, Kevin and his team, and get everything done and it was pretty fun.
Greg Bray: Well, Kevin, you should get her to write all that down so you can have a nice testimonial.
Kevin Weitzel: Yeah. I need to, I need to hit you up for a testimonial. That was outstanding. I love it.
Greg Bray: Well, Susan, how do you kind of decide what part of your efforts you want to focus on digital versus the more traditional marketing activities out there?
Susan Paul: I'm being slowly pulled into the digital world. I think I'm firmly planted in the other side for sure, but I do recognize the importance of what the consumer experience needs to be. I do spend a lot of time on other builders' websites. I'll be very honest about that. I think we can all learn from each other. Again, given our scope, obviously, there's things that we just aren't able to do at this time, but I'm always investigating. I'm always asking questions. I think that's [00:11:00] probably one of the things that I tend to do a lot of is I just ask a lot of questions of other people, of what I see they're doing and what's successful, and maybe what some of their pain points were, and then I can see if it's something that might work in our world.
Greg Bray: Has there been one of those decisions you've made that you were just like, wow, this works so much better than I ever dreamed it would, some tool or, you know, activity or marketing event that just way exceeded expectations?
Susan Paul: I go back to when I was working with some of the larger builders and we did a lot of consumer experience. I was working in communities that dealt with a lot of active adults without saying any names and it was all about the experience and I take those times and I bring those forward. So, whether it's, I don't know if I can say it without getting proprietary, but things that we did like a trick or treat spooktacular where we would decorate models and have the local kids come and trick or treat from house to house.
We can't do those on big scales, but we can certainly do [00:12:00] those on smaller scales. Right? So, even though we might only have two models. Wouldn't it be fun to decorate those model homes and invite local kids to come to a safe place to do their trick or treating where they know that you know, it's just going to be kind of fun? So, those types of experiences I try to bring forward any way I can.
Greg Bray: Just thinking about my kid trick or treating in two houses. You'd see them in a loop. Just going back and forth the whole time.
Susan Paul: Right, Exactly. So, you have to then, bring things outdoors and make it fun for outside so they can really spend a couple of hours, but I think it's kind of nice for families to know that they can go to a place possibly and just have their kids have a good time for a few hours without going all the way up and down the streets as long as you have enough activities to keep the kids busy.
Greg Bray: Definitely. Well, what types of expectation changes are you seeing from buyers, you know, over the last few years, especially related to their desire to learn more and interact more digitally with you and the company?
Susan Paul: I think that everyone wants instantaneous information. What can you tell me now? [00:13:00] What can I get from you that I don't have to actually talk to you, Susan or anybody? I just want to get the information. I don't want to be sold anything. I want to be able to gather the information myself, and then when I'm ready and I have questions, I just want to make sure I can reach out and someone's going to respond. So, I think as much information as we can put out for the consumer where they can, you know, start to play with a floor plan, maybe see how their furniture might fit into a home.
You know, what I kind of like is when I know that they're playing on our site and I see what houses they're looking for. That's when me and our onsite agent really have that insider's kind of information for when they do come up to the sales office. It's kind of like one of those wows. How did they know that I wanted to see this house? Right? Or how did they know I like to cook cause they'd been playing with the entertaining kitchen for three months on our website? So, we can gear our conversation to them using, you know, just words about the kitchen and all of a sudden their eyes light up [00:14:00] and it's like, wow, this person really gets me. So, we really enjoy that tool and we use it a lot.
Greg Bray: Tell us a little bit more about how you're mining that data to really engage them with, hey, we know a little bit about you before you get here. I don't think a lot of people are taking full advantage of that the way they could.
Susan Paul: When someone is playing on the website and we know that they're looking at a specific home plan, obviously I get that information and I then use that with my training, with our onsite agent. So, we go through that. We see what they're looking at. Obviously, they're invited out to the sales office and models and things like that, and we kind of, you know, have that secret sauce kind of thing that we know already what they're liking. So, we'll just infiltrate that into the conversation.
