|M. Wayne Nelson is CEO of Redondo Beach, California-based Nelson & Gilmore, a full service advertising and public relations agency specializing in corporate and project marketing for the real estate industry. Visit the company's web site at www.nelsongilmore.com.
An e-revolution is occurring throughout the real estate industry and aggressive builders and developers, who are using the Internet to change and vastly improve the way they do business, are reaping the rewards.
It is a given that the Internet is a potent sales tool that helps home buyers preview a community and narrow their range of new home choices-and new home builders-before going out to look at a specific property. There is no doubt that burgeoning use of the Internet by the home building industry has increased traffic and sales at new-home communities across the country.
The Internet is also having a powerful effect on how builders market their projects. "We are seeing a shift in how builders spend their marketing dollars with more money being channeled into Internet sites," says Stefan Markowitz, president of MBK Homes Ltd., the home building division of Irvine, California-based MBK Real Estate Ltd.
"In the future, I expect we will see more builders begin to change the focus of their entire advertising campaigns as well. They may continue to advertise in newspapers as they always have, but most likely, the ad copy will direct buyers to an Internet site, which can convey much more information than the traditional half-page advertisement."
Technology is also changing the relationship between builder and advertising agency in a positive, time-saving way. In the past, agencies met with clients on a weekly basis to review their ads. But with the advent of software like Acrobat Reader, ads can be e-mailed to clients for critique and to newspapers and magazines for publication, setting up a quicker turn-around process and ultimately saving time and money for all involved.
The most forward-looking home builders have realized that the Internet can have perhaps its greatest impact in the area of customer service. For instance, MBK Homes Ltd. is in the process of creating a forum for communication and exchange with its customers that allows them to gain access to information around the clock via the builder's Internet site.
MBK Homes' web site contains all the traditional information buyers need to help them in their purchasing decision. However, it also gives buyers access to virtual home tours, webcam photos to watch construction progress, option and customizing choices, mortgage information and an interactive escrow process so that homeowners can communicate with MBK Homes and the lender and track the progress of their escrow 24 hours a day.
"Our interactive Internet site will also improve our personal relationships with our buyers by opening up lines of communication outside the sales office," says Markowitz. "In the past, buyers had to comply with the established hours of our sales and customer service offices. This has often proved difficult for buyers who couldn't take time off from their jobs to call us or come to our on-site sales office.
"The Internet is a means of enhancing the breadth of information available to buyers and making it more convenient for them to communicate with us on their time schedule. So, if a question comes up about flooring options at 10 p.m., a buyer can go online and check out the options or immediately e-mail their questions directly to our sales representatives."
MBK Homes is also in the process of putting its complete homeowner's manual on the web site. "That way our buyers won't have to make extended telephone calls to get the detailed information or answer to their question," explains Markowitz. "Certainly the goal of this system is to make the buyer's purchasing process more convenient, however it has the added benefit of helping free up our sales representatives to concentrate on selling."
Taking customer service to a new level, Redondo Beach, California-based Anastasi Development Corporation has instituted a unique system to increase productivity company-wide.
"We purchased Palm Pilots for all our customer service representatives, who take them with on their advance walk-throughs with customers," says John Simons, spokesperson for Anastasi Development Corporation. "While walking through the homes, the reps upload all necessary data to a network, so that everyone gets exactly the same updated information at the same time.
"For example, during the walk-through, a rep might find that one of the home's electrical outlets doesn't work. Several people need that information to ensure the problem is corrected. The head office should be notified, as well as the superintendent who will have to call the electrician. A new closing date should be scheduled, because a customer won't close and move into the home until the problem is fixed.
"With the Palm Pilot system, the customer service rep can upload the information to a network without having to waste time visiting or calling each office separately. The system is so successful we've even put our tradespeople and our buyers in the online loop and created a very efficient and cost-effective communication network."
The real estate industry has realized that its customers are Internet savvy. They want from their home builder the same kind of complete service that the automobile industry and retailers like The GAP are delivering today in the way of online purchasing and customer service.
Aware that home buyers want immediate information and service, home builders are making gigantic progress in delivering the same kind of Internet services as million dollar companies.