Again this week, we’re sharing important and actionable insights for homebuilding leaders looking to thrive in the New Normal.
As always, we encourage you to listen to the full recording of the webinars and podcasts below that most interest you. We hope builders will attend future webinars from these – and other industry leaders – that can help equip you and your team for success.
Each week, we seek to cite new experts, while making sure to cover highlights from webinars and podcasts of proven and ongoing value.
BDXtra Podcast with Tim Costello, Melissa Morman and Tom Nelson of UTour
Each week, BDX founders Tim Costello and Melissa Morman open their weekly podcast with a quick look at online search trends for new homes. Costello, CEO of BDX, reported that the volume of online search for new homes each week has risen again.
“We’re ten weeks into the COVID-19 downturn,” Costello noted. “The first four weeks were like watching a slow-speed train wreck. For the last six weeks, we’ve seen more and more consumers coming back into the home shopping market.”
More Consumers Are Searching for New Homes Online Now Than Before the Pandemic
“A milestone was achieved last week,” Costello added. “There are now 13% more people looking for new homes online than there were in the comparable week last year. And more people are searching now, during the pandemic, than in January and February of this year.”
“We have eclipsed all prior online search and traffic records,” Costello said. “We have transitioned from a demand crisis to a sales crisis. There is plenty of buyer demand. The challenge is: How do we get buyers over any resistance or challenges they may have?”
Melissa Morman, Client Experience Officer of BDX, noted that builder attitudes have changed, as well.
“Last week, there was a settling with builders we work with,” Morman said. “Builders realize they have a business to run and real people who want to buy their homes. We felt the shift last Wednesday.”
Homebuyers Are Shopping on Their Terms: Self-Guided Tours of Model Homes and Inventory Homes
This week’s guest on the BDXtra podcast was longtime industry leader, Tom Nelson. As President of NDG Communications, Nelson has assisted leading builders with strategic marketing and advertising programs for 20 years.
Nelson is also a founding partner of UTour, an innovative technology platform that allows consumers to take self-guided, unassisted tours of a builder’s model home, sales center or inventory homes. Costello asked him how UTour got its start.
“Two years ago, we worked with national homebuilders and The Washington Post to understand why only 25% of consumers who registered on a builder’s website actually visited the builder’s model home and sales center,” Nelson said. “We surveyed buyers who did not visit and 51% said that the model home hours were not convenient.”
Costello noted that expecting consumers to visit model homes from 10 am to 6 pm on weekdays was not workable for many consumers. He noted retailers and banks solved the problem of limited hours 20 years ago – with 24/7 access to online stores and ATM’s. Even on weekends, Nelson noted that the demands of family, sports and activities with kids, and weekend to-do lists can also make Saturday and Sunday model home hours less workable for buyers.
Nelson’s survey of home shoppers also revealed that 43% did not want to speak directly with a salesperson on the first visit to a home.
Nelson said buyers today want to look around the model first, self-serve and self-educate, and narrow down their decision list of builders. Buyers do want to talk with builder salespeople when they are ready, Nelson noted, but they want to be in control.
Offering More than Access Control: UTour Integrates with Home Security, Lighting – And Creates Trackable Leads in a Builder’s CRM System
From the start, the vision was to create a buyer and builder-friendly tool that was an open eco-system – not a walled garden. As a result, UTour can integrate with any door lock that uses the Z-Wave standard.
To streamline the tour experience, UTour can disarm a security system such as Alarm.com, switch on lights, adjust a smart thermostat, and reverse those steps at the end of each tour. UTour also integrates with many builder CRM systems, Nelson noted, creating qualified and trackable leads for follow-up.
From the onset, the tour experience was designed with safety and security in mind. Users must verify their identity using a credit card or government-issued ID before access to a home is granted. Access codes can be set for a specific one-hour timeframe. During the pandemic, Nelson recommends allowing an hour between each tour to sanitize each home. The firm has a partnership to help builders do so.
Integrations with Amazon Voice & Video Assistants Enrich the Self-Guided Home Tour
Builders can also integrate UTour with simple, low-cost voice assistants from Amazon.
Consumers on a self-guided tour can ask Alexa questions, get voice replies from an Amazon Echo, and watch a video with home or community features on an Amazon Show device. UTour also integrates with BDX partner Atlas RTX for sales follow-up. The firms are exploring a dedicated Chatbot in the home.
