Third Week of Gains in Online Real Estate Search and Tips from a Noted Design Studio Expert — The BDX Weekly Podcast

The week began with good news on the BDXtra podcast with Tim Costello and Melissa Morman.

“For the third week in a row, we’ve seen an increase week-over-week in the number of people searching for real estate online,” said Tim Costello, CEO of BDX.

“We’re seven weeks into the pandemic. The first four were down weeks,” Costello said, “but the last three weeks have shown increases – 12% more people searched for a home online last week vs. the prior week.”

The volume of real estate search online is at 90% of last year’s level, a record year, Costello added. Shoppers are clearly committed with conversion continuing at levels nearly 40% higher than last year.

“Builders need to be out there today converting these serious shoppers into leads,” Costello said. “There has been a precipitous decline in the number of new homes on the market. People don’t want strangers in their home – and they are withdrawing or not listing existing homes for sale,” he said.

“New homes are disproportionately represented in the MLS. As builders, we need to be messaging to agents and buyers that we have new homes available now, in 30 days, in 60 days, and beyond.”

Delivering an Exceptional Design Experience for Homebuyers in the New Normal

Jane Meagher, a nationally known builder design expert and President of Success Strategies, was this week’s guest on the BDX podcast. She shared many important insights for builders in her conversation with Melissa Morman, Client Experience Officer of BDX.  Morman noted that for many builders, revenue from options and upgrades is vital to profitability – and key to ensuring high customer satisfaction.

According to Meagher, the top two areas Design Consultants should focus on now are supporting the builder sales team in attracting and converting prospective buyers into buyers and ensuring buyers have a very satisfying and complete design experience that delivers the builder’s brand promise.

“The Design Studio experience doesn’t just begin at the start of the design appointment and end when selections have been made,” Meagher said. “It’s an integral part of the homebuying experience, especially with personalization being so critical to customers today…and it’s vital to attract them and keep them interested right now.”

Meagher outlined the three scenarios most builders face today to help homebuyers make design and option decisions. She offered practical and actionable tips to manage the design in each scenario:

  • In-person Design Studio visit – with social distancing where the Design Consultant handles the samples for safety and to provide a concierge experience
  • Virtual Design Visit – the Design Consultant in the Studio connects with a buyer virtually via FaceTime video, Skype, Zoom or WhatsApp.
  • The hardest scenario – neither the Design Consultant nor the buyer are in the Studio and both sides of the conversation are virtual.

In all three scenarios, Meagher pointed out the value the Envision Online Design Center brings to the homebuyer’s design experience.  “Builders using a tool like Envision are very happy today,” she said.

In each Design Studio scenario above, Meagher stressed the invaluable role the Design Consultant plays in providing what she called The Three C’s – Comfort, Coaching and Celebration.

“It’s important to be genuine and empathetic – but also to manage the design appointment and to be the expert,” Meagher said. “At the end of the Design Studio visit, we should celebrate the joy of helping create a truly personalized home with our customer and be a bright light in their world.”

Kevin Oakley and Mike Lyon Partnered with NAHB to Offer Several Marketing Playbooks – Based on A Builder’s Market and Desire to Invest

The well-known team of Mike Lyon and Kevin Oakley from Do You Convert who train Online Sales Counselors proved that guys can still talk football, even when every sporting event is shut down worldwide.

Oakley walked through several marketing strategies for builders based on NFL playbooks. The strategies  ranged from the conservative – protect the football and create the least possible risk of a fumble for your building firm to a “Hail Mary” strategy – where builders aggressively amp up marketing spend, in hopes of gaining market share in the downturn.

Oakley advised builders to focus on the playbooks and marketing strategies he outlined in the middle of the spectrum of marketing spend. Unless a builder can predict the day the pandemic will end, Oakley does not advise the “Hail Mary” maximum marketing spend plan.

“We’ve Been Virtual and Digital Since Day One” – and That’s Where Builders Should Focus

Like many experts today, Oakley and Lyon see the current market environment as a challenge that can be overcome with hard work, smart marketing, and by further moving the homebuying experience online.

“We’ve been virtual since Day One at Do You Convert,” said Oakley. “We were born for this time.” As part of their work to improve the home shoppers experience through digital tools, Oakley and Lyon spend a lot of time thinking about – and sharing with builders – what homebuyers need and want today.

“I had a really good interview with Tim Costello of BDX,” Oakley said. “He talked about the need to rethink every part of the homebuyer’s journey.”

With that in mind, he outlined three vital factors to deliver a great homebuyer journey – and achieve a builder’s goals for sales and customer satisfaction:

Three Success Factors

  • Online Sales Program – defined, structured with processes, metrics and a CRM in place.
  • Tech-Friendly Sales and Management Teams – a savvy management team is most important.
  • Inventory of Quick Move-In Homes – that are drawing visitors to your site to ask questions.

Oakley and Lyon reminded builders the job of marketing is not to create demand – especially during a pandemic. Marketing’s role is to attract, engage and convert active buyers looking for homes now. Given that mission, Oakley identified marketing tools that builders should cut – and other areas to increase marketing spend:

Marketing Tools to Cut

  • Billboards and Radio – no one is driving
  • Print Ads – declining, not interactive, not measurable
  • Traditional TV – Too expensive and everyone is binge-watching Netflix, YouTube and social media video
  • Printed Collateral – ends up on the floor of the car, even if your model homes are open

Marketing Tools to Invest In

  • Digital Content – photos, videos, virtual tours, written content. Create these assets for each new home, each new home community, and the surrounding area
  • Facebook and Instagram Ads and Retargeting – Seek increases in frequency against current home shoppers, not more reach. Check conversion actions in Google Analytics to ensure ROI
  • Syndication on portals such as NewHomeSource.com– for builders with standing inventory

As parting wisdom, Oakley reminded builders not to confuse attention with intention to buy. He noted that intention is only present when a buyer is responsive to a builder’s marketing outreach – and it is these responsive buyers still shopping today that builders should focus on.

