The Home Builder’s Guide to Overcoming COVID-19
No one can deny that the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting the economy, and it’s easy to see that it’s no longer business as usual.
As a homebuilder, this puts you in a uniquely difficult position. Social distancing and self-isolation mean fewer people will want to come out to showhomes.
Other countries are already deferring mortgage payments, and there’s a lot of financial uncertainty.
As a home builder, what steps can you take to protect yourself and your business during this time?
Surprisingly, there’s a lot!
Note: we will continue to add to this resource over time so you can bookmark the link in your browser and check back regularly for updates.
Click here for a complete list of all our COVID-19 related articles.
Jump to the section you're most interested in:
- Remote Working
- Leadership and Management
- Showhomes and Sales Centres
- Recession Marketing Tips
- Remember, the Economy Will Stabilize
There are three things you need to keep focused on in this situation:
- Support your team and take the necessary measures to keep business running smoothly
- Make sure that your marketing messages are sensitive to the situation. Meet your audience where they are and provide helpful content in order to earn their attention.
- Be ready to shift your marketing messages to help climb out of the recession once this crisis is behind us.
With that in mind, here are some tips, tricks and tools to help you survive this crisis and grow your market share.
Setting Your Team Up For Remote Working
Remote work, also called telecommuting, means the employee works from a location outside the main office. Until this pandemic hit, most builders never thought about having their employees work remotely. But now you're having to make this shift, and fast!
There is a ton of content online about this, so we've researched it and compiled the most important information for you here.
Home Office Essentials
There are some basics that each member of your team needs to work remotely. A good computer (laptop or desktop) and a solid internet connection is just the beginning.
When it comes to Internet, there is exponentially more people online given the current situation. Make sure you have enough bandwidth to be able to handle the different softwares you might need to access online.
Two other pieces of required equipment are a decent webcam and a microphone or headset.
We strongly suggest that internal meetings be video-required. Keeping your team sane and not feeling isolated is important right now. Being able to see each other's smiling faces and crazy hair-do's helps everyone feel a little more connected.
The rule in our office is: "If you can hear the voice, you have to be able to see the face."
This also ensures everyone comes dressed for work, another thing we'll cover in more detail.
The last thing you want is to be that one echo-y person in the meeting so make sure you have a decent audio setup. You don't need any professional microphone for this. A set of Apple earbuds actually works great here.
Ideally, you also want to have a dedicated space for the workstation. It really makes it much easier to switch between work and home time.
Business doesn’t have to stop simply because people are not in the office. In the last few years, more and more people have been working from home, and it’s never been easier to organize and maintain a workforce remotely.
We're speaking from experience here. We’ve been doing it for more than two years.
Virtual meetings have become a common thing now for a lot of people - both personally and for business.
However, when it comes to business, just because you can have a web meeting doesn't mean you should.
Ideally, you want to have as few meetings as possible.
Can you say it in an email? Then do so. Or better yet, use an internal instant messaging app.
There is also a whole suite of tools, such as Slack and Workplace by Facebook, to keep communication flowing smoothly throughout your team. Other options to check out would be Teamwork Chat and Google Hangouts/Meet. You can chat in real-time across your whole company and ensure everybody stays coordinated at all times.
Files and Paperwork
There’s a lot of paperwork involved in selling a home, and being able to process paperwork digitally will help your team work more efficiently, effectively and safely.
When it comes to signing off on agreements, contracts, or change orders, consider options like PandaDoc or DocuSign for accepting digital signatures. Be sure to check with your legal team to ensure that these digital signatures are legally binding.
The technology is out there to ensure both you and your customers can still do business together safely - it’s time to get out there and embrace it!
Managing projects when you're not all in the office together can be a challenge. There are a ton of apps to help with project management or for keeping track of tasks.
Depending on the needs of your company, you want to review your different options to find the best fit. And remember, you don’t always need all the bells and whistles. You have to consider how difficult it may be for your team to adapt to new softwares so sometimes simple is better.
