Buying a new home – What makes a great pre-construction home buying experience
Blog Post 3/6 of “The Importance of the New Homebuyer Journey” Series
In this post, learn about the various assets available which help home buyers make the decision of buying a new home. From open-houses, digital collateral and virtual reality, there are no shortage of sales and marketing initiatives, both new and old which you can use to stand out in a crowded marketplace as a new home builder and sell out your next development. At New Street, we believe in looking at the customer journey holistically and utilizing technology to create streamlined processes that are beneficial for all parties involved including builder staff, realtors and most importantly – the homebuyer.
For most people, purchasing real estate is one of the biggest decisions they’ll ever make, and the buyer journey is significantly longer for real estate than almost any other type of purchase. It’s important to ensure you stay top of mind with your potential buyers every step of the way, providing helpful marketing and sales information and tools that can push your leads into the next step of their buying process.
What am I buying?
The first question a potential homebuyer will be asking themselves is “what am I buying?” It is the job of the builder, particularly with pre-construction where there is a disadvantage in terms of tangibility, to answer this question as thoroughly as possible. This information can be as varying and complex as the project itself, and emcompasses elements such as neighbourhood information, legal and buying logistics, floorplans and specs, upgrades and decor, promotions, etc. There are a number of different ways to convey this necessary information, including digital, tangible and virtual tools. Although every project is different and will require a different recipe of tools to connect with buyers, we’ll take you through the basics of what your marketing and sales collateral should consider when creating assets to sell new homes or condos.
There are two broad types of amenities a builder should be outlining for their buyers. Community amenities, or the amenities that the builder themselves are providing through their development and Neighbourhood amenities, which are the aspects of the neighbourhood that makes it a great place to live. These can be achieved through elements like neighbourhood photography, video and amenity maps. Unbuilt amenities of the community should be brought to life digitally through video animations, virtual reality, amenity floor plans and of course renderings. Both types of amenities are extremely important to your buyer and may impact where they choose to live, they should be treated as a very valuable sales tool.
Marketing collateral should also focus around the shell design of the development itself, the architecture of the homes or condominium project and the home designs offered.
Common assets that display a condominium project include building renderings, showing the architecture of the building as well as the placement of the building within the community. A scale model which is generally found in the sales office are great for visualizing size and placement within the community. Interactive scale models can also be used to see the placement of different suites, so a buyer can interact with the condo and view corresponding floor plans based on their prefered placement or view.
For new low rise developments, homebuyers should have access to renderings showing the different exterior packages possible, as well as feature and finish samples that show the materiality of the homes (more about this to follow).
Both types of developments can also benefits from virtual experiences that can help buyers understand the realities of living in the community, whether it’s a streetscape or community VR or videos, virtual walkthroughs that can be accessed online or in the sales office on touchscreens. Virtual assets are always more of a time and money commitment, but are becoming embraced more and more by the pre-construction industry because of the ability to transport your homeowners into the space.
Possibly the element your buyers care about the very most; their floorplan. The majority of buying is still done from 2D floorplans, and these floorplan packages are important to have. They allow your buyer to bring them home, mull over their options and come back with any questions. However, 2D layouts and even dollhouse floorplans (which offer a elevated 3D experience that works particularly well for multi-level product) can be very hard to understand when just looking at dimensions and black lines. The solutions to help homebuyers actually visualize the space is varying, and just a few options include:
- Adding furniture to 2D floorplans, which allows buyers to see how much space the basic items would take up, like a couch, dining table, bed etc.
- Floor plan renderings and animations is a fairly simple way to have the floorplan leap off the page and into real life, where your buyer can get a better understanding of depth and size
- One of the best ways to help buyers understand the space is with models. Although this is limiting, as not every home type or suite type can be modeled, the experience of actually walking through a model and seeing the size, the ceiling height and understanding the layout is an important one for buyers.
