It goes without saying that the real estate industry has changed, in what many describe as an instant. The new-home industry was ripe for disruption and this pandemic accelerated the need. At PMA Brethour Realty Group, we took this opportunity to revaluate our business model and pivot to where and how we can add the most value to our clients.
We quickly mobilized virtual sales offices to replace physical interactions on behalf of our clients. All PMA team members are now set up with virtual office environments offering guidance and information to homebuyers across the country – supporting the need to physical distance – protecting both our customers and employees. We merged our PMA sales training and team learning sessions to online video conferences to deliver training and policy direction. This allowed our teams to follow directives to stay home while providing our customers with the peace of mind that they could reach our sales experts.
Physical distancing has placed obvious limits and stresses on the industry and its ability to service our customers in traditional ways. But one thing that has not changed at PMA is the way we deliver customer service and our philosophy of treating each and every customer like they are our only, and most important, customer. In fact, this new virtual environment has made it easier to deliver more personalized service and customized solutions.
Security and safety virtual tours are replacing in-person visits
In an effort for to make it simple and seamless for our customers to conduct business with us, we implemented technology that is accessible to everyone and easy to use. Our teams are planning new launches using webinars with virtual tours and all previous in-person interaction is now fulfilled via videoconferencing applications like Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
In the same vein, transactional exchanges such as completing the agreement of purchase and sales, which normally require an in-person meeting at a sales office, are now being fulfilled using DocuSign and its suite of solutions.
Follow-up communications are now being delivered by enhanced email, featuring video messages. One thing we are very proud at PMA is our new virtual sales office environment, an industry first. We recently built a presentation centre for new project launches right in our head office but designed it to allow for complete virtual use. We took the concept of the presentation centre and adapted to it to the dynamics of our new reality – enabling our customers to engage with us, in an equally meaningful way, while taking advantage of the convenience and security of a virtual medium.
What’s trending now?
An interesting trend we are seeing is more empathy and care across the board. Our sales teams are reaching out to their customers and buyers not to sell but to listen and hear how they are feeling and doing. The feedback that I am hearing from buyers is that they are surprised and delighted for the proactive outreach – that we are just checking in to chat and see how they are managing during these trying times, sharing recipes or the best shops or restaurants to get curbside pick-up for dinner. We are providing value and service, with courtesy and compassion – first and foremost, and our customers appreciate it.
One trend and business process change we are very proud of at PMA is how we very quickly created The PMA Insider Concierge Service for our prospective buyers and developer clients. We now have a one-stop service through a dedicated call centre team (whom work from home) to provide preliminary information about our communities and then set up virtual appointments with the sales team. This is another way we are making it easy for our customers to do business with us.
Advice to homebuyers during the COVID-19 crisis
I offer this pretty basic advice: stay positive, stay the course, and create a sense of occasion!
Since our inception as an organization in 1964, PMA has worked continually to be a positive influence in the new home development community – PMA stands for Positive Mental Attitude – the cornerstone philosophy of our company. Stay Positive and know that things will normalize. We will once again be able to take our kids to the playground and share family milestones. The fundamentals of real estate remain true – location and value will always be the cornerstones of the new home sales experience and lifecycle.
Stay the course and take your time – Learning about and making a purchase decision has never been so customized and curated to you as a homebuyer – use this time to find the home that is perfect for you and your needs. Always remember that anything as monumental as a real estate purchase should be a long-term play – have confidence in the long term but do your homework to be educated about your purchase decision and talk to the right professionals.
Be value conscious – Real Estate is a strong investment and there is value in putting your money in a new home. If you can take advantage of today’s historically low interest rate environment to give you a bit more buying power, now’s the time to connect with your financial institution to obtain your pre-approval before you start new home shopping. This will give you confidence in your buying decision leading up to the closing date and give you peace of mind regarding the financial implications and budgeting required to live in the house that you select. If anything, this time has allowed us to take stock of what’s truly important.
Create a sense of occasion – Everyday make it a goal to create memories through the new methods of connecting with family, friends and colleagues. Rekindle an old friendship or reach out to someone in need with the smallest act of kindness. Let’s all be models to our children – they are watching and learning from us and our reactions now more than ever.
I am having more and more conversations with developers and industry professionals from across North America, all of whom are now having discussions about developing more open-source sharing, more collaboration and best-practice development. This will open up opportunities for leading, early adopting firms to come back stronger than ever with a renewed passion for this business, for customers and employees alike. I always have, and continue to, tell my teams that we are all so fortunate to be part of the largest life changing and single most substantial financial investments that their customers will ever make. As someone who has grown in his career in this industry for over 25 years, I am excited by the prospect of returning to the basics of strong customer service and instilling a renewed pride in building communicates. I am excited and feel very fortunate to be part of, and help drive, the evolution of the new home industry!
Christopher Markovic is Division President, PMA Brethour Realty Group. Chris has worked in the real estate development industry in sales and marketing since 1993. Prior to joining PMA Urban in a leadership role, Chris worked with some of the country’s leading developers and property owners.