Basecamp is a widely popular option for many, from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies. Trello is another one people like because of the board views. It supports many popular project management methods like Kanban or Agile.
Tips for Remote Working Success
By setting up for remote working, you’re not only being safe, you might find that you also save money on office space, cleaning supplies, internet and other day-to-day costs of running a centralized workplace. (We have certainly enjoyed the benefits and decrease in overhead with operating remotely!)
Here are some other suggestions to help your team see success in working remotely:
- Create company-wide guidelines for everyone. Have each team member sign a document that outlines your expectations of each employee.
- Have a dedicated workspace. Help your team to organize their own dedicated workspace in their home.
- Set and keep fixed working hours. Keeping a routine is important for remote working.
- Extend an over-abundance of grace. Remember that these are strange times that are causing many people a lot of stress and anxiety.
- Take regular breaks. Getting up for a stretch and to walk around your at least once an hour will help you stay focused and productive.
We could list out a ton of tips here. Instead, we're going to go into more detail in a post dedicated solely to this topic. We'll put a link here for you when it's live.
Leadership and Management
The uncertainty around the COVID-19 situation is causing a lot of people to stress and experience anxiety. And the media's constant barrage of stories of people being let go and businesses closing their doors is certainly not helping the situation.
Now more than ever, your team is looking at you to lead the way.
It is so important to take a people-first approach right now. Make time to talk with each member of your team.
Find out what they're thinking and what they're worried about, and empathize with them. Connect with them and show them you care and that you're here for them if they need you.
Ask them for input, ideas and suggestions on how you can best support them and empower them to do their job as best as they can.
Some other things you can do to be a great leader include:
- Communicate the vision and direction during this situation.
- Lead by example.
- Make sound and timely decisions.
- Be the calm in the midst of the storm.
- Take responsibility for your actions.
- Maintain a positive attitude.
- Check in with your team regularly and keep them informed.
- Make time to connect with and get to know your team members better.
- Show people you trust them by delegating to them.
- Ensure that tasks are understood and keep people accountable for getting them done.
When you make sure your team clearly understands what needs to be done, and you've gotten buy-in on tasks and timelines, they're much more likely to succeed.
Since social distancing is a best practice right now, most businesses are moving to virtual meetings. If this is new for you, it means new procedures and sometimes new software and you may need to account for a learning curve with your team.
Most softwares are very easy to use, so this shouldn't be a big struggle. However, ensure that all of your team members know how to use all of the features of the software you end up using.
There are a variety of conferencing apps that you can use to hold online meetings. Each of them have different features that could be useful depending on how you're structuring your meeting.
There are plenty of helpful guides online to help make this process run more smoothly. Here are a few important tips to ensure you and your team make the most of your virtual meetings:
- Use the right tools (check that list above)
- Ensure everyone has clear instructions on how to join
- Create an agenda and stick to it
- Keep meetings as short as possible
- Have a facilitator for larger meetings
- Ensure you have someone documenting any action items and decisions made
- And lastly, make sure that your spouse, kids, roommates, or anyone else you live with know when you're about to go into a meeting and to not disturb you...
Conducting online meetings is a hot topic right and we'll have more detailed information in another post. Bookmark this page and check back soon.
Training and Ongoing Learning
A lot of people are finding themselves with much more time on their hands right now. Rather than streaming all the shows on Netflix, now is a great time to improve your skills and get your learn on.
Everyone has their favourite sites for getting information online. For example, one of our favourite blogs is from HubSpot. They cover all sorts of amazing topics in the areas of marketing, sales and customer service.
Another go-to source for our team is DigitalMarketer. They offer amazing content as well as a number of different paid courses, too.
Maybe you want to dive a little deeper than simply reading blog posts and watching YouTube videos?
With a little digging, you can find all sorts of amazing online courses to help you develop your skills and boost your career.