- Finally, virtual experiences, such as walkthroughs, touchscreens, virtual reality or other elements that can be experienced online as well as in person offer homebuyers a chance to walk through the home or condo they are considering and even manipulate the space in some instances. It’s a route being considered more and more by builders today especially as some weigh the benefits of these digital efforts in comparison to the costs and environmental impact associated with temporary sales offices.
Another key consideration with condominium projects is views and exposures. This is a question that will undoubtedly come up for any serious buyer, and drone view shots or video, interactive scale models or virtual reality can also help buyers visual what they’ll be looking at everyday.
Features, finishes and decor
Features and finishes can be difficult for homebuyers to visualize when buying pre-construction, and it’s important to dedicate some efforts to creating options where prospective homebuyers can experience the options available to them, from clearly labeled standard packages to the different ranges they can get if they invest some money on upgrades. Some of the options available for successfully displaying your features and finishing include:
- Renderings and Animations- These are a great starting point for displaying features and finishes in various digital and tangible formats
- Finish “boards” – The ways you can show your features and finishes tangibly is almost limitless, from wall installations, tiles and kitchen displays, having tangible features and finishes will give your buyers a chance to touch and feel the options available to them. Always remember to have standard features and finishes available to view and feel as well, so you’re buyers can see what they’re actually getting and decide if they want to upgrade.
- Model Suites and Homes – As mentioned above, model homes or suites are limiting in the sense that they can only be produced for a few models, it gives your buyers a chance to understand elements that may be hard to visualize, especially for a first time buyers, like ceiling height, laminate vs. hardwood, appliance size etc.
- Decor Studio- Your decor studio or decor area is one of the most exciting parts for homebuyers, where they can really see their dream home come to life in detail; from flooring to faucets. It’s important to realize that decor options may change and timing for pre-construction can be unpredictable. Decor agreements should be written in a manner that allows for substitutions and this fact should be clearly conveyed to buyers.
- Virtual experience – Virtual and/or online decor experiences are also a great option for providing a visual interactive experience that provides homebuyers with access to the features and finishes you offer.
Specs & Systems
Although less glamorous, it’s also important to convey information about the specs and systems offered in the building or home and the upgrades or different options available to buyers.
- HVAC, Energy & Electrical Feature Sheet – Generally this information is communicated in a standard document, it’s important that this information is reviewed with homebuyers.
- Animations & Infographics – As energy-efficient systems, smarthome and healthy features continue to provide builders an opportunity to differentiate, it becomes more and more important to include the benefits of these advancements in their marketing through impactful visual animations and infographics.
- Product Images, Videos & Brochures – Another simple way to incorporate advanced system features like ERV’s, Smart Home and Monitoring Systems is by featuring these items on your website, videos and brochure.
- Sales Offices & Model Suites – Including these items within your physical model suites and sales office is a great way to showcase the benefits of these products to visitors and allow them to see and use them.
The Administrative Extras
The pre-construction sale process can be a complicated one. From pre-determined deposits, pre-approval and closing/occupancy logistics, its just as important to help your homebuyer walk through this process as finding a floorplan and choosing their decor elements. Walking your buyers through the process in person is a great first step, but some builders are also considering software that updates their buyers throughout the entire process, given the wait time associated between buying and closing on pre-construction homes or condos. Regular communications via letters or e-mails is a simple and effective solution, but requires staff behind the scenes to keep things accurate. A homeowner portal is a great option, which houses the buyers APS and legal documents, warranty information, payments due schedule and even construction updates from the on-site construction team. Although the sale process is over at this point, it’s important to think about the the experience that occurs after the papers are signed. Consumers who are happy with the process become loyal homeowners, ambassadors for your brand and potential re-buyers down the road. We’ll talk more about this in post 5 & 6 of this series.
