People are continuing to buy homes in the COVID-19 era. That’s the takeaway from the first-ever America at Home Study, which gauges consumer sentiment in light of the pandemic to understand the design changes consumers want to see in new homes and communities.
The findings reveal that demand for new homes is greater than the industry and analysts anticipated. And, while in-person events to drive homes sales are currently on hold, builders and developers have quickly pivoted to using Zoom video conferencing and social media, with positive results.
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Using Video Conferencing or Live Streaming: A Quick Primer
Whether using Zoom for online events, meetings, sales calls, or media interviews, or streaming live on Facebook or Instagram, here are some best practices to ensure a quality experience:
- Good lighting and positioning: Make sure you have plenty of steady light across your face, but close the curtains if you’re sitting in front of a window so backlight doesn’t put your face in silhouette. Be sure your camera is placed just above your eyesight as well, so your face is framed correctly and doesn’t take up the whole screen. (Read these tips on how to look your best when video conferencing.)
- Reduce noise: Find a quiet space away from household happenings. Treat your home office like a closed set, shut the door, and lock it. Consider a pair of wireless earphones to help cut out background sound.
- Pay attention: Look at the camera while others are talking. Don’t go half off camera or touch your face. Just be aware of what you are doing—this is not a phone call.
- Dress the part: Choose simple clothes in neutral hues, and avoid stripes or loud colors. Patterns can be tricky, too. Bottom line: look professional.
- Test and do a practice run: Big media interview or virtual event? Make sure your equipment works properly. Do a walkthrough and record it to make sure it looks and sounds good.
Tapping Zoom and Social Media to Create Compelling Virtual Events
Social media has long been an important component in a home builder’s marketing arsenal, but with physical distancing in place, it’s taken on an even larger role. Gina Nixon, VP of sales and marketing at Thomas James Homes, which builds in California and the Pacific Northwest, says the builder has taken its social media strategies to the next level with a series of live events.
“We hosted an online event to launch our newest brand, Trademark by TJH," Nixon says. "The event was a live preview hosted by co-founder and CEO, Tommy Beadel. He virtually toured participants through the first two Trademark models. The event was fun and informative, with over 70 live participants. More than 1,000 people have viewed the recording since and we have sold four of our new Trademark homes, with more in the works. Everyone, from customers to sales staff to trade partners, loved it, and we are planning to use the same kind of strategy when we launch TJH in Northern California soon.”
- Live videos: Livestreams can be streamed on Facebook and Instagram, letting users “broadcast” an event live. Encourage viewers to like, comment, and share, but also encourage them to join your interest list. Show off amenities such as outdoor paths, outdoor kitchens, or pool areas. Have your sales staff host the video. This gives them the opportunity to introduce themselves and build relationships with buyers.
- Meet-the-team events: These kinds of events, hosted on Zoom, help create deep engagement. For instance, “Meet the Designer” could help spark imagination. “Meet the Lender” could tout today’s low interest rates or explain how to purchase a home online. “Meet the Architect” could offer insights into nthe design vision behind the community.
- Produce a VIP event: Producing fun, interactive livestreams is key to transitioning from the ever-popular in-person VIP event. For example, send attendees a bottle of wine and a tasting menu ahead of time and have them watch a wine and food pairing hosted by a local chef. Then “walk” through the property with your sales team and conduct live polls asking attendees about their favorite features in each space. Yes, there can even be a ribbon-cutting and guest speakers, from local officials to a local celebrity.
- Don’t be too scripted: Nixon says the Thomas James Homes team doesn’t do extensive training, with some of the unscripted antics making the presentation more genuine. When social media feels too staged, it fails. “Technology is bringing people together every day, but it has to stay real; otherwise that trust never develops,” Nixon says.
TRI Pointe’s Maracay brand recently used social for a successful VIP event to celebrate the grand opening of Waterston, its master planned community in Gilbert, Ariz.
“Celebrity designer Bobby Berk had merchandised three new model homes at Waterston’s Domaine neighborhood, and we were planning a grand opening event when COVID-19 hit,” says Elise Goodell, director of marketing operations for TRI Pointe Group. “We had built a robust interest list and needed to find a creative way to keep the momentum going. We quickly pivoted to an online event featuring Bobby, which we broadcast live via Zoom and Facebook and promoted with email invitations and social posts. Between live views during the event and current views on Maracay’s Facebook page where the video is archived, more than 1,000 people have viewed it,” she adds.
Domaine at Waterston has had 19 sales in 10 weeks as of late July—it opened in late March—and it, along with two other neighborhoods (Brighton at Waterston and Avocet at Waterston), which launched within this master planned community during the same time frame, have 75 combined sales.
Home Builders Are Getting a Handle on Technology
Technology is helping the home building industry transition to new, creative approaches to selling homes. In this COVID-19 era, think outside the box, take control of the situation, and thrive!
“Anticipating a new era of online sales, TRI Pointe had already invested heavily in technology applications that allow consumers to go further in the online sales process than ever before,” says Linda Mamet, chief marketing officer for TRI Pointe Group. “While we didn’t think we’d be pivoting to this level of online sales and events so soon, COVID-19 has accelerated our use of digital platforms and actually proven the value of a very targeted marketing spend that drives fewer but higher-quality leads who convert at higher rates through our online and appointment-focused sales process.”
Carol Ruiz is founder and principal of NewGround PR & Marketing, a full service public relations and marketing agency that specializes in residential and commercial real estate development.