Buying... Site Unseen

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If you build it they will come. That was the kind of faith it took Heritage Communities Inc., a Myrtle Beach, S.C., multi-family home builder to move forward with the full compliment of services it offers.

March 01, 2000

If you build it they will come.
That was the kind of faith it took Heritage Communities Inc., a Myrtle Beach, S.C., multi-family home builder to move forward with the full compliment of services it offers through its online venture www.heritagesc.com.
So robust and professional is the site that Inc. Magazine recently recognized it as being among the top three sites among the 500 fastest growing privately held firms it tracks in its annual listing--The Inc. 500.

"They looked at clean design and navigation, clever use of the web medium, fast-loading pages and innovative approaches to commerce," says W. Gwyn Hardiser, a senior VP with Heritage. "Only three sites were given a superior rating and ours was listed first."

But that is icing on the cake. Incredibly, the online auction portion of the site has generated two transactions since the service went live a few months ago. And about eight other homes have received serious bids, says Heritage manager of information systems Kirk Yedinak.

"That’s why we designed our site to be so robust," says Yedinak. "People can go there and get a real appreciation for what each of our communities is really like."
Streaming video provides "Virtual Tours" of each of Heritage’s six communities. Want more views? Take a look a several aerial photos of each development. Or, you can control a panoramic camera of each community. In addition, buyers can access detailed information: floor plans, amenities, local maps, listings of available units and their prices, as well as the history of the development.

Some parts of the site, however, border on overkill. Take for instance the chat room. Yedinak says prospects will sometimes log on and find few others. At other times the chat room will be full of Heritage staffers communicating with one another from the various communities.

All things considered, the site is about as ambitious an offering on the Web as has yet been designed for a builder trying to reach consumers. Which brings us to how the company became inspired to pursue this ambitious site in the first place. The answer, says Yedinak, is that they had previously completed a marketing CD-ROM. So, says Yedinak, they embarked on a plan to migrate its look, feel and content to the web.
About $40,000 was spent to design the CD-ROM and to develop its content. They paid about $9000 to a local web-design firm to transition the CD-ROM to the web and to add the auction and chat functions.

From Heritage’s point of view, home buying on the web is in its infancy and thus they sought to be out front and to learn from the process. They learned that investment buyers are more likely to take advantage of the auction. So, to induce buyers to bid online, they offered an 8% discount.
Says Yedinak, "People who have bid on and purchased these units just buy it unseen, and then go ahead and put it in their rental program."

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