How to Sell New Homes during a Pandemic (with 17 Ideas)

Posted by Bill Hunter on Mar 19th, 2020

Before we dive in, a disclaimer: We acknowledge that this is a challenging time for everyone, and all businesses should take the appropriate steps to protect themselves, their staff, and the greater community. 

Now, onto our first piece of advice: Don’t panic.

The real estate market is undoubtedly going to be impacted by the outbreak, but builders have a few things working in their favor: the fact that this is largely a person-to-person business, and that the government is already releasing huge cuts to interest rates. As the New York Times noted, it’s an excellent time to buy a home.

If done properly, this can be an opportunity for homebuilders instead of a roadblock. 

Note: We do not recommend using marketing tactics that fearmonger, incite panic, or spread disinformation. We might be marketers, but first and foremost, we should prioritize being helpful, responsible people during this difficult time. 

First: What you shouldn’t do

We can’t stress this enough. Cutting your budget will have drastic, long-term effects on your marketing. Although traditional lead nurturing activities such as in-person meetings and open houses may be on hold, you can continue your digital marketing, making your business primed and ready for the return to regular business operations.

Is this really a good time to spend money on marketing?

The short answer? Absolutely. 

Based on the data we have seen so far, there appears to be a huge opportunity for builders right now. 

Taking a look at Google Trends, the past week has seen steady search volume on the search terms “new construction” and "new homes." The numbers below represent the overall interest in a search term as a score out of 100. As of this writing, Google currently projects this week’s overall search trend for this keyword to be 75 out of 100. Last March, it was measured at 68 out of 100. While this may change as more data comes in, it does look to be holding steady so far.

Here are some other very important reasons to ramp up your marketing, rather than reduce it:  

  1. Great time to buy a new home:
    On Sunday, the White House announced a reduction in interest rates to nearly 0% - the lowest they have been since 2008. For home buyers, it’s the cheapest time in more than a decade to buy. Even though there are whispers of a recession on its way, many buyers will jump at the chance to take advantage of the low rates.
  2. Inexpensive advertising to a bigger audience:
    Facebook has already reported traffic spikes, and Nielsen forecasts a 60% increase in media usage. For you, that means you’ll have more access to prospects online, and you’ll have more of their attention. In addition, global ad spending is trending down, meaning you may be able to reach the same people for a lower cost. 
  3. Increased free time for home research:
    As mentioned above, interest in home sales is on the rise. People are spending more time at home and more time on their phones. They also might be presented with the reality of their current living situation and turn to house hunting.

All of this leads to a consumer mindset that is potentially ripe for home purchasing and planning. But before you dive into increasing your ad spends, first, you will need to adjust your overall strategy.

Shifting your strategy

The bad news is that you can’t use the same tactics you’ve been using to sell homes. The good news? There’s a fantastic opportunity here to improve your brand perception and build trust with your buyers. 

By replacing in-person events and selling with virtual resources, you can safely showcase your homes and build interest. Start with your most important lead activities. How can you provide an in-person experience virtually? A virtual tour is a good place to start, but could you deliver swatches, for instance? Perhaps perform video conference calls with your customers? Since people may be less likely to drive through neighborhoods, video can be a great replacement.

Now is the perfect opportunity to focus on building your digital content, too. People’s preference for digital access isn’t isolated to social distancing; having a digital library of well-styled and shot photos, virtual tours (via Matterport or another walk-through provider), video tours, and more is the single best way to increase your ROI on marketing. They will improve everything from your ad performance to your web conversion rate, right down to your bottom line. If you need inspiration, check out these tips from Probuilder

Now is also a good time to build brand trust by engaging in PR activities like community outreach, non-for-profit support, or local business partnerships. 

And now for the meat - here are 14 tactics to try during the quarantine.

17 ideas for homebuilder marketing during the COVID-19 outbreak

1. Offer video showroom visits with home buyers

Using a scheduling tool like Calendly, offer appointment spots to home buyers. Then, take them on a tour of the showroom or model home, consulting on options and answering questions. Both Google Hangouts and Zoom offer free video calls.

2. Private tours 

Keeping with the CDC guidelines, we recommend social distancing whenever possible. However, if you have chosen not to close, you may want to consider offering private, one-on-one tours to home buyers in lieu of typical operations. You may want to leave time in between visits to thoroughly disinfect your model home and/or showroom between tours and sharing your plans for cleaning with your customers prior to their visit.