HubSpot Academy is an awesome (and FREE) resource, full of courses in marketing, sales, and service, plus tutorials! This is part of the standard training for our own team members. Quite a few of their courses offer certifications, too. So you get a fancy certificate and badge for your LinkedIn profile when you're done (who doesn't love that?!) This is another reason why we're so fond of them!
For the readers out there, we haven't forgotten about you. DigitalMarketer put together a list of 11 marketing-related books their team loves, and we have to agree with them. Or there's the list of the 10 best sales books to level up 2020 according to The 5% Institute. And then there's this list of the top customer service, customer success, and leadership books compiled by HubSpot.
Regardless of how you like to learn, now is an incredible time to develop your skills. So don't waste it!
When times get tough, it's not uncommon for business to start taking measures to reduce their expenses to conserve their cashflow. One of the absolute WORST things you can do is cut back your marketing budget. Marketing feeds sales. Sales is revenue. If you need to increase your cashflow, you need your marketing machine to help feed your sales team more leads.
There's a great article by Forbes about why you shouldn't cut advertising when a recession comes. It's well worth the read.
So with all that's going on, what's the right way to do marketing?
Sure, there are a number of buyers that were shopping because a new home would be "nice to have." Some of them are holding off now. And some of them haven't been affected by the current pandemic and they're still going to buy.
Then there's also the group of people who a new home is a need, not a want. Maybe they're moving to the city from out of province for a new job. Or maybe they're in a high density living situation like a townhome complex or apartment and they're worried about environmental safety given the current circumstances. These people are still going to buy right now, too.
According to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, food, clothing, and shelter are three of the most fundamental physiological needs of humans. So don't be fooled, you ARE an essential service.
There are still many families out there with a need for a new home, and you want to make sure you are the trusted source of information for those families. And for those who are waiting right now, you want to earn their attention by meeting them where they are and providing helpful content that's relevant to their situation.
This all comes down to your messaging.
The most important thing you want to do is make sure your messaging is on point. It must be sensitive to the current situation. Remember... people are worried, scared, anxious, upset, stressed out, or one of however many other emotions right now.
When creating marketing-related content, it’s very important to be mindful of tone. Any content you produce needs to be extremely well thought-out and carefully crafted, so as not to come across as tone-deaf towards the current situation.
To add to the challenge, you must continue to send out weekly emails to your list.
So what kinds of things can you talk about? Here are some content ideas for you.
Content Strategy and Ideas
Some smart marketers are saying that April is the month of relationship building. Throttle back your marketing messages this month to be there for your community. Let them know what you're doing to keep them and your employees safe. Empathize with how they're feeling and share some positive, feel good stories of things happening in your community.
As we get into May, start creating marketing-related content again. But make sure you're providing a lot helpful tips and resources that meet them where they are right now. Consider writing some posts on the following topics:
- Family activities for those who are quarantined or self-isolating, such as theme days or fun family challenges.
- Promote online groups that provide help and support
- Guides for effectively cleaning your home and staying safe
- Keep a running local COVID-19 post, one you update regularly, so people can come back to get the latest news and updates
- A list of resources like banks, energy providers, and include links for those who need to claim unemployment, and so on.
- Highlight local programs that are providing assistance and relief to people in the community you serve.
By doing this, you're earning your customers attention by providing useful and helpful information and you're drawing people into your website.
As the situation develops and starts to resolve in the coming months, then you can switch back to a more balanced messaging strategy that puts some emphasis on sales.
This carries over to your social and email messaging as well. Be friendly, helpful, and resourceful. That’s what people really want and need right now.
This is a great way to get readers who aren’t in a position to buy right now into your funnel so you’ll be the first place they look when they are ready, later on.
The Sales Pipeline
Yep, this falls under Marketing's responsibility too.
The marketing you're doing today is for buyers who are currently shopping and need a home today, and those buyers coming in 2021.
Let me say that again.
Your marketing efforts are for people shopping right now, AND to get in front of and nurture those who will buy in 2021.
