In response to the pandemic we have seen the real estate industry wholeheartedly embracing technology for the first time. Typically in the past, property management and homebuilding systems lagged behind other industries, including hospitality, manufacturing, and transportation. The prevalent practice for Property Managers remained to have rent collected by a manager and then driven to the bank for deposit. Homebuilders felt their systems were useful only in the back office, such as the Accounting Department.
Now homebuilding field operations and property managers are seeking to automate routine processes to reduce physical contact with the outside world. Property managers and leasing agents are posting virtual property tours online and conducting Facetime tours by walking applicants through available apartments while they watch from their smartphone or computer.
As for the builders, their prospects are shopping for options online, selecting styles and colors, tasks that used to be performed during onsite meetings in the builder’s design center. One builder shared with us recently that five homes were sold last month without anyone meeting the prospects in person. All options and upgrades were selected online during a Zoom appointment, and all documents were signed via DocuSign with no face-to-face interaction.
Most of the leading property management software systems offer an app for residents to pay rent and managers to submit repair work orders. These applications are moving forward at a fast and furious pace to provide additional functionality. We are also experiencing similar demands in the homebuilding arena. One key factor driving the market is Millennials and their dependence on their handheld devices. Prospects and buyers want to completely transact their business using their smartphones – with the expectation of instantaneous response to their questions. Homebuilding software vendors are moving quickly to maintain their stronghold in this ever-changing world of real estate technology lest they suffer the consequence of being left behind with no one to blame but themselves.
As a consulting firm, Cornerstone was recently engaged to review a builder’s operations and make recommendations for improving productivity. We noted a great number of processes that could be easily automated with their current technology at no additional investment. For example, buyers were complaining that builder-buyer communication after the ratification of the sale contract was minimal and sporadic.
We suggested that the owner set up standard system notifications at construction milestones. These notifications would be automatically sent from the system when superintendents checked off boxes when the work had been completed. No human intervention was required; the system was 100% responsible for sending emails to the buyers. For this particular client, the superintendents were also required to attach photos of specific milestones for the back office to monitor the building progress. These photos were also easily attached to the notifications. Of course this resulted in increased communications throughout and well after the completed sale.
All of this functionality was bought and paid for many years ago, but no one had turned it on…and this is only one example. We strongly encourage builders and property managers to set aside some time to invest a little effort to understand the functionality of the applications they already own. Determining how to fully utilize and configure the applications you own will improve productivity, your bottom line, and your overall customer experience.