The age-old question "What do women want?" was, not surprisingly, a popular topic at the International Builders' Show in Orlando, Fla., this week, since studies show women make most of the home-buying decisions.

Naturally, the next question to arise was, once you figure out what they want, how do you reach them and sell to them?

The answers, gathered from two IBS sessions on Thursday, yielded laundry lists that were light on specific features to include in a home and heavy on ways to appeal emotionally to potential women buyers.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson, a real estate broker, attorney, book author, and real estate blogger in Tulia, Texas, declared during her session called “The Art and Science of Being Indispensable to Women Buyers” that builders need to make a home something women buyers think they can’t live without—or would rather not live without.

“The American dream is still alive and well,” she said, adding that sellers need to call it a “home” not a “house” and “make buyers think that their life would be perfect if they lived in that home."

While acknowledging that’s a tall order that builders aren't used to filling, she offered examples of other products that have successfully become must-haves for consumers today, becoming “lovemarks,” a status beyond strong branding that evokes a “strong emotional relationship” with the product and “loyalty beyond reason.” As examples of products that command a high level of love as well as respect, she listed Starbucks, Apple, and Moleskine notebooks.

Homebuilders might get respect from women buyers, but it’s seldom they get the love, too. To truly attract women buyers, builders need to figure out how to evoke a passionate desire to buy their homes.

“The real estate market is tired. It’s the same old things,” Nelson said. “We have to look outside of our market for inspiration.”

Three energetic women offered tips on how to reach women buyers better via the Internet and sell them at the sales center in "Sisterhood of the Traveling Laptop: What Women Want Online and Onsite."

Meredith Oliver of Meredith Communications said women use the Internet to compare prices and search for coupons. “In our industry we don’t do much of that on our websites,” she said.

Some website suggestions include:

  • Sell lifestyle, using photos of people enjoying their homes rather than static home shots
  • Offer free giveaways
  • Allow side-by-side comparisons of floor plans
  • Include a shopping cart feature
  • “Killer” photography and videos
  • A “Like” button to create buzz on Facebook
  • Easy to find and see navigation buttons
  • Multiple navigation paths so there are several ways to get to places on the site
  • Easy to find contact information
  • Pricing
  • Printable PDF files
  • Links to related, pertinent information
  • Information about the neighborhoods as well as the surrounding areas

Carol Flammer, managing partner of mRELEVANCE, an Atlanta-based public relations and social media company specializing in residential real estate emphasized that using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, are necessary tools to reach women now.

She said 79% of moms use social media outlets and 43% use them every day. They trust other people like themselves as sources of information, so getting Facebook buzz going about their home buying experience nets referrals. Builder websites should also include links to social media.

“Moms trust other moms,” she said. That’s why having a blog or links to blogs are also good things to include on websites.

Other hot spots for women buyers include more organization in their homes, less clutter, more time to spend with their families, and saving money, she said.

Kerry Mulcrone, of  Mulcrone & Associates, a Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.-based company that evaluates new home sales agents, suggests that agents do a better job of just listening to women buyers because they will say what they want.

“Your value is in [providing] what they don’t know,” she said.

Sales agents need to create a relationship with women buyers--she calls it "chemistry." They need to do a good job of demonstrating choices in homes. “You can have this refrigerator in stainless steel or black.” And establishing credibility is crucial.

Sales teams also need to keep in mind that the sales process doesn’t end when the potential buyer walks out the door. Mulcrone said personal hand-written notes should be written and mailed afterward not just once, but several times, to bond the buyer to you.

Teresa Burney is a senior editor for Builder magazine.