Ideal Homes' co-owner Vernon McKown
Ideal Homes' co-owner Vernon McKown

Norman, Okla.-based Ideal Homes has managed to persevere in a down market, closing 350 homes in 2010, slightly up from recent years. Co-owner Vernon McKown, president of sales, shares how the company’s marketing efforts play a key role in its success. How long have you been in the green home building business?
Ideal Homes began in 1990 as a typical little startup company; the first year we built 27 production houses. Our HVAC contractor mentioned that he could upgrade our air conditioning systems from 8 SEER to 10 SEER for about $250 a house. We thought about that from the standpoint of what it would mean to our customers, which was basically a 25% reduction in cooling costs. We started offering it, and our customers responded very well.

So we kind of fell into energy efficiency when we realized that customers like saving money on energy bills. But we were pretty unorganized with it until we began partnering with the DOE’s Building America and Energy Star; in 1998 we certified our first Energy Star home under $150,000.

In 2010, we had 350 closings in price points from $110,000 to $350,000 with square footages in the range of 1,000 to 3,200.

Do you market your homes as being green?
Not really, I’m not sure the customers care about “green” as much as they care about the total quality of their home, the costs of operating it, and its sustainability and durability. So that’s how we present the home. “Green” is too general of a term and doesn’t have a quantifiable texture to it.

What are your tips for selling sustainable homes?
We start off talking to our customers about energy savings and we give a performance guarantee that we translate to monthly savings, based on the home’s HERS score.

It’s interesting to note that a typical buyer spends more time researching the features of a flat-screen TV than of a home. So, first of all, our salesperson needs to educate buyers on what’s different about our house than what they see in the marketplace. For example, we introduce concepts like solar heat gain and low-E windows. When we explain it to them, it resonates with them and makes perfectly good sense.

You’ve also got to think about the customer’s bottom line. You can end up bringing a negative tone to your sales arena if you push the green too hard, because it becomes a political item to some buyers. So for the most part we stick to showing them how it will save them money, not necessarily save the environment.

Houses in the company's Valencia development near Oklahoma City are priced from $115,000 to $308,000.
Houses in the company's Valencia development near Oklahoma City are priced from $115,000 to $308,000.

What are the most popular features of your homes?
--Their proximity to green space, walking trails, parks, and playgrounds. These get nothing but accolades. Creeks and ponds are high on buyers’ lists, too.
--Really high-performance windows. Double-pane, low-E glass windows with an SHGC of 0.29 are standard on all our houses.
--Well-insulated mechanical systems with less than 5% duct leakage. We point out that most other builders have 25% leakage. Right away, the buyer can see the value in that.
--Fresh air strategies. Because our houses are so tightly built, we educate clients about the need for mechanical ventilation and they usually agree that it’s important. Are there any sustainable issues that customers don’t buy into?
Water conservation is a message that I have not figured out how to sell here in Oklahoma, being that our water rates are so low. I can’t translate enough savings from water-conserving features to have customers pay extra for them. So, we’re going to begin to incorporate more water savings as a no-charge item.

With our net-zero-energy home (built in 2005), we had a similar challenge of how to ensure an economic payback for the owner. Of course there are some super-green environmentalist customers interested in zero-energy living who aren’t as concerned about the costs, but for most customers, especially those interested in affordable homes, the challenge on a net-zero home is how to pay for a $30,000 PV array? Even after building it, we have not been able to crack the code on bringing PVs to a roof and having them appraised commensurate with what their costs are. As cost of solar becomes more realistic and mainstream we will continue to re-evaluate that.

For more information visit and review the archived presentation "The Cost of Green Building."