By collecting and nurturing those leads now, you're in a great position when they're ready.
The sales cycle for a new home is long, and COVID has made it even longer.
Like a farmer, you need to plant your seeds in the spring so you can harvest in the fall. It takes time.
Remember: Your pipeline = your lifeline. You must keep filling it.
We understand it's hard to know what to do in regards to sales right now. You don't want to seem pushy or insensitive. But you know there are many people out there who do need a home right now.
As a sales professional, you need to keep moving forward and show you are a leader.
If you haven't already, take care of any deals that have closed and are already moving through the process. The last thing you want is scared customers trying to get out of deals they've already written.
You have to be proactive - reach out to your clients before they come to you. They're already wondering if the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the construction of their home. Reach out to them and let them know. Send them updated/current photos (and videos if you can!) to reassure them that all is well.
A save right now is a sale.
If you have had clients contact you in regards to cancelling their contract, take a moment to find out why.
Do some digging to get to the root of the issue:
- Is this a fear-based or fact-based move?
- Are they simply scared?
- Did they lose their job?
Then, get them back into the same mindset they were in when they first signed the contract. Give them time to calm down and ensure they aren't making this decision in an emotional state. Remember, the pandemic is a short term problem. Buying a home is a long term decision. Don't let a long term decision be affected by a short term problem.
We can't say this enough:
You and your team absolutely have to be proactive.
Over-communicate and post-sell EVERYTHING.
- Build social capital by giving and listening first
- Build relationships by staying connected
- Build authority by adding value
- Build intimacy by opening up and being personal
It's important to meet your audience where they are. People are stressed out and struggling. Parents have been thrust into the role of home-school teacher while teachers are running classrooms out of their home. Home offices have taken over key spaces.
Connect with them and show them how much you care. Sometimes, people just need someone to listen.
This is another area where how your team works and the processes they follow needs to adapt to the situation.
Personal one-to-one video is the biggest breakthrough for sales since email. You should absolutely be using it to keep in contact with your prospects and customers. You should have been using one-to-one video before the COVID-19 situation came about. But now is a better time than any to get started with it.
In times of self-isolation and social distancing, people are craving the face-to-face human connection more than ever, so now’s a great time to record some short, relevant videos with helpful tips for your clients to rely on.
For example - send a quick 15-second personal introduction video prior to your first meeting. This will help ease anxiety and make you a little more "familiar".
Here are some great tools for sending personal one-to-one videos:
- Don’t just jump into your presentation right away! Take a moment to connect and engage; make some small talk first. Then transition into your presentation.
- Let go of how you look on video. It’s exactly how you look to another human being! Get over it and focus on the customer.
- Communicate the energy you want the customer to adopt. Get your energy up and be positive before you reach out to them.
- As Jeff Shore would say, “Be coffee-worthy”. You’re not trying to find a new BFF. But within three minutes of speaking to them, are you the kind of person they’d like to sit and have a coffee with? Yes? That’s your goal.
Now is the perfect time to recognize that opportunity. Look for the silver lining.
As more Gen-X’ers and Millennials enter the housing market, we’ve known for a while that the way homes are being sold is changing. The way you’re selling is the way that young buyers would prefer to buy anyway!
Another avenue to look at is real estate agents. Prospect your REALTOR® contacts right now! “Our homes are safe and clean and easy to show! They’re empty homes!”
Buyer’s agents don’t want to take people into resale homes right now. Buyers don’t want to go into people’s homes either. But… a brand new, CLEAN home?? You get it.
It’s way easier to sell a new home right now because safety and cleanliness is HUGE.
Showhome Reps (AKA Onsite Reps)
Showhome traffic has been on the decline for the past couple of years. And now with COVID-19, it's probably come to an abrupt halt for you. Most builders are only allowing people into showhomes by appointment only. So now you're likely finding yourself with a lot more time on your hands. But that doesn’t mean you have to sit idle.