Costello asked when “free range consumers” were most likely to request a self-guided tour. Nelson laughed and said, “With bars and restaurants closed due to COVID-19, UTour now owns date night! The two most popular times for tours are Saturday night at 7 pm and 8 pm.”
Builder Meyers Research COVID-19 Weekly Update with Tim Sullivan and Ali Wolf
Ali Wolf, Chief Economist of Meyers Research, kicked off this weekly must-attend webinar for 3,600 industry leaders by noting that 12 states have now let Shelter-in-Place rules expire. However, she noted that in states like Georgia, many consumers are not sure they are ready to emerge from home – and an estimated 50% of stores in the state remain closed.
As she does each week, Wolf cited several key indicators to create a snapshot of the economy, consumer attitudes, builder responses and more. Wolf and Tim Sullivan, Senior Managing Principal, both supply one of the most complete and compelling updates for builders each week.
For a complete list of their many valuable insights, view the recording of the webinar – and register for upcoming webinars from Builder and Meyers Research each week. Some of Wolf’s insights include:
- iBuyers are back in business; could help move-up buyers sell existing homes to buy new
- 5% of mortgages now in forbearance
- Housing activity has resumed in the San Francisco Bay area
- The state of California is borrowing money to pay unemployment claims
- Initial jobless claims have now reached an almost unthinkable 30,000,000 in six weeks
- The Personal Savings rate was 2.5% going in to the Great Recession, 8% going into the pandemic, and is now at 13.0% – as skittish consumers conserve cash. Later in the webinar, Sullivan noted some of these savings could fund down payments.
Wolf also said that the Federal Deficit will quadruple this year. In more relatable terms, Wolf noted that the Federal Debt Clock rose by $7 million in five minutes as she watched online.
“This is our real-life case study to see if Modern Monetary Theory really works,” Wolf said. She referred to a school of monetary thought that argues national debt can have less impact, since governments can create money supply to pay debt. Many traditional economists differ and see debt – and possible inflation that can result – as potential threats to economic health.
Tim Sullivan’s portion of the webinar kicked off with his popular Heard on the Street findings:
- Builders and consumers – adjusting to new normal
- Qualified first-time buyers – still in the market
- New buyers – starting to see shoppers who started their search after the onset of COVID-19
- Relocating buyers – helping drive home sales
- Builders – weighing how many specs to build (only 34% of builders are sticking to their original plan) and some builders are starting to express concerns about their 2021 backlog
Among builders surveyed by Meyers Research, 84% kept base prices flat week-over-week, 14% increased base prices, 22% increased incentives, and 26% reported an increase in cancellations. All comparisons were week-over-week.
As he does each week, Sullivan cited the BDX National Index of Online Real Estate Search. The Index has now risen for six weeks in a row – and online search for homes was up 3% week-over-week – and 13% over last year’s record for online home search.
Sullivan also discussed land acquisition. “A key indicator is when builder land acquisition committee meetings resume,” Sullivan said. He urged builders to watch college towns. If schools reopen in the fall, dorms may have fewer students per room and juniors and seniors may be asked to find off-campus housing. Both trends could create housing demand, Sullivan stated.
As he does each week, Sullivan ended this webinar on a positive note. He quoted the oracle of Omaha. “Nothing can stop America,” said legendary investor, Warren Buffett.
Coronavirus & the Housing Industry; Shifting Expectations and Systemic Change with Sara Gutterman
In a data and fact-filled webinar, Sara Gutterman, CEO of Green Builder Media included many important insights and trends.
The firm integrates surveys and online sentiment from early adopter builders who are leveraging technology to build cleaner, safer and smarter homes; insights from building product manufacturers; with input from homebuyers, who Gutterman says are increasingly taking the lead in specifying products and features of a new home once chosen by the builder.
Gutterman shared the charts below from a Green Builder Media survey – showing how builders and consumers are modifying their behavior in response to the coronavirus:
As consumers grapple with the impact of the virus, Gutterman said they are asking themselves, “Who do I choose to be during COVID-19?” She said consumer responses fell into three categories: Fear Zone, Learning Zone, and Growth Zone.
To understand where consumers are falling in the three Zones above, Gutterman and her firm analyze trending conversations around consumer’s changing expectations – overall and for their homes. Gutterman organized their findings in three broad categories:
- Health & Wellness – lifestyle choices, Indoor Air Quality, cooking and kitchen design, home healthcare and tele-medicine, fitness equipment, apps and wearables
- Connected Living – smart home technologies
- Resiliency and Self-Sufficiency – energy, food and storage.
