A dramatic exterior remodel, a pleased client, and a targeted neighborhood. Add $1,000 or so for some mailings and snacks, set up a canopy in the yard, and there’s your recipe for a low-cost, high-impact, warm-weather marketing program.

Case in point: Brightview Builders, of Annapolis, Md. One weekend morning last fall, owner Mark Van Reuth held an “exterior open house” at a home whose vinyl-clad exterior had been transformed by, among other changes, James Hardie fiber-cement siding. Five or six prospects stopped by — far fewer than guests at a typical interior open house, and a fraction of a home show audience — but three of them requested estimates on their homes. One signed a contract for a $94,000 remodel that was the showcase of the company’s second exterior open house, just weeks ago.

A 2,000-card radius mailing landed three estimates and a $94,000 job for Brightview Builders. An exterior open house feels “safer” to clients, says Brightviewís owner.
A 2,000-card radius mailing landed three estimates and a $94,000 job for Brightview Builders. An exterior open house feels “safer” to clients, says Brightviewís owner.

Van Reuth’s success with exterior home shows reflects the often-untapped potential of neighborhood marketing, says Paul Gentzel, manager of the repair and residential division at James Hardie Building Products. “Many contractors aren’t doing the kinds of low-cost reaching-out that tells neighbors about a nearby job,” he says. A simple postcard radius mailing can connect the dots between neighbors’ remodeling curiosity and action.

Paradoxically, while an exterior open house is so casual that any passerby can drop in, it may also attract more serious buyers, Gentzel says. An interior open house can be a nice way to show off a kitchen remodel or addition, but it can also attract “gossipers and lookie-loos who want to see the inside of their neighbor’s house,” he says. There’s also the “weirdness” factor of touring a stranger’s home — or having strangers tour yours — Van Reuth notes.

Block Party

To extend the grassroots concept, Gentzel suggests hiring local canvassers, such as students from the neighborhood, to distribute information about a remodel. “For a lot of people, direct mail stops at the recycling bin,” he says. “But if you knock on the door and say, ‘We’re having an open house,’ people who are inclined to remodel are more likely to come.”

Southend Home Improvement, of Charlotte, N.C., is also championing the joint concepts of exterior open houses and neighborhood marketing. The company’s “10,000 Neighbors” program will partner with James Hardie and other companies to target key neighborhoods with a “rolling display” of re-siding possibilities. Expect cookouts and pool parties, conversation and education. “We’ll make it grassroots,” says marketing director Mark Whitlock. “Here’s why you should refit your house, and here are the incentives to do it.”

—Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.