By thinking creatively and embracing new technology, you can still use your showhomes as a great sales tool in all sorts of ways:
- Consider setting up a 360 video or even a virtual reality tour so potential customers can take a virtual tour from the comfort of their couch. A local service that uses a Matterport camera can create an entire virtual showhome for you!
- Use a camera drone to give customers a spectacular view of the home’s exterior, or even the surrounding neighbourhood. Just be sure to stay within the rules of either the FAA’s or Transport Canada’s drone restrictions.
- Have a staff member conduct a personal tour of the property using Zoom, FaceTime or one of the many other conference apps available. Take this a step further and have them book an appointment with a client, where they can walk them through the home live.
- You can even conduct sales using an Online Concierge Service (OCS), and sign documents with the tools like PandaDoc or DocuSign. The popularity of OCS’s has been increasing greatly over the last few years, and now more than ever they play an essential role in engaging leads and arranging appointments for your salespeople.
- If you don’t want to lean too much into technology, consider making your showhome viewings by appointment only instead of an open house. This prevents large groups from gathering in one spot, and as an extra benefit, it will generate more online leads.
While you still have reps and/or clients coming into your showhome, make sure you’re properly cleaning the showhome in between visits for everyone’s safety. And let your clients know what additional steps you’re taking as well, so they feel reassured.
Digital and Remote Selling
Since the majority of your operations have changed, you need to embrace the digital revolution!
One economic side-effect of COVID-19 is that it's forcing home builders to adapt to this change more abruptly than they would have liked.
These aren’t just temporary measures, however.
These changes have been coming down the pipeline for years. This is likely to become the new normal once this crisis passes, so don’t be afraid to build a solid foundation on these changes.
While others might be locking down and trying to weather the storm, it’s time to embrace some new technology and get ahead of the game.
Whatever softwares and technology you decide on, make sure you take the time to learn the features, the controls and how it all works. Create an onboarding process to train your team as well. You need to be able to explain how the tech works to someone else.
Record a short tutorial video you can send to prospects so they know how to use the software before you have your meeting. There's nothing worse than getting on a Zoom meeting with someone who has no idea how to set up the output and input for sound...
When it comes to selling remotely, you want to practice your skills. It's a different ball game. Do not practice your presentation on a customer or prospect. Practice with your colleagues.
Try doing a Zoom presentation and walk through a Matterport tour from your site. Have your colleagues watch and offer tips so when you do it with a client there's no stumbling over your words.
Get on a FaceTime call with another rep and do a virtual walk-through of the showhome. They can help point out features you want to highlight on your client call, and let you know when you're covering the camera with your fingers or pointing it up your nose.
As a sales manager, you need to adapt as well.
Managing your calendar is going to be key. You are going to be having a lot more meetings.
Ensure you make time for team meetings and look at how you're engaging your team; how you're staying connected with them.
Create a communication schedule for you and your team. For example:
- Daily 'huddles' - shouldn't be more than 15 minutes
- Mondays / Fridays - company-wide purpose
- Tuesdays / Wednesdays / Thursdays - department deliverables
- Have a daily coffee break for social connections
Other ideas and meetings you should look at include:
- Monday Morning Check-Ins / Friday Afternoon Check Outs - these would be individual for relevant team members
- Project and pipeline meetings
- Personal development check-ins
- Regular state of the union meetings - especially useful right now
You're the leader here. You need to build a remote-friendly culture and set that example for your team.
This is a good time to create plans for sales enablement, training, coaching, and collaboration, and to look at updating your sales playbook.
When it comes to coaching, there are a variety of areas you want to look at:
- Check-in on your team’s attitude
- Make sure your team knows what to do
- Collect and share best-practices
- Create a routine for yourself and your team
- Focus on time-blocking top priorities
- Work on goal-time, not clock time
This is a HUGE topic to cover, and we'll be expanding on ideas and tips to help you. Make sure to bookmark this page in your browser and check back often.
Showhomes and Sales Centres
We talked about your showhomes above but wanted to dive in a little deeper.