This webinar was filled with rich insights and bears watching in full. Some of the most important trends and opportunities for builders that Gutterman and her team found include:
- Solve for Indoor Air Quality – consumers are more sensitive to IAQ than ever
- Provide connected living – for enhanced home offices and personal needs
- Enhance food storage — The Crisis Pantry (frozen and canned essentials) and The Resilient Pantry (home food production, water purification, storing local produce)
- Build Back Better – the pandemic is awakening more consumers to the possibilities of safer, smarter, healthier and more sustainable and energy-efficient homes
- Drive for net zero energy
- Design for social distancing
Growing Sales and Sales Culture with Chad Sanschagrin, Myers Barnes and Ronda Conger
In what’s clearly a mantra for this noted sales trainer, Chad Sanschagrin, CEO of Cannonball Moments, kicked off this high-powered panel by reminding builders to, “Make sure you’re mission-minded, not commission minded” and to always lead with empathy in all homebuyer encounters.
Ronda Conger is Vice President of Idaho-based CBH Homes, a leader in helping consumers shop online. Their website states: “BUY ONLINE: Its’s Safe, Smart and Easy. Buy Safely from Your Home.”
“We really believe we will come out stronger (as a builder) and we will Survive, Advance, Adapt and Thrive,” Conger said. “We definitely pivoted and adapted fast. We had a lot of things in place like virtual tours and chat. They were already being used, but in this environment, the public adopted them even faster.”
Noted sales trainer Myers Barnes agreed. He discussed what’s required for builders to succeed in online sales and noted it requires data collection and strong buy-in and support from a builder’s top leadership and HR team.
“You need to be able to make instant decisions based on data,” Barnes said. “Knowledge is not power,” he added. “What’s power is the execution of knowledge.”
“There has never been a better time to get into new home sales than today,” said Chris Hartley, Vice President of Sales for K. Hovnanian Homes in Dallas-Fort Worth. “Nobody on this call has ever sold homes in a pandemic before,” he added. “The salesperson who pivots the faster – not the most experienced salesperson – will win.”
Conger agreed and noted that builders must be good at CRM, calling, texting, and following up. Salespeople “must be really good on a digital technology platform.”
Sanschagrin said that he advises salespeople to laser-focus on four mission-critical tasks each day:
- Connect with key partners who can help you – and up your game even further
- Advance current prospects in your pipeline
- Retain current buyers through close
- Bring more prospects in to the top of your funnel
Conger encouraged builders to be mindful of three key things: who they are, where they’re at, and to focus on what they can control. “The survival part is doing everything smart that I can,” Conger said. “The adapting part is virtual selling.”
“You need virtual tours, great online content, photo-real renderings, 3-D floor plans, unassisted tours and DocuSign,” Myers Barnes added. He noted that with interest rates so low, builders have a one-time supply of what he referred to as “free money” to make investments in tools – which will remain useful long after the pandemic.
“Just go virtual!” Conger added. “The pandemic has accelerated things we would have gotten to anyway,” she said.
Barnes agreed and urged builders that they must shift their mindset to thrive – now and past COVID-19. Builders need to say, “I’m a technology company – and building is what I do,” he said.
As actionable take-aways, Hartley offered what he referred to as the three D’s:
- Decide – what you want and what you’ll change to achieve it
- Divorce – the negative and marry the positive
- Do It – take massive action every day
Conger closed this webinar by quoting the owner of CBH Homes. “We just need two things,” Conger said, “Gratitude and hunger.”
How Will our Homes (and We) Change? With Tim Costello and Melissa Morman
Melissa Morman, Client Experience Officer of BDX, kicked off this webinar by noting the goal was to help builders understand the key technologies and disruptions that will most impact home building in general – and home design in specific – during and after COVID-19.
“In the past, our role (at BDX) was to try and persuade the industry that the time was right for important new technologies and innovations,” said Tim Costello, founder and CEO of BDX.
“In the past ten weeks, the tables have flipped,” he added, “Builders are aggressively seeking out both proven and new technologies to design and build better homes and to meet home shoppers where they are today – online – and better to serve them virtually.”
In an analogy used by many leading venture capital firms, Costello divided all products into two categories: vitamins, which may make you healthier over time – versus painkillers, which have the highest necessity in times of severe pain.
