Across the financial services industry, firms have been rapidly coming up with new ways of operating during the Covid-19 pandemic and the new-build homes market is no exception.
Mortgage brokers have reported that some developers have been quick to adapt to the new working conditions and already made improvements to their websites and processes.
Helen Pierson, MAB network partner, said some of the developers she worked with had introduced a live chat function on their websites so her advisers could communicate directly with potential buyers browsing the site, answer questions or book telephone or video link mortgage appointments. They have also embedded affordability calculators into developers’ websites for buyers to use.
“The whole buying process is going to change, forcing people not just to shop online but to do business online too,” said Pierson.
“Video chat is a great way to speak to clients. Prior to the pandemic, there had been a reduction in face-to-face to appointments anyway. But after this we’re going to see the way we deal with our customers change.”
Housebuilders such as Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon have already restarted construction and the Home Builders Federation says that the next step is to safely reopen sales offices and show houses for buyers.
Safety measures being discussed are the use of perspex screens erected in between sales staff and buyers like those used in supermarkets, ways to digitally sign documents and socially distanced show home viewings. But some developers are using technology to sidestep the need for in-person meetings and viewings.
Mobeen Akram, national new homes director for MAB, said: “Housebuilders are using innovative ways to adapt to current market conditions and embracing technology to carry out new homes sales.
“As well as virtual home tours online, some builders are investing in smart phone technology to be used when sales advisers are back at work. This will allow advisers to give house tours via FaceTime, giving prospective clients a feel of what it would be like to walk around their new home.”
Akram said developers were also using online platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom to share house plans, drawings and layouts so that buyers can interact directly with staff on site to tailor the specification of their new home.
Pierson said housebuilders had also been hosting “virtual meet the expert weekends” so they could continue to take reservations ahead of the majority of sites reopening.
Once lockdown restrictions are lifted, developers say they will show buyers around sites in person if it is safe to do so, but the popularity of virtual viewings has convinced some firms to continue using digital technology to sell homes.
Markus Kendall-Young, head of sales and marketing for SME developer Catalyst, said: “Our virtual tours are a fantastic asset, allowing purchasers to really get a feel for a development from the comfort of their home, and video appointments are working well.
“Many of our buyers feel that reserving a home online is a similar process to buying a home off-plan, which is common for those interested in new-build homes.
“We feel there is no reason we can’t continue to develop our online offer beyond the lockdown period, continuing to offer buyers the option to reserve online in the future.”
After investing in technology last year, housebuilder Redrow said its buyers can virtually look around plots and reserve homes online with no need to come into a sales office.
“We couldn’t have predicted that the ability to look around plots and reserve homes virtually would be as important as it is today,” said Matt Grayson, group customer and marketing director at Redrow. “But our investment in technology has meant that we have been well placed to support our customers who have still wanted to progress with their move during lockdown.”
London and South East housebuilder Hill is using screen sharing technology to conduct virtual tours. A member of the sales team virtually guides a potential buyer around a show house or apartment talking them through the fixtures and fittings and the size and specification of the homes.