Ways to Connect
With an understanding of what is necessary to sell your project in mind, it’s time to consider the different ways to connect with your homebuyers and get them the information they need. In an increasingly digital world, real estate is one of the few interactions that still require an in-person element for the most part. From talking to a realtor, a lawyer or a bank, a new homebuyer has to interact face-to-face with at least someone in the homebuying process. That being said, the real estate industry has some increasingly impressive digital solutions that can be used in the marketing process to get buyers engaged, help visualize the process (as we’ve mentioned above) and get buyers into your sales office to speak to a representative of your company. Below we’ll take you through some of the top considerations of online vs. in person interactions.
For a buyer, there is no more comfortable experience then searching for a new purchase online, including real estate. They can easily search in their own environment and on their schedule, and there is no pressure, both perceived or real, to purchase or even request more information if they choose not to. Online research also allows them to compare in the moment, bringing up different floorplans, prices, features and promotions they are considering. That is why an easy to use platform with readily available information is crucial to the pre-construction process. Information surrounding neighbourhood and project amenities, features and finishes, standards and upgrades, renderings and animations and floorplans should be easy to find and kept updated and accurate.
Of course, there is a limitation to online research at varying points of the process. Not only can most homes and condos not be bought online, requiring an in-person interaction of some kind, but the ability to ask questions is not there with the exception of
some online chat tools. The buyer is forced to work with the information they
have available to them, which is generally limited, or connect with someone in person to get more information.
Today, some homebuyers are comfortable and actually prefer asking questions and building relationships with brands (and their salespeople) digitally. Every builder or builder brokerage will have a different protocol for dealing with online inquiries but managing this process effectively is very important as it could have a significant impact on your return on (marketing) investment. Having a frictionless bridge between marketing and sales is the only way you can optimize the journey for the people that engage with your brand.
An in-person visit allows the buyer to create a tangible connection to the project for the first time. They can touch and feel the finishes, tour the model homes, see the caliber of the sales office, see the scale model and gauge their comfortability with the staff. This is the time when the buyer can get the full run-down from staff on how the process works, which is particularly important with pre-construction process, as even a seasoned resale buyer will be encountering new steps to buying. They can ask questions and begin to create a relationship with the staff, whom they will be dealing with if and when they decide to buy. It’s always best practice for front-end staff to keep a database of buyers who show genuine interest and some information that will be helpful to reconnect with them, both in-person and through marketing efforts. Information like what type of suite they’re looking for to their pet’s name can be helpful down the road. In-person experience is the builder’s opportunity to leave a positive first impression with the buyer, and should create cohesiveness with your online messaging. For most people, this is the biggest purchase of their life and the staff should treat them as such, making them feel comfortable, at ease and excited.
Of course, there are different types of in person experiences. A one-on-one experience is ideal, either through appointments or other controlled traffic measures, but there will be times when the buyers first experience will be a high-pressured sales event, with multiple people looking to make a purchase on the same day. This is where tangible tools also come in handy. Interactive touchscreens and other virtual technologies can keep buyers occupied and constantly learning about the product offered while waiting to be helped by a staff member. Live sales platforms come in handy during these types of events as it helps manage the progress of sales and ensure nobody is selling the same units or lots.
The faces of the buying process
As prospects interact with your various marketing efforts and collateral and become purchasers, there are various people involved in the process to see the purchase through. As a builder, you can streamline this process to a certain degree, however it’s important to understand the different players in the home buying journey.
Home Builder Staff / Brokerage
As we mentioned above, the online and in-person experiences should always keep in mind that for most people, this is the biggest purchase of their life. The homebuyer should always be treated with “wow, it’s you!” experience, and made to feel comfortable, at ease and excited about this new phase of their lives. When the buyer is dealing directly with the builder, there is an unprecedented amount of control over the experience. Ensuring prompt responses and having building staff interact directly with the buyer means that the builder’s brand is always represented correctly, and insights into building timelines, availability and other details can be kept up to date and conveyed with confidence.
