Pushed by new realities that restrict face-to-face interaction, home builders and developers are embracing innovation and getting creative.
“The industry has just gotten extremely efficient,” says John Burns, Founder and CEO at John Burns Real Estate Consulting. “Virtual tours, chatbots, and online sales agents are helping people get smart on homes from their own living room. Someone can even buy a home sight unseen, although that’s not a large percentage of the market.”
Innovative home builders are continuing the shift toward self-guided tours by providing potential buyers with on-demand access to homes without needing to be accompanied by a sales agent or having to visit during specified times.
“We had already been working to take down the barriers to entry and create more of a self-serve approach, but COVID helped take it to the next level,” says Ronda Conger, vice president at CBH Homes, the largest homebuilder in Idaho and No. 45 on the 2020 Housing Giants List published by Pro Builder.
- Stephanie McCarty, chief marketing officer, Taylor Morrison
CBH previously installed 100 keyless entry keypads on 100 available homes. “Once COVID-19 hit, we knew that more people than ever would want to visit homes by themselves, so we purchased another 100 locks—and our showings increased by 20 or 30 percent.”
How Innovative Home Builders are Navigating COVID Obstacles
In fact, builders are introducing more self-service options across the entire home-buying process.
“Since COVID hit, we’ve sold over 200 homes virtually, where a customer has not stepped foot into a sales center or a model home at all—so we know the appetite is there,” says Stephanie McCarty, chief marketing and communications officer at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taylor Morrison, which ranks No. 6 on the 2020 Housing Giants List.
As the industry introduces new options that simplify the overall purchasing experience, the traditional role of sales agents is also evolving.
“There's really no reason for someone to sit in a model home waiting for eight hours for people to walk in the door,” says Kevin Oakley, Managing Partner at Do You Convert, a real estate consulting firm. “When a customer is interested in touring a home, there should be a system for alerting multiple sales reps in an area…I call it the ‘Uberization’ of sales reps.”
According to Oakley, the lack of face-to-face interaction resulting from COVID-19 has helped spark creative approaches to engage with potential home buyers. “The use of personalized video email can help cut through the clutter and convey trust and transparency,” he says.
Innovative home builders accelerate shift to online buying
Taylor Morrison is moving closer to making it possible for someone to complete every step of the home-buying experience online—from reserving a lot, to picking the floor plan and elevation, to selecting the finishes before placing everything into a “shopping cart” and checking out.
“In a world where you can buy a car out of a vending machine, we should be able to make this happen,” says McCarty. “But we fully understand that a new home is much more complicated and expensive than a car, and it’s also much more of an emotional purchase.”
The sheer number of option combinations offered by innovative home builders can make the notion of online purchasing daunting.
“Buying a house is much more complicated than buying a car,” says Rich Kashian, founder and CEO of BIMaire, a software technology and service provider to the home building industry and a wholly owned subsidiary of Clayton Homes.
BIMaire helps home builders develop interactive floorplans, renderings, and virtual models to simplify and enhance the online experience for customers.
“We're really pushing the envelope to improve the digital home buying experience so we can meet and even exceed today’s customer’s online expectations,” says Kashian, whose current clients include Schell Brothers, a home builder in Delaware and Virginia that ranks No. 60 on the 2020 Housing Giants List.
“On the Schell Brothers website, you’re able to configure homes, and change styles and colors,” says Kashian. “They’ve had a lot of success in capturing leads and helping drive them to a prospect and a sale.”
Taylor Morrison also likes to let customers explore available options on its website. “The traditional mindset for home builders has been to only give a few details online and make them call for the rest,” says McCarty. “We’re full-tilt changing that philosophy by giving customers everything we have online so they can make an educated decision, sleep on it, and go back and make changes.” The ability to adapt to the evolving needs and preferences of customers is key, says Conger. “We’re grateful that we already had the foundation laid and were able to meet people where they were, during some really hard times,” she says. “We also had the sitting inventory to allow them to view homes at their own time, on their own terms, and then made it easy for them to buy online.”