After talking with home builders across the U.S. and Canada these past few weeks, I’ve discovered something important: Homebuyers have become really good at social distancing. They’re hunkering down at home, playing with their kids and dogs, cooking and ordering takeout, and spending time on their digital devices. Lots of time. Daily screen time is way up—as much as 50%.
While this is excellent news for flattening the curve of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s wreaking havoc with home builders. The problem isn't entirely that home sales are down; the real issue is with buyers staying at home, leaving sold but not-yet-started homes in a holding pattern awaiting crucial design decisions by their buyers.
This is particularly true for builders’ design centers, where many have closed and others are offering services by appointment only. Those that are open are seeing an uptick in cancellations. We can’t blame homebuyers—they’re doing what’s necessary to stay healthy and get America back to normal. But what should builders do to keep their designers busy and new homes progressing through this critical phase of the new-home process?
Builders and Homebuyers Shift to Online
Instead of leaving buyers (and their homes) hanging and your designers sitting on their hands, it’s time for home builders to get the two of them together online and ultimately get sold homes back on track. Fortunately, there are proven tools and tips to effectively and efficiently move design center appointments online.
1] Tap video conferencing for design appointments
First, you’ll need to decide on the right video conferencing tool for conducting design appointments. Many businesses are turning to Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, and similar platforms to communicate with both clients and employees during the current coronavirus crisis. Sure, you could just call or email, but these platforms take design appointments to the next level and provide clients with a more personalized experience.
Click here for a list of the best video conferencing tools available.
2] Digitize your product catalog and documents
Next, it’s time to digitize your product catalog and other necessary documentation. From product pricing to lists of standard features and available options, you’ll need to compile and present everything clearly by providing homebuyers with a comprehensive digital catalog. This can easily be created as a PowerPoint presentation, saved and delivered as a PDF, or by your graphic designer or an outside agency.
3] Use digital design tools in place of your design center
Finally, it’s time for the finishes. This is the most important, yet also most challenging, part of the process. Finishes not only account for 70% of design upgrades, but they’re the hardest decision homebuyers will have to make. Think about it: You’ve probably experienced buyers who found it impossible to make choices based on samples of paint, tile, flooring, and other finishes; they simply can’t visualize them in the final room.
Emailing links to design ideas from Pinterest or Houzz is one option. But more realistic is adopting the latest generation of 3D online digital design tools that bring all of the finish material choices to life, and the collaboration and camaraderie of design centers into buyers’ homes. Such tools empower designers and buyers to explore options and make decisions together, decisions you can start executing now.
The ideal platform creates a custom, virtual-reality experience featuring your floor plans and a database of all of your finish options. Then, your designer and customers can literally go room by room and design the entire interior of the house in true-to-life 3D digital reality, with you there to guide them. It is, quite simply, an amazing experience people love and a growing number of national builders are adopting.
The New Normal for Builders and Buyers
But it takes time to create a builder-specific platform, so we recently launched a new digital design experience called Infinity Kitchen that builders can activate overnight. Just like our full-scale platform, Infinity Kitchen enables designers to work with buyers in real time, experimenting with colors and finishes, sharing design ideas and—music to builders’ ears—making decisions.
When we get past this period of coronavirus lockdown, which will hopefully be sooner rather than later, life will get back to normal, but it will be a new normal. People will be even more dependent on technology that makes life more convenient, the things we want and need more accessible on our time and our terms. While online digital design solutions will help builders keep construction moving now, they are likely to be the status quo tomorrow.
Chan Walker is COO and founding partner of Roomored, a comprehensive technology platform for home builders that is transforming the way homebuyers shop for and design their homes. Send him a note at [email protected].