Working with a realtor is a choice every home builder will need to make. There are pros and cons to both sides as we’ve briefly outlined above. Realtors tend to work within their particular specialty (although this is not always the case) and often understand the different processes (pre-construction vs re-sale, house vs condo), and varying buyer profiles that can change from project to project. They also do a lot of the leg work for you, and are a great marketing asset, finding new clients and bringing them out to sales centers. On the other hand, realtors may have an impact on the builder-to-buyer relationship, acting as a intermediate role, limiting the ability to connect with the buyer and control the buyer’s perception of the builder. If you decide to co-operate with realtors than it is important to educate and provide consistent information to them. A Realtor Portal is a great way to manage this (built into our New Street Pilot Software). The realtor community can add a tremendous amount of value to a builder for a the current project and others in the future, so it is important that their is ample thought put into how the homebuyer journey can be optimized when working with realtors. You also have to keep commissions and other compensations in mind.
If you choose to work with realtors, it’s a great strategy to dedicate some promotional money to realtor-specific incentives, such as increased commission, cash-back, perks and gifts etc. This will entice realtors to bring in new clients who many not be doing their own research and rely on their realtor to find prospective homes. It’s also a great idea to start a realtor VIP process, which rewards you’re most trusted realtors and gives them first access to new homes or projects, especially for homes or condos where investor buy-in is a possibility. This database can be a great resource for future projects.
We always recommend that homebuyer work with a lawyer. This protects both sides interests and makes sure all the negotiations and conditions are clear and have a paper trail. Always remember that there’s a 10-day “cooling-off” period for condos that allow buyers to legally get out of their agreement.
And of course, the star of the interaction, the homebuyer themselves. The homebuyers job is to collect all the information possible about their potential new purchase to make an informed decision. The jobs of all the other parties involved are to give them that information. For a seller to be successful, the homebuyer must believe in the project location, the community, the builder and have collected the information they need to justify this monumental purchase. For more information on 7 things that help turn prospects into homebuyers, check out post #2 in this series, here.
Things to remember
With new virtual and augmented experiences becoming prominent, builders have a varying array of ways to sell their homes and condos. When taking on new digital assets or experiences, it’s important to remember that these investments only work well if they are kept up to date and accurate, which may require some adoption and commitment from the sales teams. The New Street Pilot software is an investment in technologies that promote a level of standardization in new home data and process which will be beneficial to builders and homebuyers. It’s important as a builder to not only focus on improving the communities they build in, but remembering that the homes and condos they build are their product, and treat them as such when approaching the marketing and selling process. Each product should be properly managed for the ease of the consumer, which means readily available basic information for realtors and homebuyers to access. Builders who can combat this with data organization and transparency will give the new home marketplace a similar feel to the resale process.
At the end of the process, once the customer has narrowed down their choices through research, comparisons and in-person visits, they will ultimately make a decision. The purchase decision is affected by the buyer’s cognitive process. Builders can attempt to influence this decision by providing transparent information, a great consumer experience and a meaningful connection with their target audience, using a strategic mix of the tactics mentioned in this blog post series, this is obviously above and beyond building great homes and communities.
It’s important to remember that not every project requires all of the elements mentioned in this post to be successful but each builder should have a standard base processes and collateral that they create for every project. In addition to this, you should also have one place to manage it all, one place for your sales and marketing team to communicate with your contacts, one place for your product, your collateral, your sales, your documents. We’ve created this place and we call it The Pilot.
New Street offers solutions and guides you through the process of deciding what assets you’ll need to sell your unique project. We’re also excited to introduce Pilot, a new software that we’ve created to streamline the marketing and sales side of the builder business. One system offering standardized data, better management and clearer insights. Find out more about Pilot here, or contact us to find out if it can help solve your platform issues.
Learn more about the Marketing & Digital Solutions New Street delivers and lookout for the next blog post from “The Importance of the New Homebuyer Journey” Series, coming soon.