The pain of the pandemic – and the compelling need to pivot to online sales and design for new homes – have transformed many products that builders have known were like vitamins and good for them – into painkillers which are the only solution to sell new homes today.
Costello and Morman agreed that the list of painkillers that builders need today to continue to sell homes includes many familiar tools – virtual tours, interactive floor plans, photo-realistic renderings, interactive site plans, visualizers, and the Envision Online Design Center.
“Think about every step in the homebuyer’s journey that you used to conduct in person,” Morman said. “Then ask yourself how you can deliver a great customer experience for that step in your homebuyer’s journey online, virtually, and remotely.”
Costello said that BDX was even testing a Virtual Happy Hour with three builders, offering cocktail recipes, live online tours of model homes, and a fun new approach to sharing new homes. More than one builder emailed BDX during the webinar to learn how their firms could join future Happy Hours.
When asked where to start, both panelists agreed on this strategy for builders looking to survive and thrive: “Content, content, content! With a virtual tour and interactive assets for each model home.”
Much of the remainder of the webinar was devoted to trends in home designs, features, options and upgrades that both panelists expect to see in new homes – as a reaction to COVID-19, but also as key differentiators for new vs. used homes.
Costello and Morman both noted that many products and trends they have seen at CES – and shared in their “Best of CES” Panel at IBS – will only accelerate in homebuyer appeal and demand. Examples include:
- Bringing the online Design Center into every phase of the buyer journey – presale, before and during the Design Studio visit, and across the buyer’s journey and as owners
- Unattended self-guide showings of model homes and spec homes – which the duo also covered in their separate BDXtra podcast with Tom Nelson of UTour, also covered here.
- Telepresence and Robots – Costello noted that some builders raised an eyebrow before the pandemic when hearing that Nashville-based Goodall Homes had deployed a friendly robot greeter with a human operator in model homes. “Now that looks pretty smart!” Costello noted.
- Chatbots – vital because 43% of home shoppers do not want to speak to a human on their first interaction with a builder – and 50% of online chats occur outside normal business hours. Chatbots also pair well with humans, can escalate to them, speak 100 languages, and give consistent and correct answers to frequent questions.
- Rethinking the Home Office – The Home is THE Office for Many – “The desk in the hallway with spotty Wi-Fi no longer works,” Costello noted. Builders have a great opportunity to create thoughtfully designed and efficient workspaces with ample storage, task and natural lighting, soundproofing, Wi-Fi throughout the home – and even a place for a green screen with lighting and acoustics designed for professional online meetings.
- Mudrooms Wil Morph Into True Transition Zones – where residents shed their out-of-home wardrobe and adopt fresh, clean comfortable garments as they transition into the refuge and safe haven living spaces of their new home.
- Touchless is the New Normal – There is no need to touch faucets, light switches, garage door openers , and many facets of the home that can be controlled by voice or via one smartphone – dramatically reducing the number of surfaces to be cleaned.
- Self-Cleansing and Self-Healing Surfaces – Costello urged builders to differentiate newly built homes with advanced anti-microbial and anti-viral surface.
- Change is in the Air – The panelists agreed demand for next-generation HVAC will soar – and smart builders will leverage that need as another differentiator of new vs. used homes. Costello cited MERV-13 filtration and U/V light in air-handling systems to eliminate bacteria and viruses.
In summary, panelists advised builders that technologies and disruptors like BIM, Simulation, Automation, IoT health technologies, and offsite construction are here to stay – and will only increase in buyer demand – and builders would be wise to embrace them.
“A new home today has eclipsed the past. Builders must match their marketing to what consumers are worried about – and searching for on Google – and meet their needs,” Costello said.
“A new home is not just a new address. It’s a wholly-different entity and offering than a used home,” he added.
Unscripted and Unrehearsed – Part 2: A Free-Wheeling Debate with Five Industry Experts
This webinar featured five new home sales and marketing leaders in a spirited and fast-flowing debate that lived up to its description: unscripted and unrehearsed. Judging by an equally lively stream of real-time comments from attendees, listeners clearly agreed.
Moderator Chad Sanschagrin, CEO of Cannonball Moments, kept the conversation on the boil. I was clear from the start that all five panelists came to debate. Equally clear was the respect and affection each panelist had for each other – despite lots of fun verbal fencing throughout.