3. Go Live on Facebook

Have you tried out Facebook Live? Packed with features, Facebook Live is a powerful tool for marketers and can help reduce feelings of isolation. It’s also incredibly effective. Facebook Live videos receive 3X higher engagement than a video that is no longer live. Host a live feed of a realtor showcasing a neighborhood or home. The chat can be used as a Q&A, making it more interactive than traditional video. One of our favorite features of Facebook Live is that any page follower will be notified if you go live, which increases your reach far beyond what you’d typically see in an organic post.

4. Push virtual tours

If you have virtual tours of your homes, now is a great time to put them front and center. You may want to temporarily make “View Virtual Tour” as the main call-to-action (CTA) on your site.

5. Update your contact information

This is a simple but important one. Make sure you update your hours and contact information on both your website and local listings to ensure people can still reach you.

6. Update your CTA

If you’re shifting to a remote model, make sure your website CTAs reflect that change.

7. Try live chat

If you haven’t already implemented live chat for your business, now is the time to test it out. Facebook makes it easy to implement a Messenger chat tool that directly connects to your Facebook account and appears on your website.

8. Report on design trends

Now is a great time to flex your creative muscles and show off your team’s design skills. Create a piece of content that shows top home design trends with examples from your homes. This content would be fantastic to set up as an email to existing clients, a downloadable or interactive magazine for leads, or a blog post. In all cases, we recommend pushing visitors to fill out a form to access the information or push a pop-up after they’ve been on your website for a while.

9. Share design tools

With everyone retreating into their homes, now is a great time to push -- or build -- any interactive home design or planning tools. Replacing the showroom experience with a digital one may feel less personal, but it can ensure that people still can see all of the options available.

10. Invest time into organic Facebook and Instagram posts

While we are pretty adamant believers in the power of paid advertising, a slow time for appointments can be a great time to check off those to-do list items that never seem as pressing - and posting to your social media channels is often one thing that gets overlooked. With surging social media usage, it can be a great time to build a following. Use a social media scheduling tool to create posts and set them to release slowly over the next few months. You’ll thank yourself later.

11. Build a visual library with Pinterest

Pinterest is an excellent driver of traffic. Pull together your best pictures of your homes and create inspiration boards on a Pinterest account.

12. Work on your SEO

SEO can easily fall to the wayside during normal operations. As Search Engine Journal wisely points out, auditing your SEO, improving your content, and building backlinks are smart moves to make during the epidemic can have a long-term benefit.

13. Host a virtual open house 

Chipotle responded to the COVID-19 outbreak with a creative idea. Their “Chipotle Together” initiative lets 3,000 users lunch with celebrities. 

You too can try this out. Host a virtual forum to discuss home buying, things to do in the area, and socialize. This can be especially beneficial for a home builder in a growth market or one that has a high number of transplants.

14. Support those in need

There will be many people in the community who experience hardship as a result of economic changes. Consider donating to a local charity. Or run a campaign that rewards an action you want - visiting a virtual tour, watching a video - with a dollar amount. It’s a great way to build brand awareness while helping out.

15. Form a community coalition

Local small businesses, especially restaurants and bars, will struggle to bounce back. Consider an incentive offer that pledges gift certificates to local businesses or other measures that partner up.

16. Buy lunch

In many states, restaurants and bars are closed to diners but are still offering takeout. Support local restaurants while wining and dining prospective customers by offering to pay for lunch while discussing their buying plans via a video call.

17. Reserve a home online

Just because a home is typically purchased in person, doesn’t mean you can’t inject an e-commerce sensibility. 

What’s next?

For the past 10 years, the real estate industry has changed dramatically. Undoubtedly, the trend is to embrace more and more digital experiences as buyers demand to shop online before they consider a home in person. 

Although the COVID-19 outbreak could tempt you to throw in the towel, you have an incredible opportunity to reach people who want to move forward. This pandemic will come to an end. Being a strategic marketer will only ensure your success when it does. 

Want more tips on growing your homebuilder marketing?

Download our E-Book, "5 Tips to Sell More Homes," to get a step-by-step guide to the most important tactics for attracting today's home buyers. 

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