Builders Getting Creative with Carol Morgan, Kimberly Mackey, Leah Kaiz Fellows and Kelly Ann Zuccarelli

On this weekly webinar, panelists reported an increase in traffic, leads and brighter spirits among builders each panelist works with.

Carol Morgan of Denim Marketing provided a short list of builders offering creative promotions that included Artisan Built Communities. This builder is making its Breathe Freely upgrade package standard for a limited time. The package includes upgraded HVAC, low VOC flooring, and passive radon systems. Carol also shared a list of 50 fresh ideas for blog topics relevant in today’s environment.

Traton Homes will complete six new model homes and has scheduled a Virtual Tour Online of all six models that can be experienced on the builder’s website – and also the builder’s Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest accounts. Kiper Homes has had success on social media with a #TakeaTourTuesday hashtag and Crosby Design Group had strong turnout for their virtual family Easter Egg coloring event.

Kimberly Mackey of New Homes Solutions still expects her team to have five new virtual appointments each week and to reach out to real estate agents, as well. “Don’t be afraid to hold salespeople accountable,” Mackey said. “Making your expectations clear is part of how you support them,“ she added.

Janice Glessner of S & A Homes of Pennsylvania shared her challenges in a state that has deemed home building non-essential. All construction has ceased and her sales team are all working from their homes, since models are closed.

“The very first thing we did was to get the word out that we are still here,” said Glessner. Her team updated the home page and messaging throughout the website to make clear virtual tours online are available, the S & A team is here to help, and tools are in place to enable home shoppers to continue their home search online.

“People are carving personalized messages now so we’ve changed all of our e-mail messaging and also using photos of our folks a lot,” Glessner said. “We’re also maintaining our ads with BDX and others.”

“Online chat for us has always been successful for us (since 2011). We’re not overwhelmed by chat volume and we’ve generated many appointments and sales via chat, Glessner said. “The phone is ringing, we’re seeing leads coming in and lead quality is great. We hit our March sales goal and have several prospects in our pipeline who have never been in our model. We’re definitely seeing things get better in Pennsylvania.”

CX and Social Distancing with Melissa Garland, Leak Kaiz Fellows and Jennifer Cooper.

Leah Kaiz Fellows of Blue Gypsy shared her thoughts on several topics, including Chatbots. “Having a Chatbot gives the OSC (builder’s Online Sales Counselor) freedom. A lot of Millennials also don’t want to talk to a human, at least initially, and that’s where the Chatbot can be a really strong tool.”

Jennifer Cooper, a long-time VP of Marketing for Denver-based Oakwood Homes was a featured speaker and shared many helpful insights.

“Not all builders have adopted technology yet, but doing so is absolutely critical,” Cooper said. “And we need to embrace technology in a completely new way. You’re not going to get anywhere with canned emails. Personalize them!”

“What a great time to survey your buyers,” Cooper suggested. “Ask them how they’re doing and also ask if they are still on their homebuyer journey – and if so, what they need.”

Builder Magazine Meyers Research Webinar with Tim Sullivan and Ali Wolf

With more than 4,400 registrants, this weekly panel is a must-see with tons of detailed and highly important and actionable insights for builders – from Managing Partner Tim Sullivan and Chief Economist Ali Wolf.

Working in tandem, this pair sheds light and demystifies the latest housing stats and forecasts. Both are leaders in helping guide builders, developers, building product manufacturers and the mortgage industry through this unprecedented and fast-moving pandemic and the economic fallout it is driving.

While the look at initial jobless claims was sobering indeed, there were bright spots such as less than 4% of mortgages are in forbearance, government officials are acting very quickly with wide-ranging programs to lessen the economic impact of COVID-19 on consumers, small businesses, and key industries.

Like Tim Costello of BDX, Meyers Research sees a big opportunity for builders – especially for first-time buyers with no home to sell. “Ali is right,” Tim Sullivan said. “Focus on millennials.” Many are still employed with good wages and credit scores, he noted. “And the bank of mom and dad is real and will help cushion some millennial job loss,” he stated.

With existing home inventory plummeting on MLS’s across the nation, the remaining pool of buyers – still quite large – will be drawn to current standing new home inventory and to spec homes available in the next 30-60-90 days.

Ali Wolf updated her take on the now-famous V-U-L shape of the recovery to come, with odds of a U-shaped rebound increasing somewhat. Each week Meyers reports on many key drivers of the new home market – including sales per community per month, which are inching downward to 2.0 or below per month.

In a topic of great interest to Tim Costello of BDX, 42% of builders surveyed by Meyers reported they are building fewer specs – and 34% have paused construction of new spec homes. On the BDX podcast, Costello addressed this point and said building fewer specs for move-up buyers (who need to sell their current home) may make sense in some markets.

“However, I’d absolutely encourage builders to continue to build spec inventory for first-time buyers, especially in markets with low incidence of virus and relatively low unemployment,” Costello said. “This is an incredible opportunity for builders to gain dominance in the MLS vs. dwindling supplies of used homes – and a major opportunity to gain market share for new homes.”

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