When it comes to viewing, you have some options. Drop-in traffic may have basically died, but that doesn't mean you have to close the door. Here's some ways you can still tour people through your showhome:
- Guided virtual tour
- Online virtual tour
- Self-guided tour
- Appointment-only in-person tour
If you're looking for software for a guided tour, check out FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Meet. The key? Whatever you pick HAS to be easy for your clients.
For online virtual tours, Matterport cameras create a 3D virtual tour you can link to and Rendering House creates virtual tours of models from your black line drawings - even if you don't have a physical model to film.
At some point, home buyers just need to walk through a real house. Whether they choose self-guided or by appointment only in-person, the procedures should be basically the same. Make sure you let your clients know the maximum number of people and any other guidelines they will need to follow
And of course, if anyone is symptomatic, the appointment must be rescheduled.
Before the appointment:
- Turn on all the lights
- Open all the doors, including a few in the kitchen so they can see inside the cabinets
- Clean and sanitize the door handles and other areas people tend to touch a lot
For the appointment:
- Provide gloves, hand sanitizer and shoe protectors for the clients
- Any feature sheets or brochures should be out, ready for them to take with them
After the appointment:
- Turn off all the lights
- Clean and sanitize the door handles and other areas people tend to touch a lot
Recession Marketing Tips
While there's a recession happening, it's not easy to allocate your resources. You have to make the most of what is usually a limited amount, not what you're used to.
You can read our full post on marketing during a recession but we're going to highlight the key points here.
This point in time gives you and your home building company a chance to come out on top - the right short-term strategic plays now will help your business grow, even during the down time.
Keep in mind that the promotions and marketing campaigns you're used to running this time of year (the 'hot' spring and summer market) are mostly likely going to fall flat. During this time, you want to focus on the family and the people who are in a position where they need a home. Those who don't aren't shopping.
Something else to think about - review and adjust your pricing. To some, this is obvious but to others not so much. So we're going to say it, just in case.
One thing many people do is cut their marketing budget to help reduce costs. Don't do this. Although it may seemed like a biased opinion, we promise it's not. You want and need to stay front-of-mind with your clients, and dropping your budget will not help you do that.
Remember, the Economy Will Stabilize
While the COVID-19 crisis is causing a lot of disruption, there are already measures in place to help stabilize the economy.
At the time of writing, the US is passing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, setting aside $2 Trillion USD to relieve industries, small businesses and workers affected by the outbreak.
Here in Canada over $52 billion has been allocated in direct support to Canadian workers and businesses so far, (up from the original $27 billion that was first discussed) and more measures could be on the way.
While this crisis might lead to a slower period for sales in the immediate future, it’s a great time to market to potential customers, particularly online.
People have a lot more free time to browse right now, and by self-isolating and staying at home for extended periods, anything they dislike about their current homes is going to be exacerbated.
What does this mean?
By acting decisively to get ahead of your competition, you’ll be in a great position to capitalize on all the leads you’ve been generating, once everything begins to return to normal and we start to see a surge in home shopping.
So where do you start with all this?
A good first step would be to come up with a workable plan and prioritize what you want to tackle first. Be sure to include rough deadlines for each step to help keep your team accountable and to be sure that your message is delivered at the appropriate moment. This is a sensitive time and you don’t want to have any mis-steps.
Alternatively, you can consider reaching out to an agency that knows the business and can help advise you on all your digital marketing needs. At Marketing Ninjas we know the industry and we specialize in real estate marketing.
To support the home building industry, we're offering free and discounted services to help you overcome COVID-19. Click the image below to schedule a free call and take advantage of this offer:
Book a free consultation with us today to see how we can help you navigate this difficult time. We will provide advice, answer questions, help with brainstorming and PR and messaging ideas - anything you are struggling with. Simply contact us for a free consult.
We're here to help you and your organization navigate through this time of uncertainty.
Originally published Apr 2, 2020. Updated Jun 29, 2020.