Surf's Up!

Technology has become a prevalent force in our everyday lives. With more than 85% of households owning at least one computer and 70% with high-speed connections, it should be no surprise that home-buying transactions are starting to take place on the Internet. According to the National Association of Home Builders' HomeBuilder.
By By Rhonda Jackson, Staff Editor | February 28, 2005

Case Study: Using the Internet to Stimulate Sales

Technology has become a prevalent force in our everyday lives. With more than 85% of households owning at least one computer and 70% with high-speed connections, it should be no surprise that home-buying transactions are starting to take place on the Internet.

According to the National Association of Home Builders', 71% of home purchases begin in cyberspace in comparison to 41% that begin with a traditional newspaper search. To remain competitive and reach potential buyers, homebuilders are going to have to catch the wave and get online.

Online Advantages

One of the major advantages of having an online presence is there are no limitations to the days and times that you are open for business. There is no need for customers to wait for your models to open, you can sell your homes 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

There are at least two avenues available for builders to take to develop a web presence: have a website built to feature the various home products you offer or buy the services of an internet portal, which will feature and host a website for you.

Keys to an effective Internet presence

Whether you recruit the services of a web designer or avail yourself of the Internet marketing services of a web host, there are several key points to remember to have an effective Internet presence.

  • Key Point 1. Perhaps the most important thing to remember when establishing your web presence is to display realistic and vibrant visuals. Be sure to include pertinent, inclusive information as well.
    Potential homebuyers are eager to see what their future home will look like. If you build homes on spec — or are pre-selling new construction — you will need to rely on renderings and floor plans to paint a picture of your finished product.
    Another effective visual for builders with finished models is virtual tours. Visual tours give potential homebuyers a video-streamed tour of home models without having to step foot outside.
  • Key Point 2. Another important factor to having an effective web presence is to provide relevant and comprehensive information in an easily navigated format. Most people in the market for a new home are concerned about price, amenities and location and/or community.
    Creating a website that includes the base price of the home as well as the pricing structure for optional amenities will save you and the consumer a lot of time. The consumer will be able to assess if your offering of homes and community is a good fit for them economically and socially. You will save time by having qualified leads that are well informed.
  • Key Point 3. One last factor to remember when building a web presence is to include features on the site that support follow-up activity. Encourage interaction between your company and potential clients by providing the e-mail addresses and phone numbers of your sales people.
  • While every person who visits your site may not turn into an actual prospect, by asking for information about visitors to the website, you are building up a database of potential clients.

Case Study: Using the Internet to Stimulate Sales

Once you've gotten intrigued clients to your Web site, what do you do with the resulting leads? Barbara Stowers, Southern California marketing manager for Florida-based Taylor Woodrow Communities, has perfected some unconventional Web site operations to help the upscale builder manage robust sales in high-demand communities.

"It's a great problem to have," she admits, "but we've struggled in the past with how to manage the sales process to be fair to everyone. The Web site proved to be a great tool for us at Botanica, a 74-home community of detached homes priced in the $800,000 range, and centering on 2500 square feet. The site at Irvine Ranch was in huge demand, with pent-up demand bordering on hysteria.

"We opened models in October 2003," Stowers recalls, "but we started marketing on the Web site and cross-selling from other communities several months before the models opened. We drove everyone to the Web site for more information, and 6,000 people signed up on our interest list."

The solution to this challenge? Taylor Woodrow worried the Web site was not secure enough to use for transmission of private financial and contractual data, but Stowers had prospects print out pre-qualification forms, fill them out, and fax them to the Web site. "I have a friend in the entertainment business who used this technique to manage who got to audition first for parts in a film," Stowers says. "He told me we could tie the fax machine into the computer so it would record the order in which the forms were received, down to the nanosecond.

"We had 1500 people file those forms, and they came in within half-seconds of each other. We tracked it, and had the order for our waiting list — and we didn't have to worry about the fax machine running out of paper!"

Stowers has also used the TW Web site to free up cash needed for a land buy in the red-hot Southern California market. "We had 11 projects with model homes. To free up cash, we decided to sell the models to investors, and then lease them back until we no longer needed them as models. We used the Web site for an e-Bay-like auction that we advertised in the L.A. Times and Wall Street Journal," Stowers says.

Despite these exotic uses, Taylor Woodrow finds time to use its Web site for its best role, deepening a dialogue with sales prospects and moving them from casual interest to model home visitors. Like so many others, TW has discovered the wisdom of having an Internet sales specialist.

"I went on the Marriott site once, when I was looking for a vacation destination," Stowers recalls. "I was moving from one segment of the site to another when, suddenly, I got this message, 'Can I help you?' It was like a voice in the darkness, a real person in cyber-space.

"I got the message," Stowers says, "so now we have a real person who does nothing but respond to requests for information on our Web site. If she can, she gets a phone number and calls. She asks probing questions to get to exactly what they want and how they want to receive it. Then she turns the lead over to the sales people."

TW should have a leg up if the Southern California market ever cools enough to require actually selling houses again.


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