Published: 28th Apr 2020

How can home builders' digital channels work harder?

At a very tough time for the new home buying sector, how can digital help drive greater engagement and longer term leads?

Tim Jones - Managing Director

At True, we have extensive experience of helping brands squeeze more value from their digital channels.

We recently delved into the new home buying experience, and conducted some home buyer depth interviews, quantitative survey and mystery shopping to understand perceptions and challenges of considering and buying a new build and the role and experiences of digital channels. Based on this, and our wider knowledge and experience in multiple sectors, we have identified key opportunities for digital to work harder for house builder brands.

Even if it were possible to put aside the recent virus related challenges, It’s not easy being a house builder in the current climate  – a shortage of new build stock, rising material costs, a narrowing of Help to Buy criteria, and low levels of buyer confidence and economic uncertainty all conspiring to squeeze the market.

At the same time, there is also a new build perception problem. Our research found that almost half of those surveyed would not currently consider buying new. They’re skeptical of quality and under the impression that the homes will be cramped, boxy and soulless.

Many of them didn’t feel that brands are communicating the benefits of a new build effectively through digital channels. Those that were skeptical before, were often surprisingly positive after a viewing. Overcoming that perception barrier and getting them to commit to a viewing is a critical challenge.

So, how could digital work harder to persuade those who are uncertain? We’ve identified 5 key building blocks (ahem) to make your digital channel more effective

1. Make your development and property content richer and more relevant to your buyers. 

Sounds obvious, but given the perception issues over quality, storage limitations and cramped space, it’s an opportunity to reassure would-be buyers on these areas. For example, prioritizing guarantees and insurance content and Including testimonials and endorsements from existing buyers, and showing the range of storage in use.
Secondly, include richer contextual information on your developments. You’re asking people to imagine a lot about their future lives on a development, giving people better and richer information on aspects such as local amenities, how the new community is forming – societies, clubs and sports teams for example.
Additionally, contextualise content for user groups, particularly for returning visitors. For example, if you know they looked at information about local schools on their first visit, then prioritise amenity information relevant to families.

2. Sell the lifestyle, not the plot

Buying a house is a complex mix of head and heart, rational and emotional. Getting the richness of digital content and customers journeys really honed is only half the equation. Your website needs to sell the dream too. What would it feel like to live on your development? From our interviews, people needed to feel a sense of place, beyond the functional information. There is an opportunity to communicate emotion, show what it’s really like, rather than tell where possible. Consider utilizing the power of advocacy of buyers who have already moved in and are enjoying the development and its amenities.

3. Make your digital experience as helpful as you will be to buy a house with.

Your digital experience is a microcosm of what the experience of buying a property from you will be perceived as being. Is it effortless? Does it help me evaluate and make the decision?

55% of our survey responders said that they expected the buying experience of a new build to be much simpler and easier than buying a pre-owned house. Does your website allow easy comparison of house types and plots for example? Are calls to action as clear and compelling as possible? Do you send automated texts/reminders with location details and timing confirmation? Have you worked hard to ensure you’re answering all the potential considerations or objections a buyer might have in your content? Are you following up on enquiries and leads fast? From some mystery shopping this did not appear to be the case, with some call back requests or general enquiries going unanswered entirely.

If someone has gone to the effort of contacting you – ensure the speed and consistency of follow up through your CRM and lead management processes are tip top.

4. Create the next phase of demand

Your website should not just be a snapshot of current plots. From our research, frequently current phases and plots were largely sold out, others were yet to come to market but weren’t being shown on websites. Consider how you can whet appetites and create a longer term digital pipeline. Post first phases, you have a greater opportunity to use real experiences, detail and richness about what it is like to live on the development than you had when it was only a concept – make the most of that. Make sure you are giving attention to the potential sale that might be 9-12 months out, capture interest, consider how to keep prospective buyers updated, and in-market. We found that there was sometimes only real urgency and interest in following up if it was believed a buyer was immediately in a position to buy the remaining plot on the ‘live’ phase. That sort of short-term approach risks limiting pipeline growth.

5. Let digital do the heavy lifting in your follow up communications

Once someone has had a viewing, how is digital supporting your follow up process and experience? Our experiences suggest it is patchy. In many instances there was no follow up through any channel post visit or at best a generic system-triggered email, and a phone call if we were lucky.

The process of viewing show homes or specific plots can be overwhelming, particularly if the buyer is shown several in one visit and may well be seeing other properties and developments on the same day or over a weekend. Follow up communications present an opportunity to highlight and remind buyers what they viewed, price points, commercial offers and propose next steps. With the Sales consultant having met and made a connection with them, it could also feel much more personal if it comes from them too.

Having worked hard and invested in getting a prospective buyer to commit to a viewing, make sure that you’re using digital channels to help maximise the opportunity with that lead.
If you’d like to know more about how we can help you profit from more effective use of digital, please get in touch with Tim