I'm a foodie by nature, so I love to talk about kitchens and entertaining. Someone's looking at one of our plans. We totally can get into it with them and we just walk them through maybe a house that's being built out in the field. Again, we only have two models, but we are building others in the field of our other plans.[00:15:00]
So, we'll walk them through that entertaining kitchen. When Doug, our onsite agent, knows that that's their hotspot, so to speak, you know, we'll just sit there. You know, we'll just let them kind of take it all in and kind of talk through how they're going to use it. What's their first meal that they're going to cook in this kitchen and they get super excited and all of a sudden, a half an hour goes by and it's pretty much, you know, visit the house for us kind of thing. It's a great tool.
Greg Bray: Yeah, Kevin, I think a lot of folks who don't recognize that there's some of that data available behind those interactive floorplans.
Kevin Weitzel: I'm actually aghast at how often I run into builders that don't even go into the back end to even look at the safe plans. I'm like, do you not realize that gold, the nuggets that are there, the information. You could have a much more meaningful conversation with a potential buyer just by looking at how they've configured their home on an IFP or looking at what lots they're looking at on a site plan. In my case, if I'm going into an internet site plan, I save a lot. I don't want to be near a playground. I don't [00:16:00] like the sound of kids. I'm that age now, where I just don't want to hear kids. So yeah, no playground adjacent plots for me.
Greg Bray: Oh, I learn something new about Kevin every time we do this. He doesn't like kids. Okay. The sound of kids.
Kevin Weitzel: The sound of kids.
Greg Bray: It's the sound of kids, right? Yes.
Kevin Weitzel: The sound of kids.
Greg Bray: Quiet kids are very good. Right?
Kevin Weitzel: Yes.
Greg Bray: All right back to Susan. Kevin, it's not all about you.
Kevin Weitzel: I know it's not. The earth's axis for some reason does not revolve around my point of origin, I guess.
Greg Bray: So, Susan, are there other statistics or metrics that you use besides kind of the stuff we were just talking about with the floor plans to kind of help you measure how your activities and marketing is working?
Susan Paul: Obviously, regarding our website and everything, we always look at, you know, the stickiness of each page and what people are looking at. How long they're staying on a page? You know, if someone is completely staying on a particular floor plan for a long time. What pages are working? Things like that I think is really [00:17:00] important.
I think refreshing content is super important for us. Again, when we talk about our sales and marketing team, that's usually me and a video, depending on what color green shirt I want to wear for Costa Verde that day. So, just rotating content all the time. Keeping it fresh. Keeping it just really conversational and informational.
You know, does somebody know what cathedralized insulation actually is and why it's kind of cool? I don't know, but we try to show that. Do they know why the post-tension beams and rods are there and why we tell them not to cut them? So, those kinds of things we try to share.
When we do a video and we post it on Facebook, how many views are we getting? Are people commenting on them? So, I think for us again, because it's such a small core group of who we have here, just my partners, Matt, Troy, and myself basically are the people that are here with Angela and everything at the front desk.
I just deep dive into everything. What worked? What got comments? What people didn't like? What they do like?[00:18:00] And just knowing that we can just keep trying something new. You know, I think it's always okay to just try something different, try something new. If it doesn't work the first time, reinvent it, tweak it a little bit and try it again.
Greg Bray: Do you find that you're able to get more engagement than some of your competitors with some of the videos and the more personal type of connection? I mean, I think, to me, if I were to walk in and go, oh, that's the person who was in the video. I already feel a little bit of a connection, right, because I've heard you speak. I know a little bit about you. It's not a stranger who's going to sell me something in the same way. Is that an experience that you've seen happen or is that just me not really understanding?
Susan Paul: No, I think it, does work. You know, I'm not in the field a lot on the sales office. Doug is there all the time, but Doug, I had him do videos for that exact reason. So, as we were building our models, Doug was doing the videos, and I think there is that connection, right? Because everyone is online all the time and a lot of times they don't see an actual person they're just checking [00:19:00] on data and clicking this box, or maybe a chatbot comes up, but there's no face. There's no voice to that, and I think the face and the voice are so important to have that person-to-person connection. So, when someone does come into the office, they're like, oh yeah, Doug, I saw you. You were showing us that stair rail and it kind of helps break the ice.
Kevin Weitzel: And when Doug shot those videos, did he adorn his face with beautiful sideburns?
Susan Paul: I asked him to, but he did not, but it's a good suggestion for next time.
