Ashton Woods CMO explains how the company is keeping operations going while observing CDC recommendations
Builder and Developer: The country is experiencing a strange time with the COVID-19 pandemic. How has Ashton Woods managed to keep operations going while keeping those involved (employees, clients, partners, etc.) safe?
Carrie Schonberg: As an organization, Ashton Woods saw the gravity of the situation early and took steps to adjust the way we conducted business in an effort to keep our customers, partners and employees comfortable and safe from the virus spread. We addressed this in a series of actions.
For our homebuyers who wished to continue to visit our communities in person, we implemented measures such as limiting all visits to pre-set appointments and requiring customers to answer a series of questions to assess potential exposure to COVID-19.
People who satisfactorily answered all screening questions were free to schedule a modified, in-person meeting with an Ashton Woods Community Sales Manager (CSM).
On the day of their appointment, they arrived at an office with only the CSM present. The traditional handshake, of course, was a thing of the past, and we also asked that buyers limit the size of their party so we could maintain the recommended level of social distancing and gathering sizes.
B&D: What is the company doing in terms of technology to combat the pandemic?
CS: When the recent events unfolded, it was clear that elevating the prominence of our digital tools and assets would be crucial to keep business flowing. We quickly trained our sales teams on the most effective ways to leverage our digital capabilities to support video appointments and virtual tours with buyers. Within days, we had a fully functional virtual sales process and digital communication plan rolled out, complete with back-end analytics to assess metrics to understand the effectiveness of our efforts. We knew for our organization, and for our realtor partners and buyers, this would be critical to keeping those on the home buying journey moving forward with peace of mind.
In the time since the COVID-19 crisis began, we have focused our efforts on communicating the availability of socially distanced, in-person appointments and enhanced video appointments via emails to our homebuyers and realtor partners, social media, and other marketing channels. We have strongly encouraged buyers to take advantage of our digital experiences and are offering incentives such as a $1,000 bonus for homes sold via our video appointments. In some markets we’ve replaced our traditional grand openings and other events with “virtual coffees” and “virtual happy hours” to reclaim some of the fun, excitement and information exchange that we’d normally create with in-person gatherings. So far, the response to our virtual experiences has been overwhelming.
Although, because we pride ourselves on not only being a trailblazer in home design, but also at creating a digital experience for our customers that is second to none, we had 3D virtual tours and Interactive floor plans and site plans already in place to help our buyers really visualize their homes and their opportunities for personalization. Our website has always been the heart of our marketing efforts and we make it a priority to provide a seamless user experience that makes it easy for buyers to find the information they need, regardless of how they shop.
B&D: Can you comment on current homebuilding market trends and how Ashton Woods is keeping up or getting ahead on them?
CS: Perhaps the most important thing that has come out of this time of sheltering in place is that the idea of “home” is valued more now than at any point in our history. We are all realizing what it truly means to live, work and play at home – and that has forced potential homebuyers to really re-evaluate their living spaces. The past two months have highlighted the need, perhaps, for truly dedicated office spaces, a playroom for the kids, or even one more bathroom. For some, maybe it’s just the realization that we would like to live in a location that’s simply closer to our friends and loved ones.
All of this translates into the notion that today is actually a great time to buy a new home — and that’s a key message we are communicating to our buyers. Mortgage rates remain at historic lows, which means buyers can lock in a great rate and get more house for their monthly payments. There’s still interest out there, buyers are writing contracts, and many homes are available for move-in now, or in time for back-to-school – which will hopefully be sooner vs. later. And with our video appointments and tools, buyers can literally shop for, buy and even close on a new home from the comfort of their current living space.