Quint Lears, host of NewHomeSales.com was dapper in jacket and tie, causing Chad to poll the panel on when each last wore a tie. Lears got the debate going right away. “I think I last wore a tie to a funeral,” Sanschagrin teased Lears.
Lears took the ribbing with a smile and set up a debate about the role of people vs. technology that framed and defined this webinar.
“The people I want to reach are the salespeople who love humans – and the builders who want to build great homes,” Lears said. “A lot of this (marketing) technology is great, but I’d encourage salespeople to develop hard skills,” he added.
“Technology is essential now because it’s the only way we can connect (with home shoppers), Alaina Money-Garman countered. The founder and CEO of Raleigh-based Garman Homes added, “Don’t use it (technology) if you’re going to be arms-length or fake,” Money-Garman said, agreeing in part with Lears.
Speaking out as an advocate for the latest builder marketing technology, Chris Hartley, VP Sales for K. Hovnanian Homes in DFW, waded deeper into the people vs. tech debate.
“We have to communicate the way our buyers want to communicate,” Hartley said. “That’s why we have OSC’s (Online Sales Counselors), UTour and Chatbots. There’s nothing better than human connection, but Chatbots are great…because the fact is that 48% of salespeople never follow-up.”
If six noted industry experts were not sufficient, Mike Lyon of Do You Convert joined in with comments as an audience member, cheerfully agreeing that he was enjoying “trolling” the webinar.
“Tech is not going to replace salespeople yet,” said Matt Riley, a VP at Group Two Advertising, “but salespeople who use technology will replace salespeople who don’t.”
Riley cited video email – especially a follow-up email with a quick video to remind home shoppers of features they liked in the model – as a great way to keep a prospect engaged. A lively debate ensued on whether to call the prospect immediately – Sanschagrin advocated that – while other panelists heaped scorn on the idea of calling someone five minutes after the left the model.
Regardless of the timing, a consensus emerged that video emails and follow-up calls were both essential. Money-Garman reminded builders, “You have to change your tone to match the technology.” However, she also urged builders to focus on the larger goal – to communicate genuinely and authentically – regardless of the form of communication used.
An especially entertaining rabbit hole was the hot-potato topic of builders who send automated texts asking the prospect to rate their model home experience on a scale of 1 to 10. An exasperated Mike Lyon eventually sought to re-rail the conversation by commenting as an audience member that “Hey, it’s a follow up survey. It’s not marketing follow-up.”
The spirited banter took another look at Chatbots. Matt Riley came to their defense. He asked listeners, “Has anyone ever just needed a quick answer that doesn’t need to be a masterpiece of personalization?”
Riley and other noted that builders get many important questions from home shoppers via their website during non-business hours – and during time slots hours when live web chat is typically off-line.
Hartley noted that Chatbots provide better answers, as well. He challenged listeners with a provocative statement, that “70% of builder salespeople shouldn’t be selling homes.”
Quint Lears made the point that the people behind the technology matter. “Bassam Salem (founder and CEO of AtlasRTX) is one of the most sensitive and caring people in the industry,” Lears said. “That’s why his Chatbot is so good. It’s amplifying a good message.”
BDX and leading builders partner with AtlasRTX on a Chatbot powered by machine learning and AI. The Chatbot was designed from the onset to pair with a human OSC. The Bot speaks 100 languages and can answer many important questions 24/7 – but it was also designed to involve humans when needed.
While he praised the AtlasRTX Chatbot and the human values behind it, Lears noted the reverse can be true in other cases. “Technology is like a microphone,” Lears said. “If you’re disliked (as a salesperson), technology will make you disliked by more people.”
As she did periodically during the webinar, Money-Garman waded into the fray with a voice of reason.
“If someone uses technology to make a personal connection with me, then I’m all-in,” Money-Garman said. “I want genuine relationships with all of our customers. Then the technology is simply what we use to create this relationship that is magical, genuine and authentic.”
“If you’re not leading with empathy – with 30 million people unemployed and people dying (due to COVID-19), then you’re commission-focused, not mission focused,” said Sanschagrin.
“Get more human,” Money-Garman advised builders. “Use technology to get more transparent. Meet people where they are.”
With a nod to the panel’s often-boisterous debate, Riley summed up the session.
“We (the panelists) all agree on 99% of things,” Riley said. “It was our job – and fun – to debate the 1%.”