I’ve always had an uncomfortableness with New Year’s resolutions. Maybe it’s because I have never put too much though into what the word “resolution” actually means, but I have a tendency to using the transition into a new year as a time of reflection. According to the Dictionary of Google the word has 6 unique definitions. These are the ones I find most applicable as I reflect on 2021 in our industry and in life in general.
- a firm decision to do or not to do something.
the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.
I’m not sure what home builders could put in a time capsule that would fully convey the year that was 2021 to future industry generations. While some were met with great prosperity and growth, I would reckon all were put to the test keeping customers, employees, and vendors happy. The ONeil Interactive team was not personally battling lumber prices, supply chain delays, or labor shortages, but we had a front row seat to the show and helped builders make decisions to solve problems, disputes and contentious matters on their websites in response to the plight they were experiencing.
This year was less about lead generation (lord knows there were plenty of leads) and more about flexibility, customer service, and communication. Poetically, ONeil Interactive launched twenty-one new home builder websites in 2021. And while we love that new website smell, we invested countless hours improving and evolving the user experience for dozens of existing Homefiniti builders. Builders were in the trenches now and needed quick solutions. Spec inventory was barely making it to active listing status and lumber futures, among other material challenges, made it nearly impossible to project base pricing and options on to-be-built homes.
Some builders moved toward a spec-only business model, removing the option for buyers to pick their lots and plans altogether. Others stopped displaying prices across their website a.) because costs were escalating too fast to maintain the frequency of the changes b.) sales teams were starting to feel the pain of confused/frustrated buyers.
For those builders who were sticking to price transparency (and most likely instituting escalation clauses) we managed quite a few integrations with ERP platforms such as Mark Systems and MLS databases services like IDXBroker.com to reduce the points of maintenance and keep data entry consistent across their marketing channels. If one thing prevailed, increased flexibility in price and content management on your website was a non-negotiable.
Another area of focus was customer care at all stages of the buying process. A LOT of excited homebuyers signed contracts in 2020 and 2021. There were just over 990k and 1.2 million new home starts respectively in the United States, with a projection of almost 1.3 million in 2022.
In “normal” conditions this would be a lot for builders to manage and deliver. However we were/are in far from “normal” conditions. Manufacturing delays and a reduced labor force were stretching out delivery times and frustrating eager homeowners-to-be. We helped builders establish ways to communicate where homes were in the building process for buyers under contract using tools like customer portals and email communication, as well as set expectations on when coming soon inventory would be available.
With resale inventory reaching all time lows and 33% of homes that went under contract had an accepted offer within one week of hitting the market, a flood of prospects were looking for quick delivery homes at an ever-increasing pace. It was time to keep up with the information buyers were seeing on other listing sites like Zillow, Redfin, and Realtor.com and give them quick options to act fast to schedule appointments to tour the the home.
After the sale became just as important to customer experience and not every builder had the manpower to answer all the questions coming from new homeowners. We saw more dedicated Customer Care pages on builders’ websites to provide homeowner resources like warranty manuals and FAQs as well as direct service request forms or links to portals where they could submit digital claims.
It is our passion to design home builder websites to address the future needs of your business and your growth. We get excited to design features that will help home buyers shop and purchase online. However, 2021 taught us to stop and solve the problems we are facing now. It is those resolutions that will keep us moving forward prosperously.