As the coronavirus pandemic continues to flip industries sideways or completely upside-down, it’s hard to predict which changes will stick and which ones we’ll shed with our facemasks when the coast is clear.
Will people be able to continue working from home? Will Zoom meetings become the norm in lieu of business travel? Will virtual home tours be a driving force in the home building industry?
While the first two remain to be seen, the answer to the last question is a resounding yes.
Supercharging a Growing Trend
Of course, this isn’t all that prophetic of a prediction. Guided video tours and self-serve virtual tours existed long before COVID-19. Virtual home selling wasn’t borne out of the pandemic, it was simply thrown into overdrive out of necessity.
And in just a few short months there’s already a ton of cool stuff happening. Private two-way video showings (Zoom, Facetime, etc.) or online Q & A style open houses via Facebook Live. Self-guided tours where buyers are let into homes with a 4-digit code instead of a realtor. Online home reservation. Chat, SMS or voice overlay with a sales consultant while working simultaneously through existing virtual assets.
So this begs the question, “Where does virtual reality fit into this mix? Are consumers ready to purchase a new home based off a VR experience?”
It’s kind of the next logical step, right?
I recently discussed this topic on an episode of Digital. Done Right. Here are the highlights.
More Friction than Functionality
Major national home builders have already taken the plunge to produce VR content for some of their homes – but at least in the current reality, there’s a major obstacle standing in the way of consumers adopting and embracing this new technology.
Exploring a home through virtual reality is awesome.
If you have a headset.
Which for all intents and purposes, nobody does.
So what do you do? Well, you set up a satellite sales center where buyers can come in and use the builder’s VR headsets for free. Sanitize them between uses. Voila! Problem solved.
Yes and no.
While this does put headsets into the hands of your customers, it’s not quite the magic sales tool it might seem to be.
To take a VR tour, consumers need to get in their car, drive to the sales center, wait for a sales associate to set up a headset and finally, then they get to see the home. After all that, they might as well simply drive to the physical home and walk through in person like we always have. Sure, there are certainly some advantages. Users can tour homes anywhere in the country from their local sales center, for example. But all up, the benefits just don’t outweigh the hassle. Driving to the sales center to access the technology creates too much friction for the tool to be viable.
When consumers often balk at downloading an app, you need to be certain any new protocol you introduce is easier than the old one.
For now, until VR headset ownership becomes ubiquitous, virtual reality home tours are more a PR stunt or maybe an add-on for a Grand Opening event than the way of the future.
Striking the Perfect Balance
So where does this leave us? On one hand, full-on virtual reality is taking the concept too far. On the other hand, consumers love MatterPort tours and video content.
How can we take virtual home buying to the next level without requiring customers strap on a new piece of hardware?
The answer is integrating the virtual tools we’ve already been using with these new creative solutions home builders scrambled to come up with to navigate their way through the pandemic.
Something just as simply as adding functionality to a virtual tour where you could hop on with a sales rep for a walkthrough or find interactive hotspots that link to additional media at relevant locations throughout the home.
automatd.digital’s Suite of Virtual Tools for the Home Building Industry
To expand on this idea of integrating all the different technologies into a cohesive set of tools, the goal is to take a lead that’s been generated via digital advertising and carry it all the way through the sales funnel using additional digital media and virtual or electronic interactions.
Nurturing a lead and converting becomes easier when you are consistent with the communication medium. It just makes sense. A user who clicks on a digital ad probably likes to learn about products by reading a website. Once they’re on the website you add video assets and virtual tours. This is the type of media digital buyers like to consume. Moving further down the funnel you integrate two-way digital communication for a more guided experience. And throughout the process you’re capturing information from the customer so that the salesperson doesn’t have to start over from scratch.
We can provide options, too. Photographs, video, text, virtual tours and hybrid tours that include a salesperson voiceover or interactive hotspots. In this way, users have autonomy to tour virtually on their own with the added benefit of gaining unique insights into the qualities/features of the home.
Digital at every touchpoint, including dynamic advertising with video. That’s the best way to take virtual home buying further. automatd.digital’s suite of virtual tools does just that.
One tool that we’re really excited about is a two-way video chat that’s able to pre-populate all the community or floor plan information needed to conduct a smooth virtual showing online. Typically, this sort of showing is done with a shared-screen type application, where the salesperson clicks through the website and assets on their end with a mirror image popping up on the consumer’s screen.
While it works, this system is time consuming and sometimes frustrating. We’re now able to do all this much more seamlessly, switching quickly and easily between floor plans or communities.
Unlike software as a service platforms that can be slow to set up and aren’t always user-friendly, automatd.digital’s tools are a turnkey solution. It’s a white glove service with no customer interface and this means fast and easy onboarding. All a home builder needs to do is supply us data, designs and approvals and we’re off and running. This can be as simple as granting back-end access so we can grab the assets that we need.
And because the tool suite is dynamic and fully scalable, it’s easy to test an ad channel, metro or region to provide a proof of concept and then ramp up once you’ve seen the results.
Experts in Home Building
automatd.digital’s background is unique in that our senior leaders each have over a decade of home building experience from the agency point of view and so our industry expertise really shows in terms of building tools and functionality geared towards selling homes.
Our entire suite of products has home building sales strategy built into it – creating continuity and speeding up the process for developing technologies that do what we need them to do.