New home building is riding a torrid—counter-pandemic, safe-haven-fueled—sales pace. This attests to the way many firms in this trillion-dollar sector have blasted into the millennium’s technological present, and they’d like to believe that present has nothing but running room ahead. Note, though, the millennium dawned two decades ago. Builders would mostly admit they’ve got plenty of catching up to do, mostly on the customer-friendly user experience front, to make buying, owning, and building value in a home, um, less painful.
Still, feats of selling technology and process leaps and bounds they’ve accomplished in the pandemic time-warp have transformed a typical new-home hunt. Now, it’s less a grueling test of intestinal fortitude and more something resembling, well, shopping for just about everything else.
For instance, we’ve learned now that buyers can swipe right to put a listed-property they like into hook-up mode, thanks to the late fusion of data, technology, and real property imagery.
What’s more, an add-to-cart, click-to-pay inevitability for new-home shoppers clearly no longer speaks from the realm of someday. A nine-month jacked-up mash of crises, opportunity, and expectation propelled such glaring—but noticeably absent—step changes in home buying progress into what’s all but a done deal. A matter of how soon, not some fuzzy far-off future. Why? Well, new home builders and developers are motivated not just by an obvious goal of trying to make home purchases less brutal and off-putting for buyers, but also by a less obvious objective as well.
Cutting their costs of sales, and sharpening their product design and construction strategies. This would eliminate the expense in doing what customers don’t get excited by in new homes, and add features and functionality that meaningfully quicken their pulses. That’s a margin improver. Nothing like being able to win favor from home buyer customers and put smiles of the faces of financial shareholders with the same smart moves. Which is where artificial intelligence comes into a process that feels, to put it kindly, a bit Dark Ages.
So, while it is builders’ reflexive instinct to lean in on the wonderful mojo at work in the present, it’d do them all well to look at where their future is taking them. How? Well, they might look at data in fields outside their bailiwick—especially when it comes to understanding what’s making their consumers tick. Online dating, for instance, a multi-billion-dollar industry that’s been around for two decades, and now attracts as many as 30% of adults into availing of its platforms.
Let’s dive in and look more closely.
The good news about swipe right UX technology is that now, buying a new home at least doesn’t have to be any more fraught than—are we really saying this?—dating. Now, neither looking for casual or committed companionship nor buying a new home is for the faint of heart. Normally, both require a trial-by-error, sight-unseen, hit-or-miss sequence of steps that—if successful—peel back hidden treachery, climb a wall of worry, and, rarely, wind up establishing links of mutual self-interest. But, dating—since that dawn of the new millennium—has at least had algorithms going for it, thanks to innovators who blended the power of app-technologies and data people willingly disclose about themselves in exchange for better odds of a good match.
As such tools as truly friction-free buyer’s journey and transactions—involving sellers, buyers, agents, and financial sources—get sorted out in the hopper of the immediate future, data and technology’s inroads into cracking the psychopathological code of one of human life’s more trying thresholds—buying a new house—are barreling pell-mell through the long pandemic now.
Dating can be nightmarish—especially for people who want a companion. So, too, can buying a house, be excruciating, especially for those who are super-motivated to do so. That’s a lot of people these days. Swipe right speaks to giving a feeling of agency to people in a dating pool, a sense of control in a milieu that can be daunting. The app confers power in an instant a user sorely wants it, and it does so elegantly.
It’s what’s underneath and behind that elegant stroke of user-experience genius that builders like Calgary, Canada-based Trico Homes, Tucson, AZ-based Miramonte Homes, Des Moines-based Hubbell Homes, and have dialed-into on the AI front. Each has turned functionality of an action-area of their web site—the “find your home” button—to a Canadian-based technology upstart Openhouse.AI that brings an array of personalization filters into play for new-home shoppers.
The win is for both home shoppers—who get an experience that puts them in the driver’s seat rather than the far-back set—and for home builders, who design, build, market, and sell their products based on direct, real-world customer preference and expectation, rather than the crude data they glean from Census and other demographics-based sources.
Working on the “back-end” of the Trico Homes website, for instance, is an AI-powered marketing platform designed for a user experience that works like a cross between Match.com and Netflix. Learning with every click—and trading on what shoppers will reveal of their priorities on important topic tags such as local schools, community population, ownership, income, and price—artificial intelligence technology begins to understand the needs and preferences of website visitors. In real-time, the system updates the search results and creates recommendations for floorplans and communities that would be most attractive to each customer.
“We’re focused with this technology on putting home-buyer consumers’ needs and desires at the forefront of our product and community offering process, rather than at the tail-end of it,” said Michael Brown, president of Trico Homes, which has built over 10,000 homes in Calgary and neighboring communities since its 1992 founding, and is on pace to close more than 320 homes in 2020. “Often times, a home shopper will look on a builder’s website at community X and home Y as a process. Now, with the Openhouse.AI tool, we offer shoppers a series of gated, “yes-or-no” questions that filter them into collaborating with us, giving them more agency and leading to the best match for them. This improves their satisfaction with the entire process.”
What’s at work here is primal and obvious: Trust and belief. Consumers will trade their data if they believe that by doing so it will solve for what they want, how and when they want it. By mining the power of machine learning, builders enter a new realm of a business they’re already good at—being guardians of their buyers’ privacy, their personal security, and their dreams.
“Every homebuyer is unique, and with technology that is accessible in today’s market, every individual should have a web experience tailored to their specific needs,” says Openhouse.AI co-founder and CEO Will Zhang. “Website personalization is the practice of building a customized website experience for each buyer that comes to a homebuilder’s website.”
The “find your home” button on most homebuilders’ sites becomes entry to this more elegant, rewarding, shopping experience for the shopper, and to a full-on learning and data center for the homebuilding firm. Said Zhang:
“Rather than displaying a single, one size fits all experience, a personalized website displays a unique view based on a visitor’s characteristics. By displaying highly relevant inventory results and model recommendations, homebuyers can find the home for them, much faster. Ultimately, this accelerates a homebuilder’s sales cycle and empowers marketers to communicate effectively with their customers. “
Product, price, location stand out as new-home equivalents of looks, personality, and prospects when shoppers look to match their preferences, desires, and priorities in pursuit of a home of their dreams. Now, by answering the yes-no questions on a builder’s site on price-ranges, school system choices, and other psychographic details, they can match more closely to their pick in the same way dating sites allow people to pair up around interests, hobbies, and food allergies.
Welcome, builders—and investor, developer, and distribution channel partners—to a technological new chapter, where a consumer’s privacy, security, and personal safety now matter in entirely new and different ways in the homeownership journey.