Traditionally, the month of March is significant to Canadians for two reasons: it’s finally time to usher in spring (or, more commonly, comment on its delayed arrival) and close out the first fiscal quarter of the new year. We prepare Q2 plans and debate whether March will “go out” like a lion or a lamb. Traditionally.
The significant events of March 2020, however, were decidedly COVID-centric rather than traditional. Canada reported its first infection-by-community-transmission case on March 4th — a critical pandemic marker that ultimately precipitated the ordered closure of all non-essential businesses by month end.
Fortunately, the real estate industry was granted the advantageous distinction of ‘essential’. Unfortunately, since real estate is intrinsically linked with Canada’s macroeconomic climate, 2020 growth forecasts of 8.9 percent increase in home sales and 6.2 percent increase in price over 2019 numbers likely won’t be realized. This disappointment is especially crushing considering that after 2018’s dismal housing market performance, the resilience and recovery observed last year had given the industry real hope for a boom.
We entered April just as disheartened as you — many of us at Hook + Ladder are real estate investors ourselves. A mutual love of real estate is how we first connected with most of our clients in the industry, so we’ve been entrenched in the coronavirus fray since day one. The confusion of continuous updates, mixed messages and ambiguous guidelines had us just as frustrated as many realtors, sellers and homeowners. We wanted clarity, so we reached out to our close-to-the-action sources to get to the bottom of where we’re at, what we can do and what changes the real estate industry can expect. Here’s what we found:
Where we’re at.
Sources say, right now, more people are self-isolating than were on the planet during WWII. Hard to wrap your head around, right? With one-third of the world’s population stuck at home in the digital era, it’s safe to say the ROI on traditional media advertising needs to be recalculated. While billboards and bus bench ads aren’t getting the eyes they used to, as people look for ways to stay entertained they’re spending more time online exposed to digital marketing.
There’s promising news for the real estate industry specifically, too. Online platforms such as REW (Real Estate Wire) are seeing an increase in traffic and decreased bounce rates — this demonstrates real buyer interest. Not only are more people searching for real estate sites and property online, they’re spending significant amounts of time viewing listings.
We’ve seen this strategy work first hand for our clients. Click here to see how one Calgary developer was able to gain valuable leads at a significantly lower cost shortly after the onset of COVID-19.
Key Takeaway: Don’t lose this opportunity to gain awareness with buyers. There is a captive audience becoming aware and familiar with their future real estate partner online – make sure that partner is you.
What we can do.
This is a safe place to acknowledge that social distancing requirements place a staggering imposition on buying and selling real estate. Of course the social and economic consequences of COVID-19 are far greater for many — no contest. However, being deemed an essential service means the industry plays a role in preventing unnecessary adversity for Canadians. Real estate transactions also help sustain a significantly-diminished economy. Any and every positive contribution matters at this point as we try to minimize ‘lost ground’ in hopes of a speedy post-pandemic recovery.
That being said, we recognize stakeholders in the real estate industry are up against some significant challenges right now. Aside from the obvious showing/viewing and paperwork dilemmas, at the core of buying and selling property is the relationship with clients — how do we build trust and rapport without face-to-face interaction?
The answer is simple: the same way we always have. The task at hand is to get familiar with the new tools of the trade, ensuring you’re ready to bring the same level of trust-building knowledge, confidence and skill your career was built on. As you may suspect, these ‘new tools’ are digital. If the idea of increasing your reliance on technology induces considerable anxiety, you’re not alone. You’re not on your own, either. We happen to specialize in all things digital — it’s our area of expertise and we’re here to help. Here’s what you need to know to get started:
“Stop the Spread” Guideline Compliance
- No more carpooling – always drive your own vehicle to showings
- Showing homes, properties, and projects by appointment only to reduce potential exposure to the virus
- Transmission can occur via contaminated surfaces, so eliminating unnecessary contact and disinfecting necessary touchpoints is crucial
Tips to reduce the risks:
- Provide hand disinfectant, face masks, and shoe-covers upon entry to homes, showrooms or sites
- Leave doors to rooms, cabinets, closets, and any other spaces a buyer may want to view wide open
- Wipe down all surfaces with disinfectant solution before and after each and every showing
- Replace business cards and pamphlets with signage containing contact information and a website address so potential buyers can easily snap a photo with their smartphone
The Bright Side: While extra effort and cost will be required to keep listings and show homes safe, the elimination of Open Houses, casual viewings and printed promotional materials will save time and money.
- Video – Content uploaded to Facebook, IGTV and YouTube, as well ‘live’ formats such as Instagram Stories and Facebook Live are your new tools for showing property. Once you get the hang of shooting videos, they’re far more efficient than in-person viewings. Once a video is shot, edited and posted it can be shared infinitely with a click.
- Virtual Tours – A step-up from video, virtual tours put the viewer in control of navigating their way through a property. The production cost is higher than video, making this tool best-suited for multi-family developments.
- Advertising – Prepare for the shift from traditional advertising such as radio commercials and newspaper listings to digital platforms such as Google search and social media marketing to accelerate significantly. This is good news – we know that digital marketing offers substantially higher (and more accurately measurable) ROI than traditional media. However, without a strong online presence and these key components of a digital funnel in place, online marketing is about as effective as as mailing flyers.
Key Components of a Digital Funnel:
- Audience → When advertising budgets are spent on a cost-per-click basis, hyper-targeting keeps ROI high by refining your top-of-funnel audience
- Content → Whether curated or customized, the images, videos and written content will draw clients if it captures attention and provides value
- Website → Make sure your site is updated, easy to navigate and built to motivate conversions
Key Takeaway: A strong online presence is more important than ever. And by ‘strong’, we don’t mean advertising everywhere, all the time. When it comes to real estate marketing, strength online is achieved through consistency, organization and intention. We like to think of it as an art.
- While prices have dropped since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, we believe this will prove to be a short-term response. Long-term, we expect to see a rise in inflation which, historically, increases the value of hard assets such as real estate. Of course, tangible timelines and outcomes will depend on the severity of the forecast recession, response from the Bank of Canada and Canadian government, as well as overall global economic recovery.
Key Takeaway: For those in the position to do so, it’s a good time to invest in real estate. Buyers are favoured short-term and can expect their investment to appreciate in value.
- Without Open Houses and frivolous viewings, more sellers will seek mortgage pre-approval to demonstrate serious purchase intent.
- We expect to see banks accelerating their digital banking capabilities to comply with social distancing recommendations and keep up with the increased demand.
The Bright Side: These changes will mean an increase in the quality of leads and decrease in time spent with unqualified buyers.
- According to Canadian real estate law firm Spagnuolo & Company, “the LTSA (Land Title Survey Authority) is moving towards remote signings.” Conveyance documents, which always had to be signed with “wet ink” in the past will soon be able to be digitally signed online.
Key Takeaway: Law offices may experience some growing pains as they transition into unchartered territory. We recommend mitigating potential delays on your end by staying up-to-date as the changes roll-out and getting familiar with new platforms and requirements.
We're here to help.
While we have always championed the move to an increase in digital marketing for the real estate industry, we certainly didn’t see COVID-19 coming. The good news is, we’re ultra-prepared. Check out this Case Study to see how we created a high-performing online funnel for one of our real estate clients. If you’re wondering what digital marketing might look like for your business, or just want to chat more about the insights in this article, shoot us an email and we can jump on a call.