Kevin Weitzel: It's the newest, latest, greatest thing.
Greg Bray: Kevin's close enough if you need a different spokesperson for your videos. It's his side gig now.
Kevin Weitzel: I will. I will show up to community rollouts as fat Elvis. I will do it.
Greg Bray: Oh, gosh, we're having too much fun today. Well, Susan, what are some of the things that you're looking ahead to, maybe trends that are coming, that you're going, oh, you know what? We need to start getting ready for that now.
Susan Paul: I'm always looking at everything. I was on a session yesterday with some folks that you guys know and talking about buy now buttons and all [00:20:00] kinds of things. I think for us, we're just going to continue to try to evolve our website. Try to continue to make it easier for the consumer to reach us if they do have questions. So, chatbots possibly, and just remember that comes to me. So, when someone is going on the website and we need to answer things, you know, I just want to make sure that if it's a live chat I'm available to do that, but if it's just a chatbot, definitely looking at some of the things like that.
I just always want to remember to keep it personal for the consumer. I want them to feel that they know who we are as Costa Verde Homes and that we're here for them, and just try to make it as easy as we can. So, looking at enhancing our website a little bit more possibly is one of the things that I'm looking forward to.
Kevin Weitzel: So, I happen to know that there are people that look up to you because you are a veteran in the industry for advice and how you're doing things, and they're actually watching your website to see what you're doing. Who do you look to as an inspiration and or as a mentor?[00:21:00] Where are you getting your guidance from?
Susan Paul: I had an incredible mentor that now runs a very large home building company, but she was my mentor for probably about 15 years. I always go back to our conversations all the time. We don't get to talk as often as we used to given her schedule. She always taught me about putting people first. I use that every day. I'm always trying to put people first. Always trying to lift people up, especially as a woman in the real estate business industry. I think that our voices sometimes don't get heard as much. So, I'm always an advocate for putting people forward and trying to lift people up to be their best selves.
As far as where I look for inspiration, right now. I do just a ton of research. If I find somebody on LinkedIn that I just find inspirational, I'll just dig deep and start connecting and asking questions. I have a lot of contacts from my past world and I'm always reaching out to people.
I do a lot of website investigations, [00:22:00] a lot of YouTube. I do a lot of that too. So, I'm just constantly learning. I'm asking questions of everybody that I meet and I try to get out and expand my horizons a little bit and push myself out of my comfort zone as much as I can, so I can continue to grow.
Greg Bray: Susan, do you ever get frustrated with the gosh, if we were a big builder, I'd have a budget to do X, Y, and Z that I just can't do because of where we're at right now, and how do you work through that? There's only so much to go around, right, resource constraints that get in the way sometimes of the big ideas.
Susan Paul: Back in the day, my budget had lots of zeros in it and it was super fun to spend that money, but I think what Costa Verde homes has taught me anyway, as one of the partners of the company, is we can still do some really cool things. I just need to get a little bit more creative sometimes and how that can get done.
You know, the partners that we have, the collaborators that we work with, do I have an unlimited budget? No, nobody does. So, I think what it does is it [00:23:00] allows me to really hone in on what's important, right? Cause you can have 20 things that are your wishlist, but what's the one thing that's going to really make a difference and can we make that happen at some level? So, for me, it's kind of more of let's just make it work and figure out a way to get it done. So, I don't look at it as a frustration. I kind of look at it as a challenge.
Greg Bray: So, any last words of advice, Susan, for those who are listening today that you want to get out to the world?
Susan Paul: Just remember that we are so fortunate to be able to do what we do each and every day and touch other people's lives in ways that we'll never know sometimes and just be grateful. I'm very grateful that I'm able to be here and I really appreciate you guys allowing me to speak today.
Kevin Weitzel: We appreciate you.
Greg Bray: Yeah. Susan, we're really grateful for your time. If somebody out there wants to get in touch and connect, what's the best way for them to reach out?
Susan Paul: They can call me. My cell phone number is 602-920-2455 or my email at firstname.lastname@example.org.[00:24:00]
Greg Bray: Great. Well, thanks again, Susan, for sharing your experiences with us today, and thank you everybody for listening to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine,
Kevin Weitzel: and I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse. Thank you.