Community Matters More than Ever

 A survey of 2,500 consumers by Newland reveals what homebuyers prioritize most during their search.

By Peter Dennehy

Buying a new home is always a major life event, but buying a new home during a global pandemic is an act of hope and courage. It also signals new beginnings and new priorities. Additionally, it raises many questions on what is actually motivating home shoppers to move during this unique time. What are their priorities? How has this changed? What do they value in home and community? We set about trying to discover directly from our consumers coast-to-coast what led them to shop and purchase homes during this unique time. With our geographic and product diversity, our shoppers and buyers are a nationally representative sample of U.S. new home buyers. We conducted an online survey with a sample of 2,500 consumers.

Our ongoing consumer research has shown that consumers recognize the true value of master-planned communities as quality environments.”

Consumers Recognize the Value of Community

Our ongoing consumer research has shown that consumers recognize the true value of master-planned communities as quality environments. Planned communities provide safe, attractive neighborhoods with a variety of housing types and price points, outdoor spaces, access to shopping, and great schools — all key ingredients that work in good markets, and bad. 

So, it’s not surprising that in a rocky economy amidst uncertainty, consumers feel safer in purchasing a home in a planned community. The result is planned communities see an increase in market share. It appears that the more turbulent the times, the greater the shift and flight to quality. We experienced this in many markets during the Great Recession a decade ago, and we are seeing this shift once again this year. 

The Pandemic Moves Up Home Shopper Timeframes

The pandemic caused many to accelerate their home-buying plans. Across all age groups, our 2020 Shopper & Buyer Survey findings show that while 67% of our buyers say that COVID-19 had no impact on the timing of their home purchase, 28% said that they moved up their timeline earlier than they had originally planned. 

It is not a surprise that the majority of buyers went right on with their home search on their schedule, pandemic, or not. Market conditions for housing were in great shape heading into this crisis. The economy was strong, interest rates were low. Millennials, in particular, were ramping up their home buying. 

Low-Interest Rates and New Construction Are Key Motivators

Among Newland buyers who purchased a home during the pandemic, the desire for a planned community with amenities, the appeal of new construction, including more space, and the desire for a better sense of community were key motivators to purchase. The low-interest rate environment was also a major motivator for them to purchase and gave renters the additional financial comfort and support to become a homeowner.   

Outdoor spaces seemed most important at this time to our buyers, who value opportunities to be active outdoors. The top three most important community amenities for both shoppers and buyers are parks and open spaces, walking trails and bike paths.

Consumers Enjoy Shopping for Homes Online

Buying a home became more challenging as stay-at-home orders spread across the country. During the pandemic, we saw the importance of being there with customers during their home shopping journey. Almost overnight, we temporarily closed our welcome centers and deployed a combination of digital and online tools to continue to connect with consumers 24/7. We implemented live chat, chat bots, and online scheduling to do virtual community tours with our community representatives to answer shopper questions. We also used various community virtual tours and flyover tools to help shoppers in their online research of our community and the local area. Social media also served as a channel for live events and community tours. 

While we have since reopened in-person around the country, shoppers have continued to use digital and online tools in combination with their in-person visits. About 80% of buyers in the survey reported that they preferred or enjoyed shopping for a home online. We’ve found that the more personalized and more specific we can be — whether online or in-person — the more relevant the information for the customer, the higher the engagement and conversions. 

Remember that COVID-era shoppers are highly-engaged, highly-motivated shoppers — many with shortened time frames to purchase. Nearly half of our shoppers in the survey planned to buy within six months. Offering the availability of choices — including home designs, options, lot features, as well as move-in ready inventory — can ensure success in meeting the needs of today’s home buyers. 

Peter Dennehy is Vice President of Customer and Market Research for Newland. Newland is the largest, most geographically diverse developer of mixed-use planned communities in the U.S.